Four Insights from Amoris Laetitia


16 Apr 2016

Pope Francis’ latest exhortation has come out just in time for me, as I prepare to be married in June.

While many have focused on the aspects to do with the divorced and remarried, and couples in crisis, I’ve chosen to focus my reading more on what the Pope is saying in the exhortation about our relationship with God and with each other.

Here are four things that have stood out for me already.
1. Faith in relationship with the Holy Spirit

In the opening to the exhortation, Pope Francis notes, ‘Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth, until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.’

Pope Francis comes out of the Ignatian tradition, which understands that the Holy Spirit is at work in each person, and that the movements of the Holy Spirit can be discerned in our experiences and in our responses to the world. Discerning that movement helps us realise the path to which God is calling us. Each person will discern that calling in the framework of their own time and place – and it will be informed by their specific cultural experiences.

2. How we form our consciences

Following on from the notion that the Holy Spirit is present in each of us, much has been made of Pope Francis’ comments about the role of conscience: ‘We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.’

We have a freedom to choose to follow Christ, and having that freedom is an important part of God’s plan for us. But Pope Francis also notes that freedom is no good without a compass and a map to direct us. ‘Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others.’

Basically, what the Pope is saying is that our conscience is an important guide, but so is the teaching of the Church. In a person who is discerning the movements of the Holy Spirit, the two work with each other, not against each other.

3. The achievements of feminism

Many of the discussions my partner and I have been having revolve around the roles we want to play in creating a family together. In this we’re negotiating between traditional roles men and women play in families, and the roles that have emerged over the last century.

While many may have hoped that it would move faster, the exhortation at least signals that the Church is embracing some of the advances and achievements of feminism. Pope Francis is strong in his condemnation of violence and aggression towards women, and notes the many ways that women are exploited in our world. He’s also broadly supportive of moves to end gender inequality. He writes, ‘The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing reciprocity. If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women.’

However, he’s also careful to point out that the role of women as mothers needs to be preserved even as women take on greater roles in the public sphere: ‘Womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all.’

4. The mission of love

For me especially, the most powerful parts of Amoris Laetitia have to do with its advice to couples about how love is lived in relationship in the day to day world. Particularly inspiring is when Pope Francis explores the mission of two people in love:

‘Might we say that the greatest mission of two people in love is to help one another become, respectively, more a man and more a woman?’ Francis writes. ‘Fostering growth means helping a person to shape his or her own identity. Love is thus a kind of craftsmanship.’

One of the things Pope Francis does in Amoris Laetitia is remind couples to focus on today, even as they embark on a long-term commitment. The key, he says, is hope:

‘Hope is the leaven that, in those first years of engagement and marriage, makes it possible to look beyond arguments, conflicts and problems and to see things in a broader perspective. It harnesses our uncertainties and concerns so that growth can take place. Hope also bids us live fully in the present, giving our all to the life of the family, for the best way to prepare a solid future is to live well in the present.’

Overall, Amoris Laetitia is a powerful document that will hopefully provide guidance to Catholic and non-Catholic couples alike. I’m looking forward to unpacking its messages more as my wife-to-be and I prepare for the next stage of our journey together.

Michael McVeigh is the Editor of Australian Catholics magazine, and senior editor at Jesuit Communications.
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