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- Just as there were two synods on the go in October 2014 and again in October 2015, namely the official one taking place in Paul VI Hall, and the unofficial one in the media houses and journalists’ studies, so I suspect are there two versions of Amoris Laetitia, the official one written and published by Pope Francis on behalf of the Church and the unofficial one which is being commented on, criticised or even condemned out of hand by those who have not really tried to understand it, but want it to say something every different, something they can use to score political points for their particular point of view.
- While it is true that during Synod 2014 Bishops, Priests, Religious and Lay Delegates did express concern in their addresses to the Synod about, this was serious challenges facing the Church and its mission to teach and evangelise the world in regard to Marriage and the Family.
- By contrast the Synod of 2015 was much more focussed on “The Vocation and Mission of the Family” rather than the solutions to the problems that had been identified the year before. Consequently those who expected, or were led to expect that the Synod of 2015 would produce specific solutions to the questions raised earlier, were badly deceived or perhaps deceived themselves by completely misunderstanding what a Synod is and what it can do. A Synod of Bishops is a solemn meeting of the College of Bishops (Pope and Bishops from all over the world) together with chosen priests, religious and lay delegates “walk together” in reflection and discussion of the chosen areas of Church life and teaching. A Synod is not, and never has been, intended to work out solutions to particular problems, least of all to change Church doctrine or discipline!
- So, what does Amoris Laetitia offer us?
The first thing Amoris Laetitia offers us is a special tone! In true Pope Francis style, the tone of the Exhortation is very different. It is eminently pastoral rather than primarily prophetic! It calls on the Church, but especially its ministers, to reach out to those in need in a warm, compassionate and caring way; to reach out, welcome and receive those individuals and families that are in difficult circumstances; listen to and deal with them with mercy and love.
For us in Southern Africa that should not be a very big problem. After all, we had already adopted, or at least ought to have, an attitude of reaching out to others many years ago when we set about implementing the vision of our Pastoral Plan – “Community Serving Humanity”!
I see this Post-Synodal Exhortation as a serious reminder that the time has come for us to re-visit our vision of the Church that we wanted to become back then in 1989! Today Amoris Laetitia challenges us to review and evaluate how far we have walked together on the way to becoming a “Community”, or as the African Synod puts it: “The Family of God”! If we are to be truly The Family of God as a Church, then we will need to examine closely whether our families are real families or not, but especially what we need to do to get them right!
- B. What is important about Amoris Laetitia?
The first thing that is important about Amoris Laetitia is that it must be studied, not simply read! It is too important a document to be read quickly and then commented on. No! Amoris Laetitia must be read and re-read chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, especially by those who want to know and understand what the Church says about Marriage and Family Life. In our reading, or even better, studying what Marriage and Family Life are for the Catholic Church, we must keep before us what is said about Marriage and Family Life in the Scriptures, in the Teaching of the Fathers of the Church, and in the official teachings of the Pope and Bishops down the ages, especially when they have been together as a Church Council.
Amoris Laetitia is just such a document! And so it must be taken very seriously, especially when it comes to putting its teaching into practice in actual Marriages and Families!
- C. What actions do we need to take in regard to Amoris Laetitia?
- a) I would suggest that your first action must be to get to know Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) by getting hold of a copy of the Summary which will be sent out with our Diocesan Bulletin.
To assist you I’m asking every Parish to make sure that the Summary is distributed as widely as possible using the Parish Bulletin or any other means.
All members of the Parish Pastoral Council as well as all those in the leadership of Sodalities should make sure they have a copy.
- b) The next step is to get the full document and STUDY it, one chapter at a time or one section at a time, one paragraph at a time!
- c) Each Parish Priests must lead the way by making Amoris Laetitia his personal journey of faith his primary tool for evangelising his parish in and through the Family. Our aim is to have good solid families who can play their part in reforming and renewing society, even as they are reformed and renewed by doing what the Pope is asking us to do.
- d) The logic of Amoris Laetitia is quite simple. Right from the beginning of his time as Pope, Pope Francis has set out to reform the Church, and, on the advice of his close co-workers he has identified the building up of good and solid marriages and families as the most effective way of doing that. So, if we want to work together with Pope Francis and the Bishops who are committed to his vision, then we must examine closely how we are doing the following:
- Preparing Couples for Marriage,
- Accompanying newlyweds and those in first 5-10 years of marriage,
- Supporting Couples who are experiencing serious problems in their marriages,
- Helping those who marriages have failed, divorced and “remarried”,
- Accompanying Families in difficult circumstances, single parent, or child headed families, families with homosexual members,
- Using the Tribunal to assess and process marriages that have failed?
- e) The very last section of Amoris Laetitia is also the most important. It deals with the Spirituality of Marriage and the Family. As such it brings our reflection to a conclusion just as it was begun, with reference to the role that God has to play in bringing about, maintaining and fulfilling the purpose of marriage and family life, namely that “in him we may live and move and have our being’ Acts 17:28.
I rely on every Priest, Deacon, Pastoral Assistant and Parish Pastoral Council Member to make Amoris Laetitia something that they read, study, reflect on, pray about and put into practice with love and mercy towards those whom it speaks about.
May God love and bless you all.
+ Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM
Archbishop of Durban