The long-awaited document has arrived. For people like me, who use their free time to follow Church happenings, this is an exciting and anticipated moment. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has released his post-synodal apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”).
This document follows the Synod on the Family that occurred essentially for the past two years. It is a culmination of the pope’s work after listening to the voices of God’s children through the expression of the Synod Fathers.
Faith and Family
Another way to look at it is to think of it as the pope’s love letter to all the people of the world on the joy of the family.
A synod is an extremely important meeting in church life, because it gathers voices from around the world in the hope of understanding and caring for a particular issue of concern. This meeting explored issues of love and the family.
We are fortunate as Catholics, because the church leaves no mystery as to what we believe and how we called to care for each other and God’s creation. The church documents are accessible to lay faithful like myself and all children of God by going to the Vatican website, www.vatican.va. There you can look up this document, and many others for that matter.
The pope has cautioned against reading quickly and asked rather that we savor it and reflect over time. I am attempting to do so. I can say there are many things to comment on initially.
First and foremost, this letter is an easy read, obviously intended to be read by more than clerics and theologians. It is written in a way most can understand and is deliberately not intimidating.
I found it particularly interesting that the pope made references to recent non-Catholic historical figures and even the award-winning contemporary film “Babette’s Feast.” I think the pontiff uses cultural referencing as a way to remind people that even though the church is not of this world, she functions in the midst of it. Pope Francis wants us to know that the church does know what is going on, both the good and the ugly.
I have often thought that problems Catholics experience in the United States are a bigger deal than other situations around the world, because we are such an influential and powerful country. I have since learned that this is frequently not the case. Catholics in the United States make up a small portion of Catholics around the world, so what we perceive as important may not necessarily be an issue on the global scale.
That said, I thought the crisis of misdirected love and the breakdown of family was mostly a problem in the United States and Europe. And although it certainly rises to the level of a crisis here, the mere fact that the pope has dedicated this amount of time and written this exhortation is confirmation that perils of love, marriage and family life are a worldwide crisis that needs immediate attention.
The pope is working hard to attend to this worldwide plight that is having tragic consequence in all cultures. He acknowledge our woundedness and wants to offer hope.
I also noticed that the pope has carefully avoided language that has given naysayers ammunition. For example, you will not find the words “intrinsically disordered” in this document, which has been the way the church describes lifestyle choices that are out of the order of God’s plan. The pope instead has used words like “irregular situations,” which I believe are more palatable to those that have negative connotations for words like “disordered.”
It seems to me he has a deep understanding of the current human condition, in which everyone believes they have an individual story unique to them alone. Because of the strong worldview of individualism, the way the church has put similar situations together now creates an unwelcoming persona.
I heard the pope say that ministering to the wounded of the church calls us to listen to the particular stories of those hurt and find the places of hope. Pope Francis writes about meeting individuals where they are and walking alongside them. That said, I did not hear the pope say walk them wherever they want to go, but rather encourage them to gently walk in the direction of Christ. Pope Francis wants the faithful of the church to be that witness of hope and joy, and in that goodness we will be open messengers pointing toward the Good News.
Rarely is there a worldwide crisis that effects nearly everyone. The state of families with the twisted understanding of love has risen to such a calamity. If “God is Love,” as John describes him in Scripture, our current understanding of God is twisted as well — no doubt the work of the demonic. The devil knows: as the traditional family cell goes, so goes the organism of society.
Our loving pope is a servant of hope and feels strongly that we must meet the wounded through accompaniment in order for healing to happen. We should take pause at the mere fact that the pope is addressing this tragic state of affairs in the world and be ever more committed to live a life of truth in Christ so that others may follow. It is in that truth that we witness for Christ and bring the authentic meaning of love to all the people of the world: ”I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
These times are trying, but as the pope reminds us, there is always hope in Christ.
Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.