By Ben Smith, Catholic Outlook, June 2016
When I heard the title of the Pope’s latest apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, I automatically thought of Dean Martin’s famous song, That’s Amore. This song from the 1953 movie The Caddy became one of his major hits and signature songs.
In this movie, Dean sings That’s Amore at the request of his mother and father during a large Italian family dinner celebration. The upbeat lyrics and catchy tune encourage family members, young and old, to get up and dance together.
For me, this scene captures the joyful family love that Pope Francis, in Amoris Laetitia, is calling members of the Church to rediscover and radiate.
A lot has changed in our society and our families since 1953. Some of these changes have been positive. However, over the past 50 years the secular understanding of marriage and the role of the family has been diverging from the Church’s understanding and the degree of this divergence is accelerating at our present moment in history.
Amoris Laetitia is the fruit of a three-year global discernment process on the challenges facing the family. This process has involved two worldwide consultations of the faithful, two meetings of groups of bishops in Rome, hours of discussion and debate and, finally, the publication of Amoris Laetitia.
Pope Francis’ approach in this document as indicated in paragraph 38, mirrors “the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal [on marriage] yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman [at the well] or the woman caught in adultery.”
Amoris Laetitia is full of practical wisdom on marriage and family life. A number of commentators have noted that the writing style makes the reader feel that the Pope is sitting at the family dinner table, sharing his wisdom and pastoral experience in a language that is accessible to people who aren’t trained in theology.
In Chapter 3, Pope Francis challenges people to rediscover marriage and family life as a vocation in which the love that flows in the family is an image of the Holy Trinity.
The longest chapter, Chapter 4, is a reflection on the nature of love as taught by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, applied to the practical circumstance of married couples called to live conjugal love.
The fruitfulness of conjugal love that flows into the gift of children and the broader connections with the extended family is covered in Chapter 5. Chapter 7 looks at the role of parents as primary educators of their children.
The place of prayer and spirituality in family life is discussed in Chapter 9. Chapter 6 examines approaches to marriage preparation and support needed by couples in their early years of marriage.
Pastoral approaches for people in challenging life circumstances, such as the divorced and remarried, are the focus of Chapter 8.
These pastoral issues are not just a concern for priests. The way we as a whole Christian community respond to the challenges of our own members is critical.
Pope Francis reaffirms the importance of accompanying people who are struggling. He highlights in paragraph 299 that “the baptised who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal.”
Amoris Laetitia is worth reading patiently over a few weeks. It is a beacon of hope for all of us on our journey towards the wedding banquet of heaven.
To contact the Diocese of Parramatta’s Family & Life Office, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ben Smith is Director of the Family & Life Office in the Diocese of Parramatta.