BREAKING NEWS!!!! – April 8, 2016, Vatican City. Pope Francis, the 266th successor of the first pope, St. Peter, and head of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, released the long awaited document Amoris Laetitia on Friday. In this Apostolic Exhortation, Francis pulled together his teaching after two years of Synods on Marriage, the Family, and Life of Love of the laity. In a stunning revelation, the Roman Pontiff stayed in line with the Magesterium’s teaching and revealed to everyone that he is in fact, CATHOLIC. Even more so, he is a Jesuit.

All fun aside, I was awaiting this document. We have heard countless things since Pope Francis was elected about how some hoped he would change Church teaching, how he would “shake things up”, or how a side comment on a plane could be extrapolated into a turnaround for Catholic teaching and Doctrine. With careful examination, and two Synods diving deeply into many topics on the love and life if the laity, especially the family, we finally have the answer. Two hundred and fifty six pages of answer.

What is very apparent in this document is one thing. No, Church teaching is not changing. Perhaps there are some nuances of how we understand the teaching, and further, better ways in which we can better apply pastoral care, but the core teachings and doctrines remain the same. Pope Francis puts large emphasis on conscience. And this in fact is a Jesuit calling card. The focus on conscience which primarily puts central the personal relation with God and belief with all the process of discernment that stems from it. The vocational call to marriage, virginity, or ordained life all come from this personal prayerful formation of conscience. The two pillars of ‘truth’ and ‘conscience’ are not opposites, but rather are complimentary forces that should propel us to the divine.

What is so dramatic about this reflection by the Holy Father on the results of the Synod? (btw, this is not an infallible teaching, nor an endorsement of an ecumenical council, or Magesterium teaching, it is simply the Pope’s reflection and pastoral counsel. Hence, “apostolic exhortation”) Here are some takeaways:

(I do recommend taking the time to read the document yourself. Download it here)

  1. Priests and Bishops need to understand the complexities of their congregations today. While there are many aspects of society that need to be corrected and safeguarded against, the relationship decisions and societal forces that weigh in on marriage today are more complex than ever. Conscience decisions and culpability are not easy things to determine, especially today. Not everything is so black and white. While we are all called to live the Gospel, we need to have compassion for everyone and work to help them where they are.
  2. Conscience is everything. The modern Church has seemed to have forgotten this very important aspect of the faith life. Well, not forgotten, but pushed aside. While there are norms and certainly basic rubrics that should guide us in making moral and right decisions, there are times when we must do what we truly believe is right given all our mitigating factors. The clergy has been “called to form consciences, not to replace them” (37). When formed in line with truth, the conscience assists in prayerful decision making that guides life. Yes, teaching the truth and lines of morality is important, but the grey areas also need patience and discernment as well.
  3. Those who are divorced and remarried are not outside the flock. This one is important and what many were waiting for. While no, this was not one where the Holy Father changed Church teaching and said that all who are remarried (ie. have not received a decree of nullity pertaining to their previous spouse) can now receive Communion freely, he did ask for more involvement on the part of pastors and the couples. The reasons for the current situations can be more complex and needing counsel than simple declarations. Pastors are encouraged to integrate the couples more fully into the faith life and assist them in discerning the morality of their state and engage them into parish life more. “They are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such, since they remain part” of the church (243).
  4. Everyone in the family is a part of God’s love. While families are complex and relationships take work, all members of the family, in all generational aspects, are made to be a part of the faith life and engaged in it. No one should feel outside of God’s love. “Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it” (122, 113).
  5. We can no longer make blanket moral accusations aimed at people’s situations. Basically to look at someone and declare that they are “living in sin” is to throw moral law stones and people’s lives. “It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin” (301). There needs to be a starting point of acceptance, love, understanding, and compassion. To throw these stones will only drive them away from God’s love.
  6. Location, location, location. Everywhere is not the same as everywhere else. The Holy Father makes this point right off the bat and is something that backs up his thought process about how the Magesterium cannot make a blanket definition for everyone. Cultures, norms, laws, and other items may change circumstances.
  7. Affirming the traditional teaching on marriage.  The pontiff reiterates that Church’s teaching that it has always stood by. However, with the sacrament of marriage being only available to one man and one woman, the Holy Father does recognize that the clergy need to be better trained to understand the complexities of today’s marriages. Instead of being held to a theological ideal, the Pope suggests priests become engaged in their everyday lives.
  8. Educating children on sexuality. Children need to understand the “broader framework of an education for love and mutual self-giving” (280). IN the secularized world of today, the body is an object, and thing to be used and tossed aside. We use sexuality in every aspect of our lives and the view we teach our children is often times done for us by the media. Parents, as the primary educators of their children, need to address this head on and engage with their children about the true meaning of love, the marital act, and the body. Sex can only be truly understood in the openness to new life.
  9. LGBTQI identifying people are to be treated with respect. First and foremost, the person should be “respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, and ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence.” (250) While standing firm against same-sex marriage, the Holy Father does say that “respectful pastoral guidance” should be practiced by family and clergy in order that the person can fully live out their lives and carry out God’s will for them.
  10. The Church is a hospital, not a museum. (My metaphor). The Church is welcome to all in every state of life. We are not a place for only saints, but a hospital for sinners. All are welcome. The Church is a family of families and all have a role in the joy of love that is to be shared. The Pope counsels to be merciful and loving in all accounts, noting that every person has a role to play in the faith life.


(sourced from Amoris Laetitia, America Magazine, Echoes, The New York Times, and National Catholic Register)

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