Why – and How – We All Need to Read ‘Amoris Laetitia’

There has been a lot of buzz about Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, “The Joy of Love” which came out last Friday. There’s a good reason for that. And it’s not the one you’ve seen in the headlines.

The last Synod we had on the family was in 1980. Things have changed just a bit since then. In fact, we are now in the midst of a truly unprecedented crisis in marriage and family life, inside and outside the Church. So when hundreds of bishops, experts, and married couples from around the world come together twice, you can expect an honest, concrete, and at times contentious discussion about the profound challenges facing marriage and family life today. And this document gives us the results of that – ongoing – dialogue in the Church.

Amoris Laetitia touches everyone in all of our ministries. Even our parishioners would benefit from the sections on love and parenting because, among other things, the Pope offers wise advice on answering those dreaded questions, like “where do babies come from?”

That said, a 256-page papal document can be a little daunting. So here are a few helpful hints for prayerfully reading the document.

  • Stay away from the blogs (except this one).

I encourage you to read the exhortation for yourself and avoid the noise created by social media and some opinionated bloggers. It takes time and patience, but it will help you to more fully engage with positive and negative commentaries that you read about the document.

  • Start with the summary.

The Vatican provides this great synopsis to get you started. It gives you a sense of the overall structure of the document and makes it more manageable to discern specific sections of interest. For example, and as Pope Francis explains, married couples will be more concerned with Chapters Four and Five, pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight.

  • Read it slowly. And then read it again.

In the opening lines of the document, Pope Francis urges us not to rush through the text. I would encourage you to read the entirety of the document, but it is good to focus on the area that is a particular interest to you and your ministry. In some paragraphs, Francis uses a more heavily theological language, drawing upon the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. I had to read these sections (at least) twice.

  • Remember that The Joy of Love is a pastoral letter.

The document does not change any doctrine or practice of the Catholic Church. But it does insist that we must address the changing realities and challenges surrounding married life. For example, think about the way you walk with people in their time of need or the way we can integrate persons who feel marginalized more fully into the life of the Church.

  • Follow the footnotes.

We tend to forget the how the teaching about sacramental marriage as a true path of holiness has developed dramatically in recent decades. This can be seen in key documents of the Church. In The Joy of Love we see references to the profound part of Gaudium et Spes that says marriage is a “community of love and life,” and Benedict XVI’s insistence on the interplay between eros and agape in human and divine love, or John Paul II’s comment that “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him.” Amoris Laetitia continues in this great tradition of reflecting on the beauty and challenges of marriage.

  • Read it with eyes of faith.

Often when a document is so intensely covered by the secular media there is a natural tendency to approach it with apprehension or uncertainty. But for those of us who believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, it’s always important to approach papal documents with a sense of openness to what the Holy Father can teach us, and with a deep sense of fidelity to the rich and living Tradition of our Church.

 What are your impressions about Amoris Laetitia? Do you think it will affect your ministry?

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