Today at around 12 PM Rome time, the Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family” was released to the public. It is important to note that an Apostolic Exhortation does not introduce, change or define doctrine. Rather, it is the Pope communicating to the Universal Church to take certain actions. The Apostolic Exhortation released today was a lengthy work in progress which began at the Synods 14 & 15. It focuses on the family and the modern situations it finds itself in. During the Synods, open discussions were held regarding the family, homosexual unions, divorce and the reception of the Sacraments.
The exhortation begins with an introduction telling of the issues at hand and how complex they are. The Pope says that not everything should be left to the magesterium and that each local region should seek solutions base don culture, traditions and the needs of the local people. In chapter 1, the Pope reflects on the family using Sacred Scripture, specifically Psalm 128. He describes the family as a ‘trade’ and not some abstract idea. He follows in chapter 2 by presenting the situations of families in today’s world. The ideas of contraception, biotechnology, gender theory, pornography, abuse of minors etc are mentioned. He expounds on them and calls on all to have an informed conscience. The Pope stresses that Catholics should not see couples living in ‘irregular situations’ as ‘living in sin.’
In chapter 3, the Pope points to Christ as the center and vocation of the family. He relies on the Gospel to make his case and reminds Catholics of the indissolubility of marriage and the importance of transmitting life as well as the education of the youth. He brings out the ‘imperfect situations’ that exist in the world and that pastors must be merciful and avoid judgments. Pastors must understand each situation and try his best to work with families involved in said situation. In chapter 4, the Pope addresses love in the family and expounds on the many hardships couples face in marriage. He stresses that love must be transformational. Couples must work at it and not give in to the changes that take place i.e. loss of attractiveness, physical changes, changes in sexual desire and so on.
Chapter 5 deals with procreation and the call to be “fruitful and multiply.” The Pope stresses that this fruitfulness can be found in adoption and the care of children by parents and the extended familiy. In chapter 6, the Pope addresses the issues via a pastoral perspective. He relies on the teachings of Pope John Paul II and his own catechesis along with the reports from the two Synods to stress that the family must not only be evangelized but it must also go out into the world and evangelize. He makes the observation that most clergy are not well educated on how to deal with the face of the changing family in the post modern world and stresses changes in the psycho-affrective formation of those in seminary. The Pope continues speaking on the family, married couples and those who are divorced and often felt abandoned by the Church. He describes divorce as an evil and stresses the need for the annulment process to be reformed. Lastly, he addresses the situations with married couples of different faiths as well as homosexual persons. He stresses that homosexuals must be loved and respected, but also makes it clear that same-sex marriage is not the same as marriage between a man and a woman and can never be the same.
In chapter 7, the Pope speaks on the education of children and how parents cannot control every situation a child faces. He stresses all kinds of education including sex education, but warns that so-called ‘safe sex’ education is harmful because it presents the procreative finality of sex as something negative or as something that can being negative consequences. He says that it promotes narcissism and aggression. Chapter 8 invites the Church to be more merciful to others and provide pastoral discernment in regards to today’s family situation and the many dysfunctional aspects we find in it today. The Pope reminds us that the Church is like a field hospital caring for all those who are wounded. It should not be a place for judgment. The Pope also makes it clear that pastoral mercy must never lessen or water down what Jesus offers and desires of the family, couples and so on, he writes: “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.”
Finally, chapter 9 reiterates the spirituality of marriage and the family. The Pope stresses the need for prayer and participation in the life of the Spirit. He reminds us that families do not appear perfect. Each family has its issues, but they must strive to grow in love and maturity.
The Apostolic Exhortation can be found here:
The Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family is very well written. As expected, there were no doctrinal changes nor any endorsements of anti-Catholic rhetoric. Nevertheless, some are not too happy with it, especially so-called Traditionalists who feel the Pope did not reiterate strongly that those who divorce and remarry cannot be admitted to Holy Communion. I can see why they would feel this. Footnote 351 which says:
seems to leave open the idea that Holy Communion can be give out on a case by case scenario since the “Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
The footnote is supporting this statement in the exhortation:
Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.
As you can see, it is referring to those people who are in a situation of sin, but can “can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help…” This can leave open the idea of giving Holy Communion to those who are divorced and remarried, or any situation for that matter where Holy Communion is prohibited. I feel Pope Francis needs to clarify this otherwise some bishops and priests will run with the wind with it and give our Holy Communion with disregard to the idea that we have to be in the state of grace to receive the Lord. While the Sacraments are a ‘medicine’ of sort, we are told by St. Paul that receiving the Lord’s body and blood unworthily brings about not only sin against the body and blood of the Lord, but also bodily sickness:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
1 Corinthians 11: 27-30
Overall, I liked the exhortation and see that the Pope is speaking pastorally and with mercy, so I understand where he is coming from. However, what worries me is how others will interpret this and go around handing out Holy Communion to everyone as if it were government cheese. The Holy Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but it is also not food for dogs.
In closing, we must read this exhortation carefully. I have already read it 3 times just to make sure I got every detail and understood where the Pope was coming from and why he was coming from there, so to speak. The media has already jumped to conclusions saying things the Pope never said. Please ignore them.
Here are some reactions from others:
In first #AmorisLaetitia reax, +Chaput says “we can be thankful” for Pope’s doc, warns about “scramble” in reading: pic.twitter.com/VC21Xi54gB
— Rocco Palmo (@roccopalmo) April 8, 2016
In first USCCB response to #AmorisLaetitia, Family chair +Malone welcomes text as “an inspirational aid” for church: pic.twitter.com/0kRmTmLhmr
— Rocco Palmo (@roccopalmo) April 8, 2016