Amoris Laetitia

Pope Francis’s 260 page letter Amoris Laetitia was released this morning, which is meant to cap off more than two years of conversations as part of the recent Synod on the Family.

George Weigel puts Amoris Laetitia in context, while Austen Ivereigh’s analysis is that this is Pope Francis’s “epic bid to save the family, convert the church” through a “concrete strategy of rebuilding from the ground up.” I think this is probably right, which is why I think it’s valuable to start with Weigel’s piece for the larger context for this magisterial letter.

I had started reading it last night, and was more or less prepared for today to be a busy day of different camps reading their own political and policy preferences into it in a remarkably quick way. 

In any event, I’ll excerpt some of the things that stood out to me, starting with Weigel:

[Amoris Laetitia] discusses the challenges posed to marriage and the family by economic dislocation, migration, human trafficking, the abuse of women, the sexual abuse of children, dire poverty, a rapidly evolving global economy, and an “ideology of gender.” But over and beyond those undoubted scourages is “a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life.” And that ignorance is leading to “a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to accept models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will.” …

Francis applauds Blessed Paul VI for Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical on the morally appropriate means of regulating fertility, recommends Saint John Paul II’s theology of the body for its “vision of the vocation of men and women to love,” and notes that Benedict XVI found in the family that place where “we learn the experience of the common good.”

Thus Christians must always propose marriage as something far more, and far deeper, than “a social convention, an empty ritual, or merely the outward sign of a commitment.” …

[Francis states:] “I feel it is urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in its mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the ‘property’ of another human being.” …

It will also be important to keep in mind, as this discussion continues, that the kind of pastoral accompaniment and discernment so strongly urged by Pope Francis is in fact what goes on in the Catholic parishes and dioceses with which I’m most familiar. There are exceptions…

[A potential weak spot in Amoris Laetitia is the] regular use of the term “ideal” to describe the Church’s full understanding of marriage. Here, too, is an obvious truth. But one wonders whether it wouldn’t be better to describe that “ideal” as the “full” truth of marriage to which we aspire in our lives. Part of the genius of John Paul II with young people was that he knew the young want to be challenged to lead lives of heroic virtue—just as he knew that no one always lives that “ideal.” That is why he stressed the importance of confession and the sacrament of reconciliation as a means to keep seeking noble and heroic goals.

Austen Ivereigh’s analysis is much shorter, so I’m only excerpting two small sections:

The heart of the document, and the area where most Catholics will see a change, is in chapter 6, which sets out a vision for how the Church should in future prepare people for marriage.

This will involve trained lay people, a “missionary conversion” of parishes to offer advice and guidance to couples, especially in the early years of their marriage, as well as changes to seminary formation and a host of other areas. …

It is easy to imagine the material in Amoris Laetitia being turned into course-books and formation programs, using Scripture, Church teaching, as well as his many insights into married love, the education of children, and the spirituality of marriage.

Francis doesn’t just call for a whole new formation program for people entering marriage, he supplies it’s content—dealing in extraordinary detail with a whole series of dimensions: From helicopter parenting to pregnancy and adoption, the role of the elderly and siblings, how crises in a marriage help a relationship go deeper, through to the “healthy autonomy” that comes with a couple’s realization that they each belong to God first of all.

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