Amoris Laetitia: Evolution Not Revolution

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Thursday of the 3rd Week of Easter

Last Friday, the Holy See released Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia or The Joy of Love.  It’s his reflection on the work of the Synod on the Family, an engaging and sometimes contentious process that sought to consider and address the many challenges faced by married couples and families throughout the world. 

A lot of attention in the press (religious as well as secular) has been on how the document deals with “hot button” issues like communion for divorced Catholics, contraception and same-sex marriage.  Perhaps not surprisingly, it fulfills neither the hopes of liberals nor the worst fears of conservatives.  In fact, these subjects are not the major focus.  This isn’t because these issues are not important.  However, there is a greater need to address some even more fundamental things, such as a need to reiterate the sacramentality of marriage and the role of the family in society, for a global Church at a time of rapid social, cultural and economic change.  As such, it is far more evolutionary than revolutionary.  It also reminds us that our reflections and conversations on marriage and family life will need to be ongoing.

It’s notable that Amoris Laetitia has been released during the Year of Mercy, for it places a lot of emphasis on pastoral care.  It also reflects Pope Francis’ vision of the Church as a field hospital for the wounded and struggling more than a sanctuary for the saved.  Another important element, one that will be worked out over time and pastoral practice, is a renewed emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity and less of an emphasis on centralized authority. At the very beginning of his exhortation, the Pope lays the groundwork for this shift in practice and leadership:

I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs (3).

As papal documents go, Amoris Laetitia is an easy read…but it’s not short.  I’m still working my way through it and will share further reflections in my next few posts.—JC