In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (The Joy of Love) Pope Francis offers new ways of dealing with family and its everyday difficulties. This document is a blessing for the whole world. It is important that we study the document so that we will understand the gospel of the family. In Amoris Laetitia no. 68 Pope Francis gives the tending of the Church on family. “The family is the image of the Trinitarian Communion of love and of the union of Christ with the Church and of the final covenant with the marriage of the Lamb. The Holy Family remains a model.” The Christian Sacrament only confirms the principles of natural marriage. Humane Vitae of Bl. Pope Paul VI brings out “the intrinsic bond between conjugal life and the generation of life”. The child must be accepted as a gift and bringing it up is the parents’ primary responsibility. The Church herself is a family of families.
In Amoris Laetitia no. 292 the Pope brings out a summary of what Christian marriage is: “Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love, who belong to each other until death and are open to the transmission of life, and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society”.
In the whole of Ch. 4 of Amoris Laetitia the Pope takes the hymn of love of St. Paul 1Cor 13:4-7 and offers it as a background to speak about love in the family. At the same time the Pope is aware of the various crises and challenges in the family which he describes in Amoris Laetitia Ch.2. Thus he says that the families need pastoral care, which should not consist in a set of rules, but of values that would inspire and guide. The Parish, which is a family of families, is responsible for this. The Pope is not diluting any law as people all over the world imagine but he shows how to apply the law in a discerning and merciful manner in different situations. This is the key and revolutionary point in this document. Thus Pope Francis affirms Church teaching on family life and marriage, and strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment. Here are ten points to know about Amoris Laetitia.

  1. The Church needs to understand families and individuals in all their complexities and deal with them in their own particular life situation and avoiding being judgmental but in charity (no. 296).
  2.  The role of conscience is very important in moral decision making. “Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” (no. 303). Pastors therefore need to help people not simply follow rules, but to practice “discernment” means prayerful decision making (no. 304).
  3. Divorced and remarried Catholic couples should be made to feel part of the Church. “They are not ex-communicated and should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the Church (no. 243).
  4. All members of the family need to be encouraged to live good Christian lives. Much of Amoris Laetitia consists of reflections on the Gospels and Church teaching on love, the family and children. The Pope, speaking as a pastor, encourages not only married couples, but also engaged couples, expectant mothers, adoptive parents, widows, as well as aunts, uncles and grandparents.
  5. We should no longer talk about people “living in sin”. In a sentence that reflects a new approach, the Pope says clearly, “It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin” (no. 302). Other people in irregular situations, or non-traditional families, like single mothers, need to be offered “understanding, comfort and acceptance” (no. 49).
  6. What might work in one place may not work in another. The pope is not only speaking in terms of individuals, but geographically as well. “Each country or region can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its tradition and local needs (no. 3).
  7. Traditional teachings on marriage are affirmed but the Church should not burden people with unrealistic expectations. Marriage is between one man and one woman and is indissoluble, and same-sex marriage is not considered marriage. The Church continues to hold out an invitation to healthy marriages. “Ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families”.
  8. Children must be educated in sex and sexuality. In a culture that often commodifies and cheapens sexual expression, children need to understand sex within the “broader framework of an education for love and mutual self-giving (no. 280).
  9. Gay men and women should be respected while same-sex marriage is not permitted, the Pope says that he wants to reaffirm before all else that the homosexual person needs to be respected in his/her dignity and treated with consideration, and ‘every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully avoided. Families with LGBT members need respectful pastoral guidance from the Church and its pastors so that gays and lesbians can fully carry out God’s will in their lives.
  10. The Church must help families of every sort, and people in every state of life, know that, even in their imperfections, they are loved by God and can help others experience that love. The family is an absolutely essential part of the Church, because after all, the Church is a family of families (no. 80).

Let us with the help of Amoris Laetitia, bring about a renewal in the families in order to build up the Church, the mystical body of Christ.

+Francis Kalist
Bishop of Meerut