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On Amoris Laetitia

The following is from Theologian Jana Bennett, religious studies associate professor, on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia:

On first impression, this is the pope's version of the Slow Food movement. Food is meant to nourish us, but also sustains culture and eating it among friends is more than about getting vital nutrients. Yet in a consumer culture where fast food is the norm, food becomes focused on calories and we lose its other important values. 

Family, too, is meant to be nourishing, sustaining a culture, and being a place where people grow. Yet in a culture AND a church that have privileged efficiency and law, we lose sight of much of what it means to be family.

Pope Francis has emphasized mercy — that is such a hallmark of his papacy. But here he also adds "patience," which he mentions from beginning to end. We must have patience to realize no family (not even mine!) is perfect, and that we are all growing in mercy, love and holiness.

Perhaps the best way to show what Francis is doing is to contrast this apostolic exhortation with the last one that was written, John Paul II's "On the Family." John Paul II highlighted "Family, become what you are." He held out an icon for people to see: a vision for families to aspire to. In response to John Paul II's words, people emphasized law, because that seemed the best way to maintain this beautiful image of the icon of the family.

Pope Francis doesn't turn away from the icon — indeed, he says that we should always hold this icon before us. But Francis is emphasizing something different. He is explicit about not offering new rules. We are imperfect people, imperfect families. "No family drops from heaven perfectly formed." We are all of us growing together, learning to love better.

Practically, that means there's more emphasis on pastoral discernment for particular peoples' cases, rather than a reliance on laws. If a priest makes an exception (perhaps, for example, by admitting a remarried divorced Catholic to communion?) that should not indicate that the exception is now the new norm. It means that the priest has discerned, with church teaching and in attention to a particular couple's questions, circumstances and issues. 

The most beautiful section in my estimation is Chapter 4, which is a long beautiful discussion of 1 Corinthians 13, Paul's famous description of love. This is most often read at weddings. In the context of this letter, though, Francis has just finished saying at the end of Chapter 3 that family and church are mutually good for each other. So here, the words Francis speaks about 1 Corinthians 13 becomes both about how families can live together, BUT ALSO how the Church should be together. So here there is a lot about not being too focused on the law, and how to live in mercy instead.


News and Communications Staff