A few months ago, you may recall having heard in the news that Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation entitled, Amoris Laetitia (On Love in the Family). If you heard about it, you might be wondering why I’ve waited nearly three months to comment on it in the bulletin. Well, for one thing, I often write these columns well in advance of the bulletin printing. And secondly, I wanted to wait and see what people out there would say in response to the document, particularly the media.
First of all, you might be wondering, “What is an apostolic exhortation?” An apostolic exhortation is written by the Pope to exhort, or encourage, the faithful to grow in their life in Christ in some way. Its purpose is not to change dogmatic teachings. Amoris Laetitia is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, meaning that it is the Pope’s exhortation following a synod ( -- in this case, the Synod on the Family that convened in Rome in October last year and the year before). After the bishops have met for the synod, the Pope considers their thoughts and recommendations and communicates his conclusions in the exhortation.
Now that you know what an apostolic exhortation is, a few words about Amoris Laetitia: While the scope of this document is much broader, the media has tended to focus on only two of its topics: the Pope’s pastoral council for those in same-sex unions, and those Catholics who are divorced and civilly remarried without the Church’s declaration of nullity (“annulment”) on their first marriage. Many wondered if the Pope was going to change the Church’s teaching or pastoral approach to persons in these situations.
According to Vatican Radio, Amoris Laetitia “affirms the Church’s teaching that stable families are the building block of a healthy society and a place where children learn to love, respect, and interact with others. At the same time the text warns against idealizing the many challenges facing family life, urging Catholics to care fore, rather than condemning, all those whose lives do not reflect the teaching of the Church. In particular the document focuses on the need for ‘personal and pastoral discernment’ for individuals, recognizing 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.’”
Rather than changing the Church’s teaching or making new rules permitting reception of Holy Communion for those in irregular situations (as many were anticipating from this document), Pope Francis encourages pastors and all members of the Church to walk with people in their broken situations in order to draw them closer to Christ and his Church, while at the same time standing by the Church’s teaching. In a way, this is nothing new, for I know many priests who always try to take this approach with people. But at the same time, it is good for all of us to be encouraged in this manner – not only pastors, but the laity in their relations with other people in their lives who find themselves not in conformity with the Church’s teaching on morality, particularly in the area of marriage and family.
Amoris Laetitia is not a short document, but it’s a beautiful and insightful one. If you have some time, I encourage you to read it, or at least to take a look at it, especially the latter half. You can find it at: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia.html