April 8, 2016, Friday — The Tenderness of a Papal Document
Pope Francis has written a “love letter” to the world…
I just came back from the 2-hour Vatican press conference presenting Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, entitled Amoris Laetitia (that is the Latin title of the text, meaning literally, “Of Love the Joy,” so we translate it as “The Joy of Love”). I’m sitting in a cafe next to the Vatican where there is internet, watching the Romans walk by on the sidewalk, and reflecting on what Pope Francis has just published.
I don’t want to keep you waiting any longer, so I’ll make a couple of brief comments, and send you what I think is the key chapter of the text. (Here is a link to the complete text. It takes you to a PDF file that you may print out if you wish.) I’ll try to send a fuller commentary soon.
I read the entire document last night.
When I read it, I was deeply moved. Francis has given us a poetic, eloquent hymn to love.
This text is really for families.
Any of you who has a family, this text is for you.
One part of this letter, the marvelous Chapter 4 on the true nature of love, should be printed out and read at the family dinner table — one little section at a time for the family to hear and discuss.
In this text, Francis defines what love is, what the role of each person in family should be… how the family should be in the world, and in the Church…
In a time — our time — when the family seems under attack in so many ways, when there are such temptations to break up families, this text is like a powerful medicine, a heart-felt appeal from Pope Francis, to each of us, to keep going, to keep together, to keep loving…
Francis in this text is like a wise grandfather telling the entire Church family how to live with more and truer love in their families…
It is in this sense an astonishing text, like no other I have ever seen from the Vatican, or from a Pope.
Enjoy the read!
(The text of the beginning of Chapter 4 is below.)
My preliminary comments:
1) No doctrinal change.
Despite two years of considerable turmoil, with many reports suggesting that Pope Francis would “change Church doctrine” on marriage and divorce and remarriage and access to communion, and perhaps in other matters of sexual morality, like contraception, and so (these reports suggested) “modernize” the Church’s teaching, there is not a single doctrinal change in the entire 9-chapter, 325 paragraph document. (Not that I would have expected one, as I wrote yesterday — it isn’t the Pope’s job to change doctrine, but only to defend the deposit of the faith in all purity, while developing and deepening the understanding of that doctrine which has been received from our fathers in the faith.)
So all of the reports that this would happen were sensationalized and wrong.
2) Pastoral recommendations.
This is where the controversy is.
With regard to the pastoral care of divorced and remarried Catholics — and there are millions of these — the document recommends changes in pastoral practice worldwide to be more “welcoming.” However, the text offers no specifics on how to do this.
The Pope says that priests and bishops around the world should meet with people in these situations and “walk with them,” as they “discern” their spiritual condition in order to “integrate” them into the life of the Church.
Therefore, this document does not settle the question of divorced and remarried Catholic receiving communion.
Rather, the question is left open, to be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Pope Francis explains his decision not to give clear guidelines on this point in this way: “Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.”
He adds: “Each country or region… can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For ‘cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied’” (AL 3).
And he writes: “I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’”
This, of course, is a matter for theologians to discuss…
Some are concerned that this will lead to different practices in different places, and they are already faulting the Pope for not being clearer and more decisive about exactly what to do in each case. Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register, who wrote the book The Rigging of the Synod, has just come out with a piece which publishes these concerns (link).
Pentin writes: “But some are disconcerted and disturbed about what the long document leaves out, and about its theology and ambiguity, especially concerning some moral issues on which the Church has previously always had crystal-clear teaching… Catholic philosopher Antonio Livi described Amoris Laetitia as an “ambiguous text” and rejected the notion that fundamental pastoral practice can change, while Catholic doctrine on the sacraments cannot. “This really is the theological error of the document,” he said, “because pastoral practice cannot be anything other than a prudent but rigorous application of the doctrine.”
However, Pope Francis clearly intended to write the document just as he has written it.
He intends it to be the opening of a door for people in difficult situations to seek guidance from their local priests and bishops, and it is a clear request to local priests and bishops to open their doors for this purpose.
I do not share the fear that this openness is problematic from a doctrinal standpoint. I find the call for pastoral flexibility in keeping with the mission and example of Christ and of the Church Fathers.
It reflects the love and concern Pope Francis has for all, including those who have fallen into difficult moral situations — perhaps especially for such people.
3) A poetic hymn to love.
This is the main point I would like to make.
What we have in Chapter 4 of this document is one of the most remarkable texts I have ever seen in a papal, or Vatican, document.
It is literally a poetic hymn to the beauty of love which I think is destined to become a classic.
This is the most astonishing and memorable part of this document.
I would risk saying that it is the most beautiful thing Francis has ever written.
It is a must read.
I would recommend that everyone read it, and share it with family and friends.
Therefore, I send you the relevant first paragraphs of Chapter 4 below.
4) Homosexual marriage.
The document, strikingly, has almost nothing to say about homosexuality. But it does refer to marriage as only between a man and a woman. This is traditional Church teaching. There is no hint of any change in this teaching in this text.
5) An unfinished journey.
The document is in some ways unfinished, in the sense that it leaves open for future reflection the precise ways in which the Church can “walk alongside” families and couples to give them spiritual, moral, and sacramental support.
So this document will leave unsatisfied those hoping to have a final, black-and-white answer on what the Church is teaching about how to deal with broken marriages and broken families.
A Hymn to Love
Here is the great Chapter 4 of this document, a long meditation on the nature of true love, based on the famous text on love by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians.
I have kept the paragraph numbers and, in bold, the original page numbers of the document. The footnotes are also present at the end of each page.
This may make it somewhat difficult to read, but not, I think, too difficult…
Love in marriage
89. All that has been said so far would be insufficient to express the Gospel of marriage and the family, were we not also to speak of love.
For we cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love.
Indeed, the grace of the sacrament of marriage is intended before all else “to perfect the couple’s love”.104
Here too we can say that, “even if I have faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:2-3).
The word “love”, however, is commonly used and often misused.105
Our daily love
90. In a lyrical passage of Saint Paul, we see some of the features of true love:
“Love is patient, love is kind;
104 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1641.
105 Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est
(25 December 2005), 2: AAS 98 (2006), 218.
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7).
Love is experienced and nurtured in the daily life of couples and their children. It is helpful to think more deeply about the meaning of this Pauline text and its relevance for the concrete situation of every family.
Love is patient
91. The first word used is makrothyméi.
This does not simply have to do with “enduring all things”, because we find that idea expressed at the end of the seventh verse.
Its meaning is clarified by the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where we read that God is “slow to anger” (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18).
It refers, then, to the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense. We find this quality in the God of the Covenant, who calls us to imitate him also within the life of the family.
Saint Paul’s texts using this word need to be read in the light of the Book of Wisdom (cf. 11:23; 12:2, 15-18), which extols God’s
restraint, as leaving open the possibility of repentance, yet insists on his power, as revealed in his acts of mercy. God’s “patience”, shown in his mercy towards sinners, is a sign of his real power.
92. Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us.
We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the centre and expect things to turn out our way.
Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively.
Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily.
We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds.
That is why the word of God tells us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:31).
Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are.
It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be.
Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like.
Love is at the service of others
93. The next word that Paul uses is chrestéuetai.
The word is used only here in the entire Bible.
It is derived from chrestós: a good person, one who shows his goodness by his deeds.
Here, in strict parallelism with the preceding verb, it serves as a complement.
Paul wants to make it clear that “patience” is not a completely passive attitude, but one accompanied by activity, by a dynamic and creative interaction with others.
The word indicates that love benefits and helps others.
For this reason it is translated as “kind”; love is ever ready to be of assistance.
94. Throughout the text, it is clear that Paul wants to stress that love is more than a mere feeling.
Rather, it should be understood along the lines of the Hebrew verb “to love”; it is “to do good”.
As Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, “Love is shown more by deeds than by words”.106
It thus shows its fruitfulness and allows us to experience the happiness of giving, the nobility and grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly, without asking to be repaid, purely for the pleasure of giving and serving.
Love is not jealous
95. Saint Paul goes on to reject as contrary to love an attitude expressed by the verb zelói – to be
106 Spiritual Exercises, Contemplation to Attain Love (230).
jealous or envious. This means that love has no room for discomfiture at another person’s good fortune (cf. Acts 7:9; 17:5).
Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity; it shows that we are not concerned for the happiness of others but only with our own well-being.
Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements.
It does not see him or her as a threat.
It frees us from the sour taste of envy.
It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life.
So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs.
96. In a word, love means fulfilling the last two commandments of God’s Law: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s” (Ex 20:17).
Love inspires a sincere esteem for every human being and the recognition of his or her own right to happiness.
I love this person, and I see him or her with the eyes of God, who gives us everything “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17).
As a result, I feel a deep sense of happiness and peace.
This same deeply rooted love also leads me to reject the injustice whereby some possess too much and others too little.
It moves me to find ways of helping society’s outcasts to find a modicum of joy.
That is not envy, but the desire for equality.
Love is not boastful
97. The following word, perpereúetai, denotes vainglory, the need to be haughty, pedantic and somewhat pushy.
Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focused on others; they do not need to be the centre of attention.
The word that comes next – physioútai – is similar, indicating that love is not arrogant.
Literally, it means that we do not become “puffed up” before others. It also points to something more subtle: an obsession with showing off and a loss of a sense of reality.
Such people think that, because they are more “spiritual” or “wise”, they are more important than they really are.
Paul uses this verb on other occasions, as when he says that “knowledge puffs up”, whereas “love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1).
Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others; they want to lord it over them.
Yet what really makes us important is a love that understands, shows con- cern, and embraces the weak.
Elsewhere the word is used to criticize those who are “inflated” with their own importance (cf. 1 Cor 4:18) but in fact are filled more with empty words than the real “power” of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 4:19).
98. It is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions.
At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers
within the family become unbearably arrogant.
Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase.
Jesus told his disciples that in a world where power prevails, each tries to dominate the other, but “it shall not be so among you” (Mt 20:26).
The inner logic of Christian love is not about importance and power; rather, “whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Mt 20:27).
In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love.
Saint Peter’s admonition also applies to the family: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Pet 5:5).
Love is not rude
99. To love is also to be gentle and thoughtful, and this is conveyed by the next word, aschemonéi.
It indicates that love is not rude or impolite; it is not harsh.
Its actions, words and gestures are pleasing and not abrasive or rigid.
Love abhors making others suffer.
Courtesy “is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness” which requires a person “to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain times, to keep quiet”.107
It is not something that a
107 Octavio Paz, La llama doble, Barcelona, 1993, 35.
Christian may accept or reject. As an essential requirement of love, “every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him”.108
Every day, “entering into the life of another, even when that person already has a part to play in our life, demands the sensitivity and restraint which can renew trust and respect.
Indeed, the deeper love is, the more it calls for respect for the other’s freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart”.109
100. To be open to a genuine encounter with others, “a kind look” is essential.
This is incompatible with a negative attitude that readily points out other people’s shortcomings while overlooking one’s own.
A kind look helps us to see beyond our own limitations, to be patient and to cooperate with others, despite our differences.
Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric.
In this way, it grows ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we end up seeking our convenience alone and life in common becomes impossible.
Antisocial persons think that others exist only for the satisfaction of their own needs. Consequently, there is no room for the gentleness of love and its
108 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 114, art. 2, ad 1.
109 Catechesis (13 May 2005): L’Osservatore Romano, 14 May 2015, p. 8.
expression. Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement.
These were the words that Jesus himself spoke: “Take heart, my son!” (Mt 9:2); “Great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28); “Arise!” (Mk 5:41); “Go in peace” (Lk 7:50); “Be not afraid” (Mt 14:27).
These are not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn. In our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another.
Love is generous
101. We have repeatedly said that to love another we must first love ourselves. Paul’s hymn to love, however, states that love “does not seek its own interest”, nor “seek what is its own”.
This same idea is expressed in another text: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
The Bible makes it clear that generously serving others is far more noble than loving ourselves.
Loving ourselves is only important as a psychological prerequisite for being able to love others: “If a man is mean to himself, to whom will he be generous? No one is meaner than the man who is grudging to himself” (Sir 14:5-6).
102. Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that “it is more proper to charity to desire to love than
to desire to be loved”;110 indeed, “mothers, who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved”.111
Consequently, love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, “expecting nothing in return” (Lk 6:35), and the greatest of loves can lead to “laying down one’s life” for another (cf. Jn 15:13).
Can such generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully, really be possible?
Yes, because it is demanded by the Gospel: “You received without pay, give without pay” (Mt 10:8).
Love is not irritable or resentful
103. If the first word of Paul’s hymn spoke of the need for a patience that does not immediately react harshly to the weaknesses and faults of others, the word he uses next – paroxýnetai – has to do more with an interior indignation provoked by something from without.
It refers to a violent reaction within, a hidden irritation that sets us on edge where others are concerned, as if they were troublesome or threatening and thus to be avoided.
To nurture such interior hostility helps no one. It only causes hurt and alienation. Indignation is only healthy when it makes us react to a grave injustice; when it permeates our attitude towards others it is harmful.
110 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 27, art. 1,
111 Ibid., q. 27, art. 1.
104. The Gospel tells us to look to the log in our own eye (cf. Mt 7:5). Christians cannot ignore the persistent admonition of God’s word not to nurture anger: “Do not be overcome by evil” (Rm 12:21).
“Let us not grow weary in doing good” (Gal 6:9). It is one thing to sense a sudden surge of hostility and another to give into it, letting it take root in our hearts: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26).
My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family.
“And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. Just a little caress, no words are necessary. But do not let the day end without making peace in your family”.112
Our first reaction when we are annoyed should be one of heartfelt blessing, asking God to bless, free and heal that person.
“On the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet 3:9). If we must fight evil, so be it; but we must always say “no” to violence in the home.
105. Once we allow ill will to take root in our hearts, it leads to deep resentment. The phrase ou logízetai to kakón means that love “takes no
112 Catechesis (13 May 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 14 May 2015, p. 8.
account of evil”; “it is not resentful”. The opposite of resentment is forgiveness, which is rooted in a positive attitude that seeks to understand other people’s weaknesses and to excuse them.
As Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Yet we keep looking for more and more faults, imagining greater evils, presuming all kinds of bad intentions, and so resentment grows and deepens.
Thus, every mistake or lapse on the part of a spouse can harm the bond of love and the stability of the family. Something is wrong when we see every problem as equally serious; in this way, we risk being unduly harsh with the fail- ings of others.
The just desire to see our rights respected turns into a thirst for vengeance rather than a reasoned defence of our dignity.
106. When we have been offended or let down, forgiveness is possible and desirable, but no one can say that it is easy.
The truth is that “family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice.
It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation.
There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: hence there arise
the many and varied forms of division in family life”.113
107. Today we recognize that being able to forgive others implies the liberating experience of understanding and forgiving ourselves.
Often our mistakes, or criticism we have received from loved ones, can lead to a loss of self-esteem.
We become distant from others, avoiding affection and fearful in our interpersonal relationships.
Blaming others becomes falsely reassuring.
We need to learn to pray over our past history, to accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our limitations, and even to forgive ourselves, in order to have this same attitude towards others.
108. All this assumes that we ourselves have had the experience of being forgiven by God, justified by his grace and not by our own merits.
We have known a love that is prior to any of our own efforts, a love that constantly opens doors, promotes and encourages.
If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us.
Otherwise, our family life will no longer be a place of under- standing, support and encouragement, but rather one of constant tension and mutual criticism.
113 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 21: AAS 74 (1982), 106.
Love rejoices with others
109. The expression chaírei epì te adikía has to do with a negativity lurking deep within a person’s heart.
It is the toxic attitude of those who rejoice at seeing an injustice done to others.
The following phrase expresses its opposite: sygchaírei te aletheía: “it rejoices in the right”.
In other words, we rejoice at the good of others when we see their dignity and value their abilities and good works.
This is impossible for those who must always be comparing and competing, even with their spouse, so that they secretly rejoice in their failures.
110. When a loving person can do good for others, or sees that others are happy, they themselves live happily and in this way give glory to God, for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).
Our Lord especially appreciates those who find joy in the happiness of others.
If we fail to learn how to rejoice in the well-being of others, and fo- cus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence, for, as Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
The family must always be a place where, when something good happens to one of its members, they know that others will be there to celebrate it with them.
Love bears all things
111. Paul’s list ends with four phrases contain- ing the words “all things”. Love bears all things,
believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Here we see clearly the countercultural power of a love that is able to face whatever might threaten it.
112. First, Paul says that love “bears all things” (panta stégei).
This is about more than simply putting up with evil; it has to do with the use of the tongue.
The verb can mean “holding one’s peace” about what may be wrong with another person.
It implies limiting judgment, checking the im- pulse to issue a firm and ruthless condemnation: “Judge not and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37).
Although it runs contrary to the way we normally use our tongues, God’s word tells us: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters” (Jas 4:11).
Being willing to speak ill of another person is a way of asserting ourselves, venting resentment and envy without concern for the harm we may do.
We often forget that slander can be quite sinful; it is a grave offense against God when it seriously harms another person’s good name and causes damage that is hard to repair.
Hence God’s word forthrightly states that the tongue “is a world of iniquity” that “stains the whole body” (Jas 3:6); it is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8).
Whereas the tongue can be used to “curse those who are made in the likeness of God” (3:9), love cherishes the good name of others, even one’s enemies. In seeking to uphold God’s law we must never forget this specific requirement of love.
113. Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse’s good side, not their weakness and faults.
In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them.
This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude.
Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context.
It recognizes that these failings are a part of a bigger picture.
We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows.
The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me.
Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it.
The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal.
It is real, albeit limited and earthly.
If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs.
Love coexists with imperfection.
It “bears all things” and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one.
Love believes all things
114. Panta pisteúei. Love believes all things.
Here “belief” is not to be taken in its strict theological meaning, but more in the sense of what we mean by “trust”.
This goes beyond simply presuming that the other is not lying or cheating. Such basic trust recognizes God’s light shining
beyond the darkness, like an ember glowing beneath the ash.
115. This trust enables a relationship to be free.
It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip.
Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything.
This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships.
The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle.
At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing.
Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are.
On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies.
Love hopes all things
116. Panta elpízei. Love does not despair of the future.
Following upon what has just been said, this phrase speaks of the hope of one who knows that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential. This does
not mean that everything will change in this life.
It does involve realizing that, though things may not always turn out as we wish, God may well make crooked lines straight and draw some good from the evil we endure in this world.
117. Here hope comes most fully into its own, for it embraces the certainty of life after death.
Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven.
There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away.
There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty.
This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible.
Love endures all things
118. Panta hypoménei. This means that love bears every trial with a positive attitude.
It stands firm in hostile surroundings.
This “endurance” involves not only the ability to tolerate certain aggravations, but something greater: a constant readiness to confront any challenge.
It is a love that never gives up, even in the darkest hour.
It shows a certain dogged heroism, a power to resist every negative current, an irrepressible commitment to goodness. Here I think of the words of Martin Luther King, who met every
kind of trial and tribulation with fraternal love: “The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what reli- gion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off… Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it… When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure
of the universe that strong and powerful element of love”.114
119. In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help us fight every evil threatening it.
Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage.
The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
I am sometimes amazed to see men or women who have had to separate from their spouse for their own protection, yet, because of their enduring conjugal love, still try to help them, even by enlisting others, in their moments of illness, suffering or trial.
Here too we see a love that never gives up.
(End, Pope Francis on the true nature of love, Chapter 4 of his letter)
And here is an official sumary of the entire document, published by the Vatican.
Summary of the Text Published by the Vatican Press Office
—from the Vatican
It is not by chance that Amoris Laetitia (AL), “The Joy of Love”, the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “on Love in the Family”, was signed on 19 March, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph.
It brings together the results of the two Synods on the family convoked by Pope Francis in 2014 and 2015.
It often cites their Final Reports; documents and teachings of his Predecessors; and his own numerous catecheses on the family.
In addition, as in previous magisterial documents, the Pope also makes use of the contributions of various Episcopal Conferences around the world (Kenya, Australia, Argentina…) and cites significant figures such as Martin Luther King and Erich Fromm. The Pope even quotes the film Babette’s Feast to illustrate the concept of gratuity.
The Apostolic Exhortation is striking for its breadth and detail. Its 325 paragraphs are distributed over nine chapters.
The seven introductory paragraphs plainly set out the complexity of a topic in urgent need of thorough study.
The interventions of the Synod Fathers make up [form] a “multifaceted gem” (AL 4), a precious polyhedron, whose value must be preserved. But the Pope cautions that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium”.
Indeed, for some questions, “each country or region … can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For ‘cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle … needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied’” (AL 3).
This principle of inculturation applies to how problems are formulated and addressed and, apart from the dogmatic issues that have been well defined by the Church’s magisterium, none of this approach can be “globalized”.
In his address at the end of the 2015 Synod, the Pope said very clearly: “What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”
The Pope clearly states that we need above all to avoid a sterile juxtaposition between demands for change and the general application of abstract norms. He writes: “The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations” (AL 2).
Chapter One: “In the light of the Word” (8-30)
Following this introduction, the Pope begins his reflections with the Holy Scriptures in the first chapter, which unfolds as a meditation on Psalm 128 (which appears in the Jewish wedding liturgy as well as that of Christian marriages).
The Bible “is full of families, births, love stories and family crises” (AL 8). This impels us to meditate on how the family is not an abstract ideal but rather like a practical “trade” (AL 16), which is carried out with tenderness (AL 28), but which has also been confronted with sin from the beginning, when the relationship of love turned into domination (cf. AL 19).
Hence, the Word of God “is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering. For it shows them the goal of their journey…” (AL 22).
Chapter Two: “The experiences and challenges of families” (31-57)
Building on the biblical base, in the second chapter the Pope considers the current situation of families. While keeping “firmly grounded in [the] reality” of family experiences (AL 6), he also draws heavily on the final Reports of the two Synods.
Families face many challenges, from migration to the ideological denial of differences between the sexes (“ideology of gender” AL 56); from the culture of the provisional to the antibirth mentality and the impact of biotechnology in the field of procreation; from the lack of housing and work to pornography and abuse of minors; from inattention to persons with disabilities, to lack of respect for the elderly; from the legal dismantling of the family, to violence against women.
The Pope insists on concreteness, which is a key concept in the Exhortation.
And it is concreteness, realism and daily life that make up the substantial difference between acceptable “theories” of interpretation of reality and arbitrary “ideologies”.
Citing Familiaris consortio, Francis states that “we do well to focus on concrete realities, since ‘the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history’, and through these ‘the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family’” (AL 31).
Conversely, if we fail to listen to reality, we cannot understand the needs of the present or the movements of the Spirit.
The Pope notes that rampant individualism makes it difficult today for a person to give oneself generously to another (cf. AL 33).
Here is an interesting picture of the situation: “The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals” (AL 34).
The humility of realism helps us to avoid presenting “a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families” (AL 36).
Idealism does not allow marriage to be understood for what it is, that is, a “dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment”. It is unrealistic to think that families can sustain themselves “simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace” (AL 37).
Calling for a certain “self-criticism” of approaches that are inadequate for the experience of marriage and the family, the Pope stresses the need to make room for the formation of the conscience of the faithful: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL 37).
Jesus proposed a demanding ideal but “never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery” (AL 38).
Chapter Three: “Looking to Jesus: The vocation of the family” (58-88)
The third chapter is dedicated to some essential elements of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.
This chapter is important because its 30 paragraphs concisely depict the vocation of the family according to the Gospel and as affirmed by the Church over time.
Above all, it stresses the themes of indissolubility, the sacramental nature of marriage, the transmission of life and the education of children. Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II, Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, and Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II are widely quoted.
The chapter provides a broad view and touches on “imperfect situations” as well. We can read, in fact: “‘Discernment of the presence of ‘seeds of the Word’ in other cultures (cf. Ad Gentes 11) can also apply to the reality of marriage and the family. In addition to true natural marriage, positive elements exist in the forms of marriage found in other religious traditions’, even if, at times, obscurely” (AL 77). The reflection also includes the “wounded families” about whom the Pope – quoting the Final Report of the 2015 Synod extensively – says that “it is always necessary to recall this general principle: ‘Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations’
(Familiaris Consortio, 84). The degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases and factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision. Therefore, while clearly stating the Church’s teaching, pastors are to avoid judgements that do not take into account the complexity of various situations, and they are to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition” (AL 79).
Chapter Four: “Love in marriage” (89-164)
The fourth chapter treats love in marriage, which it illuminates with Saint Paul’s Hymn to Love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. This opening section is truly a painstaking, focused, inspired and poetic exegesis of the Pauline text. It is a collection of brief passages carefully and tenderly describing human love in absolutely concrete terms. The quality of psychological introspection that marks this exegesis is striking. The psychological insights enter into the emotional world of the spouses – positive and negative – and the erotic dimension of love. This is an extremely rich and valuable contribution to Christian married life, unprecedented in previous papal documents.
This section digresses briefly from the more extensive, perceptive treatment of the day-to-day experience of married love which the Pope refuses to judge against ideal standards: “There is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign entails ‘a dynamic process…, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God’” (AL 122). On the other hand, the Pope forcefully stresses the fact that conjugal love by its very nature defines the partners in a richly encompassing and lasting union (AL 123), precisely within that “mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures” (Al 126) which indeed make up a marriage.
The chapter concludes with a very important reflection on the “transformation of love” because “Longer life spans now mean that close and exclusive relationships must last for four, five or even six decades; consequently, the initial decision has to be frequently renewed” (AL 163). As physical appearance alters, the loving attraction does not lessen but changes as sexual desire can be transformed over time into the desire for togetherness and mutuality: “There is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all through life. Yet if a couple can come up with a shared and lasting life project, they can love one another and live as one until death do them part, enjoying an enriching intimacy” (AL 163).
Chapter Five: “Love made fruitful” (165-198)
The fifth chapter is entirely focused on love’s fruitfulness and procreation. It speaks in a profoundly spiritual and psychological manner about welcoming new life, about the waiting period of pregnancy, about the love of a mother and a father. It also speaks of the expanded fruitfulness of adoption, of welcoming the contribution of families to promote a “culture of encounter”, and of family life in a broad sense which includes aunts and uncles, cousins, relatives of relatives, friends. Amoris laetitia does not focus on the so-called “nuclear” family” because it is very aware of the family as a wider network of many relationships. The spirituality of the sacrament of marriage has a deeply social character (cf. AL 187). And within this social dimension the Pope particularly emphasizes the specific role of the relationship between youth and the elderly, as well as the relationship between brothers and sisters as a training ground for relating with others.
Chapter Six: “Some pastoral perspectives” (199-258)
In the sixth chapter the Pope treats various pastoral perspectives that are aimed at forming solid and fruitful families according to God’s plan. The chapter use the Final Reports of the two Synods and the catecheses of Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II extensively. It reiterates that families should not only be evangelized, they should also evangelize. The Pope regrets “that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families” (AL 202). On the one hand, the psycho-affective formation of seminarians needs to be improved, and families need to be more involved in formation for ministry (cf. AL 203); and on the other hand, “the experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy could also be drawn upon” (AL 202).
The Pope then deals with the preparation of the engaged for marriage; with the accompaniment of couples in the first years of married life, including the issue of responsible parenthood; and also with certain complex situations and crises, knowing that “each crisis has a lesson to teach us; we need to learn how to listen for it with the ear of the heart” (AL 232). Some causes of crisis are analysed, among them a delay in maturing affectively (cf. AL 239).
Mention is furthermore made of accompanying abandoned, separated or divorced persons. The Exhortation stresses the importance of the recent reform of the procedures for marriage annulment. It highlights the suffering of children in situations of conflict and concludes: “Divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces is very troubling. Hence, our most important pastoral task with regard to families is to strengthen their love, helping to heal wounds and working to prevent the spread of this drama of our times” (AL 246). It then touches on the situations of a marriage between a Catholic and a Christian of another denomination (mixed marriages), and between a Catholic and someone of another religion (disparity of cult). Regarding families with members with homosexual tendencies, it reaffirms the necessity to respect them and to refrain from any unjust discrimination and every form of aggression or violence. The last, pastorally poignant part of the chapter, “When death makes us feel its sting”, is on the theme of the loss of dear ones and of widowhood.
Chapter Seven: “Towards a better education of children” (259-290)
The seventh chapter is dedicated to the education of children: their ethical formation, the learning of discipline which can include punishment, patient realism, sex education, passing on the faith and, more generally, family life as an educational context. The practical wisdom present in each paragraph is remarkable, above all the attention given to those gradual, small steps “that can be understood, accepted and appreciated” (AL 271).
There is a particularly interesting and pedagogically fundamental paragraph in which Francis clearly states that “obsession, however, is not education. We cannot control every situation that a child may experience… If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges. What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy” (AL 260).
The notable section on education in sexuality is very expressively entitled: “Yes to sex education”. The need is there, and we have to ask “if our educational institutions have taken up this challenge … in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished”. Sound education needs to be carried out “within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving” (AL 280). The text warns that the expression ‘safe sex’ conveys “a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance” (AL 283).
Chapter Eight: “Guiding, discerning and integrating weakness” (291-312)
The eighth chapter is an invitation to mercy and pastoral discernment in situations that do not fully match what the Lord proposes. The Pope uses three very important verbs: guiding, discerning and integrating, which are fundamental in addressing fragile, complex or irregular situations. The chapter has sections on the need for gradualness in pastoral care; the importance of discernment; norms and mitigating circumstances in pastoral discernment; and finally what the Pope calls the “logic of pastoral mercy”.
Chapter eight is very sensitive. In reading it one must remember that “the Church’s task is often like that of a field hospital” (AL 291). Here the Holy Father grapples with the findings of the Synods on controversial issues. He reaffirms what Christian marriage is and adds that “some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way”. The Church therefore “does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage” (AL 292).
As far as discernment with regard to “irregular” situations is concerned, the Pope states: “There is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition’” (AL 296). And he continues: “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community, and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy” (AL 297). And further: “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment” (AL 298).
In this line, gathering the observations of many Synod Fathers, the Pope states that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal”. “Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services… Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church… This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children” (AL 299).
In a more general vein, the Pope makes an extremely important statement for understanding the orientation and meaning of the Exhortation: “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations, … it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is needed is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all
cases’, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same” (AL 300). The Pope develops in depth the needs and characteristics of the journey of accompaniment and discernment necessary for profound dialogue between the faithful and their pastors.
For this purpose the Holy Father recalls the Church’s reflection on “mitigating factors and situations” regarding the attribution of responsibility and accountability for actions; and relying on St. Thomas Aquinas, he focuses on the relationship between rules and discernment by stating: “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule” (AL 304).
The last section of the chapter treats “The logic of pastoral mercy”. To avoid misunderstandings, Pope Francis strongly reiterates: “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 the human being. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown” (AL 307).
The overall sense of the chapter and of the spirit that Pope Francis wishes to impart to the pastoral work of the Church is well summed up in the closing words: “I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.” (AL 312).
On the “logic of pastoral mercy”, Pope Francis emphasizes: “At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311).
Chapter Nine: “The spirituality of marriage and the family” (313-325)
The ninth chapter is devoted to marital and family spirituality, which “is made up of thousands of small but real gestures” (AL 315). The Pope clearly states that “those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union” (AL 316). Everything, “moments of joy, relaxation, celebration, and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection” (AL 317). He then speaks of prayer in the light of Easter, of the spirituality of exclusive and free love in the challenge and the yearning to grow old together, reflecting God’s fidelity (cf. AL 319). And finally the spirituality of care, consolation and incentive: the Pope teaches that “all family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others” (AL 322). It is a profound “spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them” (AL 323).
In the final paragraph the Pope affirms: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love … All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. (…) May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us” (AL 325).
The Apostolic Exhortation concludes with a Prayer to the Holy Family.
* * *
As can readily be understood from a quick review of its contents, the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia seeks emphatically to affirm not the “ideal family” but the very rich and complex reality of family life.
Its pages provide an openhearted look, profoundly positive, which is nourished not with abstractions or ideal projections, but with pastoral attention to reality.
The text is a close reading of family life, with spiritual insights and practical wisdom useful for every human couple or persons who want to build a family. Above all, it is patently the result of attention to what people have lived over many years.
The Exhortation Amoris laetitia: On Love in the Family indeed speaks the language of experience and of hope.
(End, official Vatican summary of the document)
Here is the final prayer of the document:
Prayer to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendour of true love; to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again experience violence, rejection and division;
may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Graciously hear our prayer.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, on 19 March, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, in the year 2016, the fourth of my Pontificate.
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What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.