By Sarah Mac Donald - 09 April, 2016
"Pope Francis realises that we do not live in a world where ... all that is needed is either to repeat doctrinal formulations or to set these doctrines aside and be ‘pastoral’.”
Amoris Laetitia is an encyclopaedic document and much of its most valuable content runs the risk of being by-passed by a preoccupation with one or two of its aspects, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin warned on Friday at a joint press conference with Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Both primates welcomed the Pope’s new exhortation on the family saying it reflects faithfully the thoughts of the Synod and is “completely infused with the original pastoral style of Pope Francis”.
“To understand it, we have first of all to identify and understand that basic pastoral style of Pope Francis not just in this document, but in his entire pontificate,” the Archbishop of Dublin said.
He acknowledged that some would be disappointed by the contents of ‘The Joy of Love’ because the Pope does not seem to have changed doctrine while others would say that it was clear from the outset that the Pope cannot change doctrine.
“The first mistake would be for one or other of the polemicists to cry victory. Pope Francis realises that we do not live in a world where everything is simply black and white, where all that is needed is either to repeat doctrinal formulations or to set these doctrines aside and be ‘pastoral’,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said.
He added, “Pope Francis does not set out to change doctrine” in the exhortation.
“He recognises, however, the difficulties we have in understanding the teaching of Jesus in our current cultures. He says that ‘at times we have proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete and practical possibilities of real families’.”
In the 260 page document, the Pope admits that the Church often finds it difficult to present marriage as a more dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment rather than as a lifelong burden.
“We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful… We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”
The Pope, Archbishop Martin told journalists, “notes that many people feel that the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family does not reflect clearly the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery”.
The Archbishop added that the document tries to do both: to set out clearly the beautiful yet demanding teaching of Jesus and to teach that to men and women whose lives are lived within their own human frailties and failures.
He stressed that one of the problems is that we live in a world where we judge things in black and white.
“We would like the Pope to say a simple yes or no on subjects which are much more complex than we wish to admit. The secular world can be just as black and white in seeking answers as are the fundamentalists on the right or the left within the Church.”
Pope Francis’ position is that of a theology which recognises human failure but is also capable of leading us forwards on the path to fulfilling the commandment of love.
It is when we recognise our own human limitations that we understand the other and do not rush to judgement.
“We have to realise that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows and [that] love coexists with imperfection,” the Pope says.
The secret of married love lies not in me getting what I want, but in me realising my own limitations and not being judgemental of the other.
He also criticises a culture of revenge and retaliation within marriage in a lengthy quote from Martin Luther King which, Archbishop Martin said could well be applied to those in our society who feel that violence is a sign of strength.
“Somewhere somebody must have a little sense and that is the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil”.
Much of the document addresses how married love can grow despite human weakness.
“Love is destroyed by the culture of the ephemeral which prevents a constant process of growth… A love that fails to grow is at risk. Often a spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their fear their anger, their hopes and dreams,” Archbishop Martin stressed.
He added that the Pope addresses the theme of sexuality not in a condemnatory tone but neither in a libertarian context: “Sexuality is not means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity”.
The document addresses at length what is required for a real renewal of pastoral care within the Church. In it Pope Francis emphasises the role of the parish as the primary place where renewal should take place.
“This is perhaps the biggest practical challenge that we face in the Irish Church. The parish cannot simply outsource to agencies the task of marriage preparation and that of accompanying couples along the path of their lives,” Archbishop Martin highlighted.
Speaking at a press conference in Archbishop’s House in Dublin, Archbishop Eamon Martin said the document has “a warm, distinctive and familiar style that speaks to the reality of ordinary life”.
He said its contents are very much in tune with the concrete realities of everyday life as lived by married couples and families.
“The document reflects the vision of Pope Francis in that we cannot resort to doctrine without considering the complexities of married life. The content is also challenging, and includes a call for all of us to reflect on how we live our lives,” the Primate of All Ireland told journalists.
“The Church is now asked to go out and bring the gospel to where people are at in their lives, this is in line with Pope Francis’ agenda which encourages every Catholic to be a missionary for the faith.”
“As a Church we are used to inviting people to come to us, but from today Pope Francis urges us to reach out and offer support, at a local level, for those preparing for marriage and for those on the journey of married life.”
Archbishop Eamon continued, “Pope Francis has offered us a continuity when, in his first Apostolic Exhortation of 2013, he invited the faithful of the Universal Church to embrace ‘The Joy of the Gospel’. Today the Holy Father calls on us to open our hearts to ‘The Joy of Love in the Family’. More than ever the good news of the family needs to be heard today, notwithstanding the message of the Church sometimes being countercultural in our contemporary world.”
Archbishop Eamon concluded, “I encourage everyone – especially those preparing for marriage and those already married – to read this document from Pope Francis which is compassionate in tone and accessible to all.”
Commending the document for being “very grounded in the reality of family life”, Archbishop Eamon said he would like to think that is no accident and added that the Pope had “benefited from the deliberations of so many lay people around the world – through the consultation exercises in the lead up to the two synods”.
He said that while ‘The Joy of Love’ has a very distinctive Pope Francis mark, he found everything in it “very familiar – it is familiar to me from the synodal process that we were engaged in for almost three years”.
Archbishop Martin continued, “Here we have a document that is not out of touch with the daily – concrete realities of family life. He cautions us that if the Church simply resorts to a whole body of doctrine – moral and theoretical teaching – and fails to take account of the complexities and the difficulties – concrete day to day living of people – it will be out of touch.”
“Fundamentally the Pope believes that the good news – the gospel of the family – is a message – that needs to be heard particularly in the world that we are living in today. It will come across in many situations as quite countercultural and a sign of contradiction to the way many people are living out their lives. But I do hope that as people read it and that they will pick up that good news about marriage and that it will speak to their own lived reality.”