Saturday, April 9, 2016

Amoris Laetitia - continued

What, then, are some of the challenges families face today? Quoting a 1979 statement of the Spanish bishops, Pope Francis notes that, thanks to cultural changes, individuals receive less support from social structures than in the past (AL 32). Ours is an increasingly individualistic culture.  But without noble goals or personal discipline, Pope Francis observes, freedom degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others (AL 33). The effects on marriage and family life are evident.

No one can think that the weakening of the family as that natural society founded on marriage will prove beneficial to society as a whole. ... There is a failure to realize that only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society. (AL 52).

Earlier, the Pope warned against a mentality against having children and promoted by the world politics of reproductive health, which creates a situation in which the relationship between generations is no longer ensured and also the danger that , over time, this decline will lead to economic impoverishment and a loss of hope in the future (AL 42). This is the first of several references which refer to the contemporary problem of contraception and its effects on marriage, family, and society. Later, in chapter three, the Pope will reference how Humanae Vitae brought out the intrinsic bond between conjugal love and the generation of life (AL 68). Blessed Pope Paul VI's encyclical is referenced again later in the chapter (AL 80-83).

Other societal problems adversely impacting the family, which the Pope mentions in chapter two, include a lack of decent housing. Families and homes go together (AL 44). Other economic problems mentioned in this section include lack of adequate health care and problems related to work. The sexual exploitation of children is acknowledged and is all the more scandalous when it occurs in places  where they ought to be most safe, particularly in families, schools, communities and Christian institutions (AL 45). Then, there are also the various issues associated with migration (AL 45), disability (AL 47), caring for the elderly (AL 48), and the situation of families living in poverty and great limitations (49).

Finally, in this chapter, the Pope warns about a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will (AL 53). In contrast to a certain ideology of gender, he follows the Synod in stressing that  biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated (AL 56).

In an Exhortation that heavily emphasizes and encourages pastoral accompaniment of individuals, couples, and families in problematic situations, the Pope starts out with some fundamental distinctions. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. ... Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift (AL 56).

Ideological distortion, however, has many possibilities. Personally, I have often worried whether our constant invocation of the New Testament analogy of the union of husband and wife with the union of Christ and his Church may seem so elevated that it speaks inadequately to the real life experience of many couples, its spiritual value thereby getting lost in the application. I was, therefore, encouraged to find in chapter four that very recognition that the Pauline analogy is "imperfect" (AL 73). So, even while recognizing that the natural order has been so imbued with the redemptive grace of Jesus that every valid marriage between two baptized persons is inherently sacramental, the Exhortation also acknowledges a need for further reflection on God's action in the marriage rite (AL 75).

Even so, the challenge for the Church remains to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden, and in doing so to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them (AL 37).

What that might mean in a renewed pastoral ministry of accompaniment is a major focus of this Exhortation. It was evident in the Synod Relatio's concern for those who participate in the Church's life in an imperfect manner - those who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried - and whom the Church's pastoral care should encourage to do good, to take loving care of each other and to serve the community, and, where possible, should eventually encourage them to celebrate the sacrament of Matrimony (AL 78) Following Pope Saint John Paul II (Familaris Consortio 84), the Relatio enjoined pastors  to "know that , for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations." Pastors, the Relatio continued, are to avoid judgments that do not take into account the complexity of various situations, and they are to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition (AL 79).

I will return next week to more of what that might mean in the renewed pastoral ministry of accompaniment to which the Pope is calling the Church.

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