I can still recall that moment back in October 2013 when during a visit to Rome, Archbishop Nichols called me to inform me of the Vatican’s announcement to launch a worldwide consultation. I admit to feeling a knot in my stomach knowing the sheer amount of extra work it was going to generate and wondering where on earth it would all end.
I recall how unjustly treated I felt at the harsh criticism on the publication of my own 2014 reflection on the diocesan consultation despite it having been fully endorsed by the Cardinal.
Yet Amoris Laetitia vindicates it and much more.
At 253 pages of text over 325 paragraphs distributed over nine chapters, it is not a quick nor at times an easy read, for there were several points where my scribblings in the margin were question marks (?) rather than just highlights or notes.
Does that mean that the contents are deliberately confusing? No, but they do require careful study and repeated pondering. Hence the sage advice of the author as early as paragraph 7;
“I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text.”
And to make life even easier, the Pope kindly suggests a simple rationale to achieve the ‘greatest benefit,’ i.e. to ‘read each part carefully’ (and I would suggest several times). In fact I would resist the temptation to plough through it at a sprint or even a marathon. There’s too much in there to rush.
Considered and even prayerful reflection is required especially on the beautiful sections on the sacrament of matrimony itself [chapter 3] and what one might call the Pope’s ‘ode’ to St. Paul’s famous hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13, [chapter 4] is an excellent source for both individual and couple meditation and for even a whole family to read together.
This is why it is rather sad that too much of the focus of the debate prior to, during and since the synod and now with the media spin on AL that the key question is admittance to the sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
But the Letter’s concern to avoid ‘overly rigid classifications‘ as well as the simple application of a ‘general norm or rule‘ to complex personal situations is a helpful reminder that pastors need to be patient and merciful in dealing with the sensitive situations of marriage and family life.
And it really is that simple, in the sense of what the Holy Father is calling for is a sensible, sensitive, but faithful application of all that was expounded in two previous documents dealing with this issue, Familiaris Consortio and Sacramentum Caritatis.
In one sense though, the sections dealing with pastoral care of the divorced and civilly remarried is a useful reminder to all of us that, we’re none of us perfect, that we all need fuller ‘integration’ in to the life of the Church and that the path of deep personal conversion to Christ is the responsibility we all have for ourselves and of one another all of the time, especially in our families.
What’s great about the exhortation is that it spells out clearly how the life of spouses concretely reflects the life of the Blessed Trinity and that the joy and sorrow of daily married life has a unique participation in the salvific work of Jesus on the cross.
Of course that teaching isn’t new but helping spouses to be better aware of it and live it anew daily is and will be new or at least require fresh energy and zeal from clergy and pastoral workers. So there is much to rejoice at in the document, not least the profile give to St. John Paul’s catechesis on human love [theology of the body] and some very strong and forthright statements about the rights of parents [nn84-85]
There are of course and have been numerous commentaries [some quite scathing] about this document. Legitimate concerns or questions about interpretation ought not to be confused with respectful reading of the actual text.
George Weigel put it well;
‘analyzing its moral theology and its reading of Church tradition.. will finally work out to the good of the Church.’
Back in 2014 Fr Cantalamessa, Preacher to the papal household said;
I think that’s right and it is undoubtedly one way, perhaps the best way to read what the Pope is attempting to do at this time. As Søren Kierkegaard so aptly put it in one of his journals: “The old Christian dogmatic terminology is like an enchanted castle where the loveliest princes and princesses rest in a deep sleep; it only needs to be awakened, brought to life, in order to stand in its full glory.”
There is no question that the early chapters in AL and reading the later ones in the light of the earlier ones, does illustrate Ki erkegaard’s formula. A former leader of the IBM Executive School once commented: ‘A worthwhile mission properly articulated galvanises ordinary people with extraordinary even explosive results’.
What Amoris Laetitia articulates in terms of the need to trigger a renaissance of respect and honour for authentic human love manifested in matrimony may just have the kernel of such a ‘movement’ one might say. It’s certainly possible, especially when we witness the popularity of a pastoral vision generated by theology of the body.
But such a vision really taking hold and sweeping across parish life with a fresh impetus will only happen if all cherish and hold the following two sentences from the Pope in harmony:
“To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to human beings.
Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown.”
We all know from our own life experience that prevention is always better than cure. It’s a golden rule and it always works in the long run. The message of Amoris Laetitia and how we act on it today is critical therefore for our children and our childrens’ children.
Edmund Adamus – @ – is Director for Marriage and Family Life Diocese of Westminster. He is a recognized authority on the teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrament of marriage, marriage preparation, John Paul II’s teaching of Theology of the Body, and marriage healing.
You can now pre-order Amoris Laetitia directly from our website or contact us: http://www.ctsbooks.org/amoris-laetitia