Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), has already elicited a deep variety of responses. Voices from both the ‘too little’ and ‘too much’ perspectives remind us that he has not changed Church teaching. For the past three years, Pope Francis has not let us stop talking about doctrine. In The Joy of Love, the Holy Father continues to ask all members of the Church to speak boldly, without fear. We are called to admit that the Church is a place where real people work and fail, find mercy and work again.
The concept of informed conscience has a significant place in The Joy of Love, while the legalistic application of rules appears downplayed. As Pope Francis puts it, the Church cannot apply moral laws as if ‘they were stones to throw at people’s lives’ (305). Among these concerns are poverty and unemployment (25), tendencies toward selfishness and individualism (33 & 41). His Holiness articulates clearly the difficulties of married life, but sees them not as problems but as opportunities.
THE JOY OF CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY
The Joy of Love is a clear appeal to all Christians to promote marriage as a vocation. Despite the inevitable challenges (87) every effort should be made to safeguard marriage in society and its promotion should be at the forefront of Church life (40). The family, as a natural society founded on marriage, is the rock on which society is built (50) and the factors that undermine this should be confronted. The gift of children, with particular emphasis placed on the need for family prayer (318), education in the faith (287), the welcoming of new life (167) forms a large section of the document.
Pope Francis refers to the couple that loves and begets life as a ‘true, living Icon’ capable of revealing God the Creator, mirroring God who is love (121). He asks us to explore questions on how we, as a Church, support not just engaged and newly married couples (218) but couples in crisis (232-246), those in mixed marriages (247); the childless (178), the elderly (191) and those who remain single (158).
Chapter Four would be a useful read for all couples undertaking marriage prep. Clearly such an account of Christian love: building up and serving of others (97 & 101); not reacting angrily and harbouring resentment (91 & 103); and enduring offence (92 & 105) refers not just to the marital relationship but to a Christian way of life.
A BROADER VISION?
The first 4 paragraphs exhort the Church, not just to a ‘broader vision of marriage,’ but to the need for ‘continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual and pastoral questions… (2-3). The local variety and plurality of experience and context around the world, the ‘legitimate concerns and honest questions’ of Christian families requires ‘a commitment to others’ (100), reflection and dialogue.
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