Amoris laetitia: not only feelings and morality, but also social engagement
by Bernardo Cervellera

Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on family love cannot be reduced to problem of communion for divorced and remarried people. The document suggests ways to remake societal life. As a Catholic vision, it links the actual to the infinite, and calls for public policies that protect the rights of families.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which was released today, is a vital contribution to the life of families and contemporary society.

Although it might take Catholics and non-Catholics some time to assimilate the long (265 pages) and demanding document, its emphases, passages, biblical references and look at human love are an objective and solid milestone in the quicksand of situations that are often treated only with fleeting feelings, love spells, fears and private frustrations, which hide an individualist notion of self, in which solitude marks not only the end of a relationship, but acts as it definition, origin and nature.

The document offers a sweet and powerful vision of Catholic humanity that makes its way, corrects, brightens and goes beyond a rationalist and trite conception of ego, love and society.

Some might have liked the exhortation to be only a "yes" or "no" to communion for divorced and remarried people. Instead, Francis gave us a sign and path of how, not only the family, but also the Church, and the whole of society can change. It is interesting to note for example that in the description of actual love between a husband and a wife, the document also speaks of the help that they can give to make more substantial the gifts brought by virgins, who are sometimes tempted to live a single lifestyle more than the consecrated who give their whole life (Amoris Laetitia, n.158, ff).

In the exhortation, the Catholic vision emerges in three main aspects:

1. The love between a man and a woman is continuously defined as the "image of God" and the return to what God and Christ do as a model for relationships (giving oneself, lack of anger, forgiveness, generation, raising children, etc.).

This link between heaven and earth opens the relationship between men and women to an endless effort that does not succumb in the face of difficulties. At the same time, it makes perceptible this effort in lovers’ flesh. Chapter 4 on "Love in marriage" dispels the cliché that Christians dread sex, showing instead that the sex difference and union and tenderness show the image and presence of the divine.

2. Another typically Catholic element is the affirmation of the value of the one and indissoluble marriage, which is both a gift and a task, together with the close focus and care of special, often painful and confusing, situations.

Chapter 8 on ‘Accompanying, discerning and integrating weaknesses’ is centred on Church law, but also on mercy and gradualism with which to accompany many couples to the fullness of marriage.

What emerges is a Church that does not only hand out sacraments or issues bans, but is a living organism, a community that is close to those who are frail and wounded. The ‘and . . . and’ that is typical of Catholic doctrine (Scripture and Tradition; primacy and collegiality; ordained priesthood and the faithful) becomes a "however" (used 19 times) in Francis who combines ideal with particular situations.

3. The third element comes from the Church's social doctrine. In recent years, a lot has been said and discussed with respect to "gender", "new rights", and "children" as a personal and private matter, in which the so-called "traditional family" is treated as a relic of the past.

The exhortation not only highlights the grandeur of the family, but also suggests some paths to realise what has become almost a slogan, namely that "the family is the basis of society", without drawing any consequences.

At paragraphs 39-49, the pope talks about the need to overcome the "culture of the ephemeral" and the "narcissism" of contemporary society, not by “denouncing a decadent world,” but by “being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.”

For this reason, he reiterates some basic principles that require a social commitment that is far too often ignored. The former entail asserting parents’ right to educate their children, with the state as servant and not master; opposing state-sponsored contraception and abortion; stopping the demographic decline of many countries; encouraging states to guarantee every family decent housing, basic services, as well as laws and working conditions “to ensure the future of young people”.

Citing the Church’s Charter of the Rights of the Family, Francis writes, “Families have the right ‘to be able to count on an adequate family policy on the part of public authorities in the juridical, economic, social and fiscal domains’.”