Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 1

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Introduction

1 For all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people…”

It can be easy to get discouraged and lose hope in marriage due to the many negative statistics we have about it. Divorce rates are skyrocketing. Many couples cohabitate instead of getting married. We see news about child abuse and domestic violence pretty much daily. However, despite all these bad things, the majority of people look up to marriage as a good ideal for happiness and joy. The fact that so many young people believe in this gives us hope for the future.

2-1 The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.

Many issues have arisen that threaten marriage, including the high divorce rate, remarriage after divorce, popular support for abortion, prevalent use of contraception, and the emergence of same-sex marriage. The Church has preached against all of these for years, and yet they have continued to grow in popularity. Therefore, the Church must find a whole new way to communicate the harm of these activities while gently leading people back to the truth. It has to be done right the first time. Otherwise people will just be pushed further away. As a result, the proper approach is going to take a long time to discover. The synod was just a start. Years of work are still ahead to fight these evils. It’s likely that these evils will always exist in some form, but much improvement is possible.

2-2 The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations.

This is a long way of saying we should avoid extremes, good advice for these times. One extreme is to just throw out past Church teaching and replace it with teaching that would be popular in the world. This would address the problem of the popular world ignoring the wisdom of the Church, but the unacceptable cost would be the Church abandoning the truth. This obviously cannot happen. The other extreme is mandating blanket rules for all people, no matter the situation. This also cannot happen since people are not robots or clones. They have different circumstances that affect what they should or should not do. As 2-1 states above, the problem is complex. The two extremes may be quick and easy but neither are acceptable.

3 Since ‘time is greater than space’, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.

This quote explains Pope Francis’ approach to making positive change in the world. The Church is not here to write laws for every miniscule detail of life. Instead, it simply gives people the main idea or guideline on how to live holy. Applying that broad guideline to an individual person is a matter of discernment, which might require the aid of a priest or spiritual director but is ultimately the responsibility of the individual believer.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

8 The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family with all its burden of violence but also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9).

Many times people ask, “why are Catholics and the Church so focused on families?” The reason is clear. In the Bible every story has to do with family to some extent. The story of civilization is the story of family. It’s very important to think about family. When families are doing well, civilization is doing well. On the other hand, if families are struggling or failing, civilization will follow.

When addressing a problem, you always start with the source. We have many problems in the world, but many of them start with family troubles such as neglect and abuse. For example, look at minority neighborhoods. They have some of the highest poverty rates. How do we reduce that poverty? By improving families in those neighborhoods. If we can ensure all children have a stable household with two parents plus friends and relatives for support, both parents and children will be more successful, leading to future generations with less poverty.

9 [The father and mother] embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female?” (Mt 19:4).

Marriage is a divine plan of God. He created humans male and female to fulfill this plan. Everyone is naturally called to marriage. Some people do not get married due to circumstances beyond their control, such as disease or severe injury, but they are still called to marriage which may cause suffering. Other people receive a supernatural call by God to do something special with their lives (religious life). Without that supernatural calling, those people would also be called to marriage.

10 Does [“image of God” (Gen 1:27)] mean that sex is a property of God himself, or that God has a divine female companion, as some ancient religions held? Naturally, the answer is no.

Pope Francis corrects those that would take the Bible’s use of “image” literally. When the Bible says male and female were made in the image of God, it does not mean God is actually male and female. In fact, God is something greater. He cannot simply be pinned down to one sex. He contains all that it is to be human plus the infiniteness of his divine person. So all of the male traits like strength are in God plus all of the female traits like gentleness also exist in God plus infinitely more. God is everything in one being.

11 …the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection.

Seeing the human family gives us a clue as to its Creator. In the human family, there are parents and children. In the divine family, there is a parent (the Father) and a child (the Son). In addition, the love between parents bears fruit in the form a child just as the love between the Father and Son bears fruit in the form of the Holy Spirit. Marriage and family are evidence for the existence of God and the three divine Persons.

12-1 …we see the man, who anxiously seeks “a helper fit for him” (vv. 18, 20), capable of alleviating the solitude which he feels amid the animals and the world around him.

Pope Francis explains the incompleteness of man and how he needs woman to complete him. As I wrote for 9 above, marriage is a natural calling. Everyone at a certain point longs for another. They just don’t want to be alone anymore. Some people are made complete by marrying the Church (priesthood) or marrying God (consecrated life). The rest are made complete by marrying another human, the opposite sex. Of course, our Pope is looking at the ideal of marriage here. Many people in real life do not get married due to impairment, illness, or other reasons.

12-2 …for where love is concerned, silence is always more eloquent than words.

This is a beautiful poetic statement about true love. While we speak in words, God has no need for it. Love is more powerful than words. I’m sure you can remember an experience where someone aided you before you even asked. In love a person can be so attuned to the other that they just know their needs and how to address them before a single word is spoken. Also think about how God speaks to us. It’s very rare that he speaks in audible words. Almost always it’s in the silence of our hearts. This is a hint at what heaven will be like. We will be so close to God and everyone else in heaven, we won’t even need words. This doesn’t mean heaven will be silent, but it will definitely be quieter than earth.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

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