‘Amoris Laetitia’: A pastoral response
Pope Francis issued his exhortation, entitled “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), on April 8. Can you reflect on some of the document’s highlights and share what they mean to you and the people of the archdiocese?
The Holy Father convened two synods of bishops from around the world in 2014 and 2015, and each synod focused on marriage and the family. The usual practice is for the pope to issue a post-synodal exhortation that frames the discussions and sets a pastoral path for the future. It’s important to be clear that the Holy Father obviously did not change church doctrine in any way. It is a shift in attitude. This document is written with a sensitive, pastoral sense, and it calls us as church leaders and as individual disciples to walk with people as they prepare for marriage, as they struggle with failing or broken marriages, as they find themselves divorced and remarried and as they are seeking annulments. In each case we are called to accompany people and help them discern what God is calling them to do in their particular situations. This is nothing new; however, the pope is specific. We’ve always said we have to bring everything to the table in order to have a fully formed conscience. It is through prayer and conscience that we seek and find God’s will in our lives.
A lot of media attention has been placed on the issue of whether or not those who are divorced and remarried can receive Communion.
That’s part of the document, but I think it’s very important not just to study the hot-button issues but the entire exhortation. In its entirety, the pope is addressing family life throughout the whole world. We have to keep in mind that there are many marriage practices and traditions unique to different parts of the world. For example, some countries allow polygamy and pre-arranged marriages, some have no marriage preparation, some view women as inferior. We should read the document as it addresses many issues. One of the big topics he addresses very strongly is the need for the church to prepare couples for marriage and also to provide some kind of mentoring or marriage enrichment after they are married and making the transition into married life. The Holy Father also reaffirmed the spirit of “Humanae Vitae,” which says an essential part of marriage is an openness to procreation. In the first part of the document, he gives a beautiful exhortation on the meaning of and the theology of marriage by illuminating it with a reflection on St. Paul’s “Hymn to Love” in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Does he address the issue of same-sex marriage?
Yes. Obviously, he upholds church teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, and it is for a lifetime. He goes on to say that when people are in same-sex relationships or have a same-sex orientation that we, as church, need to be there for them. We can help them reflect on the teachings of the church and God’s abundant love for them in daily life. We need to love them and respect them. We have to publicly oppose any kind of harassment or unjust discrimination and do what we can to accompany them on their journey.
What about those who are divorced and remarried and the matter of receiving Communion?
The Holy Father upholds the current discipline of the church that those who are divorced and remarried should seek an annulment and should try to regularize the situation they are in. The pope also is very realistic in saying that sometimes that may not be possible and that the church must work with people when that is not possible. He says we must accompany people in this situation. No one lives the ideal marriage or family life, and we must walk with people and help them feel a sense of the church’s love. A person who is divorced and remarried is not excommunicated and can be a part of the church. We have to accept them where they are and not where we would like them to be. He mentions that a person in an irregular situation should seek the advice of a priest who is willing to work with them and accompany and discern with them. Discerning means looking at the situation prayerfully and, as much as humanly possible, with the eyes of God.
What is the so-called “internal forum” and what does that mean?
The synod fathers mentioned the internal forum, and Pope Francis mentions that it was brought up during the synod. The internal forum means a person would go to a priest, and they would discuss honestly and with great transparency their situation. The priest helps them form their conscience as to what they can do to deal with the situation and also what that means in terms of their involvement in the church. Paragraph 300 of the document, I think, is very important: “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations … it is understandable that neither this 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.”
What will the impact of the exhortation be on the people of the archdiocese?
It will take time for us not just to read the document but also to be able to truly understand it in the spirit in which the Holy Father gives it to us. This is a document that could well be used for meditation, especially on the issues of family life. It would be unfortunate if we were to focus only on the hot-button issues because this exhortation is so rich in its entirety. Our Family Life Office, under the direction of David Dawson, will continue to help us understand the document by offering seminars. This fits in seamlessly with the priorities and goals of our archdiocesan synod – enriching family life. May God bless our efforts to impart the Holy Father’s wisdom on marriage and the family. To those who are struggling in marriage and family life, we as church – your family – want to support you and help you know God’s tender love and patience.