In all, nine chapters and 264 pages, a long and complex document: Amoris Laetitia, ‘The Joy of Love’ is the document with which Pope Francis concludes the process of the two Synods dedicated to the family. Here is a commentary by the Prior of Bose, Enzo Bianchi.
The fruit of listening and discernment by the Pope regarding the debates and texts that emerged from two Synods of Bishops who rediscovered their nature of frank and fraternal dialogue, the exhortation on ‘love in the family’ takes up again and deepens the patient work of the pastors themselves.
‘It is understandable – notes Pope Francis – that one ought not expect either from the Synod or this exhortation new general norms of the canonical sort applicable to all cases’ but, rather, ‘new encouragement towards the responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases’ (A.L. No. 300).
It thus appears to be the first document of the magisterium addressed to the universal Church that does not carry a globalised message but takes into account the diversity of cultural areas and the complexity of the journeys of humanisation travelled by the people. The Gospel message always demands inculturation, as it was in the first centuries: in proclaiming it, the Church must be attentive to the traditions, challenges and crises present in various places. We do not find just ‘signs of the times’, but also ‘signs of the places’ to be discerned with wisdom and commitment since, in every culture and in its evolution, some semina verbi remain, the Word of God as seed.
In this new atmosphere that is enriched by contributions coming from the entire catholic world, two evangelical convictions seem to orient the entire reflection: the first is that there are no ‘irregular’ Christians and so-called ‘just Christians’, but all are constantly called to be converted and return to their Lord.
The other is that no one can be condemned for ever because this is not ‘the logic of the Gospel’! (A.L. No. 297). This is the burning heart that should permeate all considerations regarding the adventure of matrimony and the erratic outcome of stories of love and family life and, more in general, human and Christian life: ‘the logic of the Gospel’.
Diverse situation, individual persons, cultural seasons and the signs of the times, sufferings and errors, great efforts and misunderstandings, but also generous commitments and patient daily faithfulness, all of which must be reread according to ‘the logic of the Gospel’. It is from this point of view that Pope Francis asks all the Church to look with the gaze of Jesus also on the diverse so-called ‘irregular’ (a term the Pope does not like) situations or those not in conformity with the will of God: a gaze that does not condemn definitively because only the Lord can judge, on the day of his coming, the weight of responsibility and the guilt of each one.
The Church is not even authorized to declare anyone to be ‘in a state of mortal sin’, deprived of the grace of God that can sanctify even one who objectively speaking is living in a situation contrary to the Gospel. Yes, like Jesus, the Church judges sin, condemns sin but does not condemn or judge definitively the sinner. Anyone who sins still remains greater than the sin committed.
Then the eight chapter which tries to explain the various contradictions – present in the world and in the Christian life itself – to the divine plan for matrimony, offers something new by way of what is stressed, something to which Christian people are not accustomed. Aware that everyone, including Christians, remain sinners all their lives since ‘it is not the good that they want to do which they do, but the evil they do not want to do’ (as St Paul confesses of himself in the ‘Letter to the Romans’), the Church can do nothing else but announce the mercy of God, not by devaluing or emptying grace of meaning but by bringing about discernment and assisting Christians to engage in discernment by means of their conscience. This must be recognized: never before in a document of the magisterium was the point reached where the role of the conscience was so clearly expressed, a conscience that is informed and listens to the Word of God and that of the brothers and sisters, but a conscience that is the last and central instance, the property of each one as the place of truth sincerely sought. In this perspective, all divisions are removed between the just and unjust, between public and secret sinners and we are all disobedient under the judgement of God. And from this work of discernment carried out seriously, with commitment and ecclesially, it is also possible, in particular cases, to regard the Eucharist as nourishment for the weak, mendicants of the love of God and not a reward for the just.
It is this and nothing else that the weighed and wise words used by Pope Francis wish to say to remember the logic of the Gospel and to narrate a solicitude like that of Jesus towards his disciples who were all ‘hard of heart and slow to believe’, all needing mercy that was greater than their human thinking, fairer than any justice and more fruitful than any inflexibility.
We may affirm in a synthetic and monumental manner that, with this exhortation, Pope Francis has made ‘joyful news’, of the Gospel, couples, sexuality, marriage, the family and faithfulness. Anyone who feared that the Pope might change doctrine or contradict the great Catholic tradition and fail to trust its magisterium and Synods must think again radically. That which is changed, in fact, is the gaze of the Church: any cynical view of sexuality is eliminated and the announcement of love between a man and a woman has again taken on its splendour of truth without blinding people.
This text will certainly displease the ‘hardened just’, those whom the Gospel denounces as people who think they see but in reality are ‘blind’. It will draw to Christ, the physician of human life, those who are sinners, humiliated by their sins, needful of the mercy of God. Holiness, in fact, is not a virtue that is behind us and that we would lose by going forward since the journey of holiness is before us: it is a journey in which, step by step, we become more capable of loving and of being loved.