April 15, 2016


Pope’s exhortation on marriage

Pope Francis’ long-awaited apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family is finally here. “ ‘Amoris Laetitia’ (The Joy of Love), on Love in the Family,” is a beautiful meditation on the Catholic Church’s teachings about marriage and family life in the 21st century.

Naturally, it would be best if all Catholics would read this magnificent document, but we know that may not happen. We encourage you at least to read articles about it from reliable sources, including The Criterion.

“The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church,” the exhortation begins. “Joy” and “love” are the main themes of the meditation as the pope treats marriage as a joyful and beautiful gift. He praises the ideal family as it is shown from the beginning of the Bible and as the Church has always preached, and he gives practical advice.

This is what we’d like you to read before you read what Pope Francis has to say about difficulties in marriage and how the Church should handle them. Nevertheless, after the two synods on the family the past two years, it is understandable that interest is centered on what the pope says about people in “irregular” marriages.

The answer is that the exhortation is a combination of reaffirming the Church’s traditional teachings on marriage, and of searching to find merciful solutions for those who have not followed those teachings, for one reason or another.

For example, Pope Francis wrote regarding the movement to redefine marriage to include unions of people of the same sex: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (#251).

At the same time, he also noted that “We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully avoided” (#250).

About those who are only civilly married or cohabitating, he wrote that he agreed with the Synod Fathers: “In considering a pastoral approach towards people who have contracted a civil marriage, or simply living together, the Church has the responsibility of helping them understand the divine pedagogy of grace in their lives and offering them assistance so they can reach the fullness of God’s plan for them” (#297).

As for people who are divorced and remarried, the pope wrote, “I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that ‘the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal’ ” (#299).

He continued, “Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always, who takes care of them with affection and encourages them along the path of life and the Gospel. This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children, who ought to be considered most important” (#299).

As for allowing the divorced and civilly remarried to receive Communion, the answer is no. But even here, the pope offers possibilities: “The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace” (#301).

People are encouraged to talk with their priest: “Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow” (#301).

The exhortation is sure to be widely discussed. Some Catholics will think that the pope went too far, while others that he didn’t go far enough.

With that being said, we hope its publication will be an occasion for Catholics who experience both blessings and hardships in marriage and family life to prayerfully reflect on and share the great good news that Christ through the Church offers the world on these areas of human life, which is the foundation for all societies.

—John F. Fink

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