Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 5

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.

Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families (continued)

47 “People with disabilities are a gift for the family and an opportunity to grow in love, mutual aid and unity.”

Whenever we are challenged, when life doesn’t go as expected, there are two outcomes. We can either fall further away from God or grow closer to him. It’s the same when a family finds they have a baby with disabilities on the way. One outcome is a more united and loving family. The other outcome is a divided and hostile family. Both outcomes are real possibilities based on the choices the family members make. One outcome results in positive change for the family while the other results in negative change. Showing the baby with disabilities the same love as a “normal” or “healthy” baby will lead to the more united and loving family. There will be sacrifice involved. This sacrifice is the payment for growth in love.

The wisdom to see in every challenging situation is the choice that requires the most love will lead to the best outcome. This is because God’s love is infinite. As we overcome challenges, God’s love multiplies within us, and we are able to love more than we were able before. It will involve more work, sacrifice, or pain, but the end result is always worth it. You cannot find a single family who after raising a child with disabilities would say they wished it never happened. That child, whatever trouble it caused them, made their family stronger, and they would not trade that for the world.

48 “In highly industrialized societies, where the number of elderly persons is growing even as the birth rate declines, they can be regarded as a burden.”

This is a problem of our own doing. The movement by adults in the West to have fewer children or no children at all has resulted in large generations followed by smaller generations after. That puts a huge burden on the younger generations to care for that large elderly generation. In America, this will happen a little bit with the Baby Boomer generation (who make up 20% of the population), but it will be even worse for the generation after the Millennials. Not enough babies are being born to replace the number of people passing away. For Generation-Z, the children of Generation-X and Millennials, the elderly population could be 25-30% of the total population.

While the immediate cause is the widespread use of contraception and abortion, at a higher level the lack of support for family in our society is the cause. It’s way too expensive to raise children in modern times. Healthcare, daycare, and housing cost too much for the average couple. We need more support from government, charity, and the Church, but especially from individuals volunteering to help out families. Whether it be doing chores or babysitting, parents need all the help they can get.

51 “Drug use was also mentioned as one of the scourges of our time, causing immense suffering and even breakup for many families.”

Drug use and addiction have been problems through the ages, but it is on the rise in recent years. One reason is that our society has made it “cool” to experiment with drugs as a teenager or young adult. Trying out drugs isn’t seen as a bad thing, just part of growing up. On the other hand, wisdom shows that certain drugs are too addictive to use even once, let alone experiment with. They must be illegal and everyone must help their neighbor stay away from them.

Another reason is that drugs are much more accessible these days. This is one of the downsides of the internet. It’s so easy to communicate with other people discreetly that people can avoid law enforcement for years while getting their drugs. It’s very hard for police to stop. The police don’t find drug abusers until they have already become addicted. Then even though they are being monitored, they still use drugs because of the addiction. They end up back and forth in the prison system and rehab programs. Other than putting heavy restrictions on the internet, there is nothing we can do about this problem. Most people will not accept any limitations on internet use.

52 “But nowadays who is making an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married couples overcome their problems, to assist them in the work of raising children and, in general, to encourage the stability of the marriage bond?”

Marriage and children in our society are status. People get a lot of “points” for being married and having children. However, there is no value given to remaining married for life or putting children first over individual desires. Our society provides a lot of support for getting people married and helping mothers give birth, but there’s very little support for keeping couples together for life or best practices for raising children. What parents really need are other married couples, that have figured out how to make things work, to give them advice throughout their life. They need volunteers to help with chores or babysitting. This isn’t really happening.

Some couples will find friends that help them, but many couples are on their own. God made humans to be social. We are not meant to solve all our problems on our own. We are meant to need help from others, but current society doesn’t provide that help. Society doesn’t emphasize the importance of family enough. There is too much focus on individual fulfillment. One parent becomes unhappy in the marriage and hits the road, and society says it’s just part of life. Children are raised by daycare or public schools because their parents don’t have time to spend with them, and society doesn’t care. These are real problems mostly being ignored by society.

53 “In various countries, legislation facilitates a growing variety of alternatives to marriage, with the result that marriage, with its characteristics of exclusivity, indissolubility and openness to life, comes to appear as an old-fashioned and outdated option.”

A true marriage between a man and a women is a great thing. This is why it’s one of the Catholic vocations. Amazing good can come out of a true marriage. Marriage makes both husband and wife better and holier. Their children when raised well become beacons of light in the world. Their children’s children continue that, so that this one marriage leads to countless good things over time. Every other form of “marriage” is missing something.

Gay marriage is missing the ability to have children, so whatever benefits it provides go no further than the two people involved. Trial marriage (or cohabitation) lacks commitment, so any children produced are likely to end up in a broken family. Domestic partnerships or civil unions are just business contracts, making sure each person gets their legal benefits. There is no love in that. Common law marriage may have all the elements of a true marriage, but without a wedding ceremony or public profession of vows, there is no accountability or community support for the relationship.

54 “…in our own day, we cannot overlook the use of surrogate mothers and ‘the exploitation and commercialization of the female body in the current media culture’.”

The women’s rights movement was meant to make women equal with men, but in some cases it has done the opposite. Our culture has seemed to embrace the exploitation of women. Girls are taught to wear immodest clothes. Young women are told to cohabitate until they find the right man. Pornography is everywhere. Some radicals even call for the legalization of prostitution. All these demean or devalue women. Rather than being equal to men they become objects to be used. That is not equality. Many times change brings both good and bad things. Society needs to figure out how to keep the good of women’s freedom without the bad of objectification. Right now, lies have transformed objectification into freedom, when the reality is that it causes real harm to women.

55 “‘This absence, which may be physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual, deprives children of a suitable father figure’.”

One of the big problems of our day is the number of men who leave their wives after having children. Cohabitation is, of course, part of the problem, but divorce is just as prevalent. Our society focuses too much on sex. When boys grow up in this environment, they are taught the only use for women is sex. Cohabitation allows them to use women just as they were taught. To young men this is normal behavior. Eventually, a woman pushes them enough to get married. A few years after the marriage they get bored of her, divorce, and move on to the next woman.

The lack of a parent is devastating to the upbringing of children. Father’s aren’t more important than mothers for the children, but it’s far more likely for the father to be missing. Society needs to completely transform. A new respect for women needs to be found. The media and entertainment needs to focus on a woman’s skills, talents, or knowledge, not looks. Women need to dress with modesty, not revealing to the world things that should only be shared with their husbands. Parents need to put limits on their children’s’ internet use to keep them away from pornography.

I’m sure there’s more that could be done, but the lack of fathers in families is a systemic problem caused by a society that has taught men to see women as objects. Women went from having no power in the past, discriminated against, to having power in only one area: using their bodies to get ahead. Women were taken advantage of in the past, but they still are in the present, just in a different way. Society needs to give respect and dignity to all people, including women. Along the same line, women should not have to be “pretty” to be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone deserves dignity and respect simply for being human.

56-1 “It needs to be emphasized that ‘biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated’.”

One of the new things these days is “gender ideology”. It’s the idea that gender is something a person can pick out of thin air on a whim. Men can choose to be women, women can choose to be men, or they can make up some gender that doesn’t even exist. The truth is there are only two sexes and two genders. They don’t always completely line up with each other, but a person of male sex is a person of male gender and likewise for women. Some men are more sensitive than average, some women are more strong than average. These facts don’t change their gender just as they don’t change their sex. The sensitive male is still a man just as the strong female is still a woman.

Biologically, a sensitive man is never the same as a woman. His sex makes his sensitivity manly in a mysterious way. This is something that we can intuit but not understand. I have met sensitive men and gay men over the years, but never have I somehow thought they were women. They had some qualities that were different than average, but I still saw them as men. In our conversations they still contributed positively even if they weren’t average.

This whole thing of changing gender is not healthy. People need to be accepted for who they are. The sensitive man might be a burden in some situations, but in other situations he will excel in ways that the average man won’t. No one should pressure him into becoming a woman. If he has feelings like he should be a woman, people should warn him not to. It does not lead to happiness. The studies show people that transition to another gender don’t end up happier. They aren’t treated any better after transition, so the same problem of not fitting in persists. Changing genders doesn’t fix the problem. The fix is one of basic human decency: accept people in the areas they don’t have a choice over. The sensitive man didn’t choose to be sensitive. That’s just who he is.

56-2 “‘In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples’.”

Enabled by contraception and abortion, countless people choose pleasure over love. It’s true that love involves pleasure, but pleasure is just a side effect of love. Love itself is the true desire. These two sins remove some amount of love from the relationship. The couple is incapable of reaching their maximum potential for love when they participate in these sins. Abstinence is very hard for most people these days, but centuries ago people either had children or practiced abstinence, so it’s definitely possible.

56-3 “Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator.”

God is perfect, so his creation is perfect. He designed the marital embrace to involve both pleasure and the possibility of a new life being created. To use contraception or have an abortion is to tell God his design for the marital embrace is imperfect, that it should just be about pleasure. It’s like saying, “You made me wrong, God. I know better. I will correct the mistake you made.” This person is saying that they are the creator, not God. They are trying to replace the true Creator.

There is a very good reason the marital embrace involves the sometimes scary unknown of a possible pregnancy. It’s beyond the scope of this commentary to explain in detail, but the basic idea is that increasing love for each other requires sacrificing for each other. When divorced from the possibility of the creation of a new life, the marital embrace isn’t much of a sacrifice. The couple’s love for each other increases very little, if at all. However, when there is that possibility, it’s a big sacrifice for each other and for God. That great sacrifice results in a much stronger bond between them.

57 “The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.”

While there is no single ideal for all families, there definitely is an ideal for each individual family. Discovering the ideals for a family is a process of discernment. For the parents this involves studying Church teaching, reading Catholic books, getting advice from priests or more experienced Catholics, and especially, praying with God. Just because there is no single ideal, doesn’t mean families should just do what “feels” right. In every choice, there is always a right and wrong path. The family needs to figure out which choices are ideal for them and which are not. Otherwise, they just go through life moment to moment, sometimes doing what’s best and many times falling short. God calls us to do our best every moment of our lives, so we owe it to God to discern what is best for us individually and for our family.

Every moment of life is a battle between good and evil. If we don’t have a battle plan, we won’t be very successful in that battle. Having a set of ideals is the battle plan. It’s a guide that says where the family wants to be and how to get there. Then in every decision, it’s in the back of their mind to help them make the decision God wants for them. Of course, times change. The battle plan might need to change. Ideals might have to be modified or removed, or new ideals might need to be added. The family needs some sort of plan though. In the long run it will lead to a very strong, loving family that will stand the test of time.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,
Jared

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