“The joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”
This is how Pope Francis begins his post-synod Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia or “The Joy of Love.” The document is a beautiful and challenging meditation on the state of the family and marriage in the modern world.
The document was only released hours ago. To cut through the confusion already underway via some media sources, you should know that this document does not change the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and the family. Pope Francis is emphatic on God’s design for man and woman in marriage.
The document is unmistakably an affirmation of the truth of marriage, children, and the joy of the family as understood by the Church.
The document is also completely unambiguous about the unique status of marriage as the union of man and woman, and re-states there are “absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (Section 251).
The most talked about portions of the document relate to Chapter 8, and how the Church ought to approach the pastoral care of those in “irregular” situations, including the divorced and remarried (who have not received an annulment). The Holy Father issues a deep call to conversion to Catholics who ignore or seek
to justify their own objective sin (Section 297) and invites all divorced and remarried Catholic to undertake a serious examination of conscience accompanied by a priest and guided by the truths proposed by the Church (Section 300).
He also calls for a greater inclusion and welcoming of those who are sincerely striving to be open to the Church’s teaching and to more perfectly follow those teachings. He emphasizes repeatedly
that the Church must be a beacon of mercy, a hospital for sinners, and a source of real conversion.
He particularly calls for pastors to employ the “law of gradualness” proposed by Saint John Paul II in appropriate cases (Section 295), which does not imply that the law is gradual, but that individuals should be brought by gradual steps to more fully enter into the full life of the church, as for example, when a cohabiting couple seeks to marry in the Church (presuming they are free to do so).
Pope Francis speaks out frequently about his concern for the children of divorced or separated parents (Sections 245, 246) and for the need to support single-parent families (Section 252).
The vast majority of the document treats marriage as a joyful and beautiful gift.
Chapter 3 examines the teachings of Jesus on the family and God’s vision for marriage and family. Chapter 4 offers an exposition of St Paul’s teaching on marital love in 1 Corinthians. Chapter 5 discusses the blessings of children. Chapter 6 offers pastoral perspectives (including preparing engaged couples for marriage, accompanying the first years of married life, and when a spouse dies). Chapter 7 addresses the education of children and Chapter 9 concludes with the spirituality of marriage and the family.
Finally, there is one key takeaway worth mentioning. The Holy Father places a significant responsibility on pastors and priests. It is the priest who is tasked with helping those struggling to understand the truth of their circumstances, to help guide the proper formation of conscience, and often to help discern the appropriate path to communion with the Church.
This will be difficult in practice, and will require courageous and holy priests. We must pray for our priests everywhere!
We’ll be updating this post with analysis we find helpful throughout the day. Stay tuned.
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