Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Finding beauty in ugliness

Klee fantasy

1515 words, 8 min read

Last Saturday, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi addressed a meeting entitled “Beauty will save the world, let us save beauty,” organized by Earth Day Italia, that took place in the Vatican’s church of St Stephen of the Abyssinians. In his talk, Cardinal Ravasi spoke about the etymology of the word for beauty in Hebrew, Greek and Italian, pointing to the fact that in all these languages the word either directly refers both to beauty and goodness, or at least has roots that do. After the Q&A that followed, Cardinal Ravasi then added a few words in defense of a certain kind of ugliness, lest beauty be misunderstood as aestheticizing. What follows is my translated transcript of the talk:



I would like to start from a thing that is the most material possible, the most limiting possible, which, however, is always fundamental for humanity: that is, the vocabulary, words. […] In the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, using two completely different languages - Hebrew and Greek, and we are still at the point of vocabulary, words, which, on the other hand are the fundamental instruments of communication, we have a single word that contemporaneously expresses two realities that are different for us. In fact, in Hebrew there is the word ‘tov’ (טוֹב) that at the same time means good and beautiful. And in the New Testament, predominantly when a prominent figure or a significant act is to be described, the Greek word kalos (καλός) is used, which in the New Testament means good.

Vatican good shepherd800px ACMA Moschophoros

Let me give you an example that you all have in mind but about which you maybe do not have the idea of its original Greek basis. How does Jesus define himself in John’s Gospel? I am the good shepherd. I am sure you all have the famous statue of the good shepherd from the Vatican museums in mind, which is a Christian transcription of a Greek statue of the moscophoros. So, in Greek we have - listen! - “egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός.) “Ho kalos” - I am the beautiful shepherd, because these two realities must interweave among us.

With this background, let’s look at Italian. […] In Italian we have this word “bello”. Now, probably only few among you know […] that it has nothing to do with Latin. What does “bellum” mean in Latin? War. That has nothing to do with it. Think about the fact that the word “bello” is a deformation - or the synthesis, the portmanteau, if you will - of a late mediaeval Latin word which sounded like this: “bonicellus” which means good, pleasant, nice and which gradually became first bonellus and then bellum, but in Italian and not in Latin. So, you can see, that at the basis of the Italian word beautiful (“bello”) there is the word “good.”

Let’s now pass to another word, which is antipodean to the word beauty, which is “brutto” (ugly). In Italian there are two words that bud from it and these two other words have the same basis but are not synonymous with it, even if we may use them in an undifferentiated manner. We have the words “bruttezza” (ugliness) and the word “bruttura” (nastiness). The word “bruttezza” indicates an aesthetic quality while the word “bruttura” an ethical one. Imagine for a moment, without wishing to give offense since this applies to many other cities too, that we are going to a district at the peripheries of Rome. A dilapidated district, a district where there is exploitation and rampant overdevelopment, where blocks of flats are built on top of each other in all their ugliness (bruttezza). Such spaces also tend to become the sites of moral degeneration and of social degeneration. And so we arrive at the dimension of nastiness (bruttura).

This is why I am saying that the aesthetic question is also relevant to the ethical and social question. Imagine a kid, one of our kids, who comes out of one of these quarters, where he always sees a gray and rundown block of flats, a flowerbed - if there is one - that is always scruffy, streets that are littered with garbage … and he comes to the center and sees the splendor of architecture, of monuments, … What does he do? He slashes them. They mean nothing to him. Because, with the ethical dimension he has also lost the aesthetic one.

Piazza miracoli

Instead, let’s imagine a kid in the 14th century, who’d leave his house in Siena, would enter the Square of Miracles and walk around in that quarter. Evidently here aesthetics in some way influenced a lifestyle. Naturally, subject to the limits of the weakness and the wickedness also of the human creature.

I conclude and would just like to remember [… a message from the bishops at the Second Vatican Council to artists that reflected on the despair caused by ugliness and nastiness] but in that same message there was also another consideration […] whose basis was that art and faith - both authentic: authentic art and authentic faith - are sisters. Why? And I’d like to answer that with the words of a great painter, Paul Klee, who wrote a very important definition of art: “Art does not represent the visible, but the invisible that is in the visible.” Transcendence. And what is it that religion does if not the same job? […] And finally I would like to quote a writer who is far from Christianity and who is also immoral in the eyes of Christianity: Henry Miller, who wrote Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn. In a short essay, The Wisdom of the Heart, […] he wrote the following phrase: “Art, like faith, is good for nothing, other than to show the meaning of life.” And that is not little.

[… at the end of the Q&A that followed, Cardinal Ravasi added:]

I would like to conclude by speaking about ugliness. Let’s say straightaway that squalor is squalor and there is ugliness that is ugly. And we need the courage to say it. We have to say that we are being assaulted by ugliness and nastiness. But, having said this, I would now like to present an defense of ugliness, but of a particular ugliness. For many, and that is why I don’t like this expression that “beauty will save the world” so much, it has become a generally aestheticizing phrase.

We can see, and these are often the victims, with women that feminine beauty has become thought of exclusively as the fruit of an artificial operation applied to a person. To the point of having created an entire medical discipline whose criteria are aestheticizing ones, at times in the form of an external lucidity that, however, isn’t a profound transparency. I remember a beautiful poem by John Donne, this great 17th century English poet, which should be read in English. What does he do? He dedicates beautiful verses to the face of his wife, which by then is marked by a web of wrinkles. To this he says - and I agree fully, “I haven’t seen a season as beautiful as autumn.”1 Imagine what Roman autumn is like. It is infinitely more beautiful than summer.

This is why I said that I would like to present a sort of defense of ugliness. […] Beauty is not smoothness. It is not a dictation formed by beautiful words searched for in a dictionary, as Sunday poets often do. It is, instead, the capacity to capture the transcendent, to capture that which is not seen, but that which is the soul of reality. So, when you go and see an exhibition […] of Caravaggio, you can’t come out from it indignant because Caravaggio also touches evil.

Caravaggio Judith Beheading Holofernes

Without reflecting on evil, and evil is ugly, we wouldn’t have 60-70% of literature. It would not exist. We’d have to get rid of virtually all of Dostoyevsky. This is why I say that it is important to remember that the beautiful is also the groundwork, the pilgrimage, the entrance to the substratum, the underground (to use Dostoyevsky), the entering into a nest of vipers (to quote Mauriac) that represent humanity. When Rilke, who is one of the great poets that I love alongside Eliot, writes the Duino Elegies, how does he define beauty? He defines it as “the beginning of terror.” This is an impressive theophany that torments. Not being a writer or a poet I’ll give my voice to Virginia Woolf, when she too defines beauty saying: “Beauty has two faces, one of joy, one of anguish, both cutting, wounding the heart.” That is, beauty offends, disturbs, disconcerts, also. Let’s think of the Divine Comedy. The best part, they say paradoxically, is the Inferno. And this is precisely because the song wants to enter … and it is also right that we be able to see in something ugly, that may represent humanity’s breath of pain, that we try to look even there for what is truly beautiful that, in the end, however, redeems even evil. It is transfiguration. It is liberation.



1 I guess Cardinal Ravasi is referring to Elegy IX: The Autumnal.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Amoris Lætitia: tips & tricks for family life

Pollock

4509 words, 23 min read

It would be a mistake to overlook a beautiful track that runs through Amoris Lætitia, which is that of Pope Francis offering hands-on advice on how to live well together as a family. In fact, these tips and tricks, I believe, also transpose very well onto any other community, whether it be civil or religious, and offer guidance on how to preserve open, loving and welcoming relationships of mutual care and closeness. What I would therefore like to do is put the theology and pastoral guidance that is in AL to one side and just share with you some of my favorites from among Francis gems of advice next.

The first set of Pope Francis' suggestions comes from a meditation on St. Paul's Hymn to Love, which goes as follows, and which focus on what individual attitudes make me most predisposed to loving others in the way Jesus did:
“Love is patient, love is kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;

it is not arrogant or rude.

Love does not insist on its own way,
it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice at wrong,

but rejoices in the right.

Love bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7).
Here Francis first dispels and misunderstanding of patience and then goes on to talk about what it is that can undermine it:
"Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the centre and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively." (§92)
The remedy he then presents consists in compassion and an acceptance of difference:
"Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like." (§92)
To combat feelings of envy, Pope Francis reminds us of the uniqueness of each person and of one's pursuit of happiness not being enemy to that of another:
"Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity; it shows that we are not concerned for the happiness of others but only with our own well-being. Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs."(§95)
Such an attitude then leads to a broadening of scope for my attention and extends the circle of those who are candidates for being loved:
"Love inspires a sincere esteem for every human being and the recognition of his or her own right to happiness. I love this person, and I see him or her with the eyes of God, who gives us everything “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17). As a result, I feel a deep sense of happiness and peace. This same deeply rooted love also leads me to reject the injustice whereby some possess too much and others too little. It moves me to find ways of helping society’s outcasts to find a modicum of joy. That is not envy, but the desire for equality." (§96)
Commenting on St. Paul speaking out against arrogance, Francis contrasts it with a love for the weak:
"[Some people] become “puffed up” before others. [... They] think that, because they are more “spiritual” or “wise”, they are more important than they really are. [...] Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others; they want to lord it over them. Yet what really makes us important is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak." (§97)
Next, rudeness is countered with a kind look that builds bonds and prevents egoism:
"[L]ove is not rude or impolite; it is not harsh. Its actions, words and gestures are pleasing and not abrasive or rigid. Love abhors making others suffer. [...] To be open to a genuine encounter with others, “a kind look” is essential. This is incompatible with a negative attitude that readily points out other people’s shortcomings while overlooking one’s own. A kind look helps us to see beyond our own limitations, to be patient and to cooperate with others, despite our differences. Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric. In this way, it grows ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we end up seeking our convenience alone and life in common becomes impossible." (§99-100)
Such a move beyond oneself calls for generosity, whose prerequisite is love of oneself so that love of another may become possible:
"The Bible makes it clear that generously serving others is far more noble than loving ourselves. Loving ourselves is only important as a psychological prerequisite for being able to love others: “If a man is mean to himself, to whom will he be generous? No one is meaner than the man who is grudging to himself” (Sir 14:5-6)." (§102)
Irritability and and discord are tackled next and Pope Francis reminds us that a small gesture is often all it takes to put and end to them:
"It is one thing to sense a sudden surge of hostility and another to give into it, letting it take root in our hearts: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family. “And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. Just a little caress, no words are necessary. But do not let the day end without making peace in your family”. Our first reaction when we are annoyed should be one of heartfelt blessing, asking God to bless, free and heal that person. “On the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet 3:9)." (§104)
Seeing mountains where there are only molehills is an obstacle to forgiveness that Francis warns against in following paragraph:
"As Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Yet we keep looking for more and more faults, imagining greater evils, presuming all kinds of bad intentions, and so resentment grows and deepens. Thus, every mistake or lapse on the part of a spouse can harm the bond of love and the stability of the family. Something is wrong when we see every problem as equally serious; in this way, we risk being unduly harsh with the failings of others. The just desire to see our rights respected turns into a thirst for vengeance rather than a reasoned defence of our dignity." (§105)
Next, Francis comments on St. Paul speaking about the importance of joy, which needs to be triggered by the successes of others just as much as by my own:
"If we fail to learn how to rejoice in the well-being of others, and focus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence, for, as Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The family must always be a place where, when something good happens to one of its members, they know that others will be there to celebrate it with them." (§110)
The final four attributes of love that St. Paul lists refer to how it engages with "all things." First, it abstains from judgement:
"[Love] implies limiting judgment, checking the impulse to issue a firm and ruthless condemnation: “Judge not and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37). Although it runs contrary to the way we normally use our tongues, God’s word tells us: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters” (Jas 4:11). Being willing to speak ill of another person is a way of asserting ourselves, venting resentment and envy without concern for the harm we may do. We often forget that slander can be quite sinful; it is a grave offense against God when it seriously harms another person’s good name and causes damage that is hard to repair." (§112)
Such an attitude also favors silence over expressing judgment and recognizes that love and imperfection can coexist:
"[Married couples] keep silent rather than speak ill of them. This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognizes that these failings are a part of a bigger picture. We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me know, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. Love coexists with imperfection. It “bears all things” and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one." (§113)
Second, trust is the attitude with which all is approached, leading to freedom, sincerity and transparency:
"[T]rust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships. The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are." (§115)
Third, hope allows for being more persistent in recognizing the good in all circumstances and people:
"[St. Paul] speaks of the hope of one who knows that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential. This does not mean that everything will change in this life. It does involve realizing that, though things may not always turn out as we wish, God may well make crooked lines straight and draw some good from the evil we endure in this world. [...] This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible." (§116-117)
Finally, love is all-enduring, whose meaning Pope Francis explains by the following, extensive quote from a sermon given by Martin Luther King:
"The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off... Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it... When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system... Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil." (§118)
In the next part of AL, Francis builds on the above analysis of what it means to love that followed St. Paul's hymn and applies it to interpersonal relationships in a family. Here he starts with underlining the importance of looking at each other:
"A look of appreciation has enormous importance, and to begrudge it is usually hurtful. How many things do spouses and children sometimes do in order to be noticed! Much hurt and many problems result when we stop looking at one another. [...] Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being." (§128)
Beyond looking at each other kindly, expressing mutual love to one another also through words further nourishes and strengthens it:
"The love of friendship unifies all aspects of marital life and helps family members to grow constantly. This love must be freely and generously expressed in words and acts. In the family,“three words need to be used. I want to repeat this! Three words: ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Sorry’. Three essential words!”. “In our families when we are not overbearing and ask: ‘May I?’; in our families when we are not selfish and can say: ‘Thank you!’; and in our families when someone realizes that he or she did something wrong and is able to say ‘Sorry!’, our family experiences peace and joy”. Let us not be stingy about using these words, but keep repeating them, day after day. [...] The right words, spoken at the right time, daily protect and nurture love." (§133)
Francis next warns against an idealizing of earthly love, which denies its need for growth:
"It is not helpful to dream of an idyllic and perfect love needing no stimulus to grow. A celestial notion of earthly love forgets that the best is yet to come, that fine wine matures with age. [...] It is much healthier to be realistic about our limits, defects and imperfections, and to respond to the call to grow together, to bring love to maturity and to strengthen the union, come what may." (§135)
In the following paragraphs, Francis presents a masterclass in dialogue, which "can only be the fruit of a long and demanding apprenticeship." Here the starting point are differences:
"Men and women, young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in different ways. Our way of asking and responding to questions, the tone we use, our timing and any number of other factors condition how well we communicate. We need to develop certain attitudes that express love and encourage authentic dialogue." (§136)
The first of these prerequisite attitudes is taking time:
"This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space. Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledge their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams." (§137)
The second attitude is giving importance to the other:
"This means appreciating them and recognizing their right to exist, to think as they do and to be happy. Never downplay what they say or think, even if you need to express your own point of view. Everyone has something to contribute, because they have their life experiences, they look at things from a different standpoint and they have their own concerns, abilities and insights. We ought to be able to acknowledge the other person’s truth, the value of his or her deepest concerns, and what it is that they are trying to communicate, however aggressively. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue." (§138)
Third, dialogue requires an open mind, a willingness to change and an appreciation of diversity:
"Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. The unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a “unity in diversity”, or “reconciled diversity”. Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good. We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike." (§139)
Francis then moves from talking about the "what" to the "how," which also calls for "astuteness":
"[I]f hard feelings start to emerge, they should be dealt with sensitively, lest they interrupt the dynamic of dialogue. The ability to say what one is thinking without offending the other person is important. Words should be carefully chosen so as not to offend, especially when discussing difficult issues. Making a point should never involve venting anger and inflicting hurt. A patronizing tone only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others. Many disagreements between couples are not about important things. Mostly they are about trivial matters. What alters the mood, however, is the way things are said or the attitude with which they are said." (§139)
The fourth attitude of dialogue then is to show care for the other:
"Love surmounts even the worst barriers. When we love someone, or when we feel loved by them, we can better understand what they are trying to communicate. Fearing the other person as a kind of “rival” is a sign of weakness and needs to be overcome. It is very important to base one’s position on solid choices, beliefs or values, and not on the need to win an argument or to be proved right." (§140)
Finally, the fifth prerequisite for dialogue is that I need to have something to say, to share:
"This can only be the fruit of an interior richness nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer and openness to the world around us. Otherwise, conversations become boring and trivial. When neither of the spouses works at this, and has little real contact with other people, family life becomes stifling and dialogue impoverished." (§141)
Following the above recipes for successful dialogue, Pope Francis reflects on emotions and the need to direct them towards the good of others:
"Experiencing an emotion is not, in itself, morally good or evil.140 The stirring of desire or repugnance is neither sinful nor blameworthy. What is morally good or evil is what we do on the basis of, or under the influence of, a given passion. But when passions are aroused or sought, and as a result we perform evil acts, the evil lies in the decision to fuel them and in the evil acts that result. Along the same lines, my being attracted to someone is not automatically good. If my attraction to that person makes me try to dominate him or her, then my feeling only serves my selfishness. To believe that we are good simply because “we feel good” is a tremendous illusion. There are those who feel themselves capable of great love only because they have a great need for affection, yet they prove incapable of the effort needed to bring happiness to others. They remain caught up in their own needs and desires. In such cases, emotions distract from the highest values and conceal a self-centredness that makes it impossible to develop a healthy and happy family life." (§145)
Lest the above be misunderstood as opposition to enjoyment and pleasure, Francis goes on to putting them into context:
"This does not mean renouncing moments of intense enjoyment,145 but rather integrating them with other moments of generous commitment, patient hope, inevitable weariness and struggle to achieve an ideal. [...] Some currents of spirituality teach that desire has to be eliminated as a path to liberation from pain. Yet we believe that God loves the enjoyment felt by human beings: he created us and “richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). Let us be glad when with great love he tells us: “My son, treat yourself well... Do not deprive yourself of a happy day” (Sir 14:11-14). Married couples likewise respond to God’s will when they take up the biblical injunction: “Be joyful in the day of prosperity” (Ec 7:14). What is important is to have the freedom to realize that pleasure can find different expressions at different times of life, in accordance with the needs of mutual love. In this sense, we can appreciate the teachings of some Eastern masters who urge us to expand our consciousness, lest we be imprisoned by one limited experience that can blinker us. This expansion of consciousness is not the denial or destruction of desire so much as its broadening and perfection." (§148-149)
Much later on in Amoris Lætitia, Pope Francis offers advice to married couples by encouraging to make time for each other a suggestion that also applies to other communities and where it may only be the forms that change but not the substance of the following:
"Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary. Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one other and gaze in each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a stronger relationship. Sometimes the frenetic pace of our society and the pressures of the workplace create problems. At other times, the problem is the lack of quality time together, sharing the same room without one even noticing the other. [...] Once a couple no longer knows how to spend time together, one or both of them will end up taking refuge in gadgets, finding other commitments, seeking the embrace of another, or simply looking for ways to flee what has become an uncomfortable closeness." (§ 224-225)
Francis then points to the importance both of routine and its interruption by celebrations and parties:
"Young married couples should be encouraged to develop a routine that gives a healthy sense of closeness and stability through shared daily rituals. These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together and sharing household chores. Yet it also helps to break the routine with a party, and to enjoy family celebrations of anniversaries and special events. We need these moments of cherishing God’s gifts and renewing our zest for life. As long as we can celebrate, we are able to rekindle our love, to free it from monotony and to colour our daily routine with hope." (§226)
The role of crises and their being integral to the life of a family is on Francis' mind next:
"The life of every family is marked by all kinds of crises, yet these are also part of its dramatic beauty. Couples should be helped to realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken their relationship; instead, it can improve, settle and mature the wine of their union. Life together should not diminish but increase their contentment; every new step along the way can help couples find new ways to happiness. Each crisis becomes an apprenticeship in growing closer together or learning a little more about what it means to be married. There is no need for couples to resign themselves to an inevitable downward spiral or a tolerable mediocrity. On the contrary, when marriage is seen as a challenge that involves overcoming obstacles, each crisis becomes an opportunity to let the wine of their relationship age and improve." (§232)
Finally, at the end of Amoris Lætitia, Pope Francis draws this thread to its conclusion by pointing to the consequences of a life lived along the above lines: freedom and a choice of God as the greatest good:
"There comes a point where a couple’s love attains the height of its freedom and becomes the basis of a healthy autonomy. This happens when each spouse realizes that the other is not his or her own, but has a much more important master, the one Lord. No one but God can presume to take over the deepest and most personal core of the loved one; he alone can be the ultimate centre of their life. At the same time, the principle of spiritual realism requires that one spouse not presume that the other can completely satisfy his or her needs. The spiritual journey of each – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer nicely put it – needs to help them to a certain “disillusionment” with regard to the other, to stop expecting from that person something which is proper to the love of God alone. This demands an interior divestment. The space which each of the spouses makes exclusively for their personal relationship with God not only helps heal the hurts of life in common, but also enables the spouses to find in the love of God the deepest source of meaning in their own lives. Each day we have to invoke the help of the Holy Spirit to make this interior freedom possible. (§320)

Friday, 6 May 2016

Amoris Lætitia: Communion for the divorced and remarried

Giovanni francesco barbieri called guercino the return of the prodigal son ca 1640

2314 words, 12 min read

The most hotly debated aspect of Amoris Lætitia, much to Pope Francis’ chagrin, is whether or not it opens access to the Eucharist for at least some divorced and remarried Catholics. Some say that it clearly does not (e.g., Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, or Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth), others say that is clearly does (e.g., the German Synod Fathers, Card. Marx, Abp. Koch and Bp. Bode, the great German philosopher Robert Spaemann, who by the way doesn’t like that one bit), yet others are reported as saying that it doesn’t, while - if you listen to what they say - they don’t actually do so (e.g., Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, whose introduction to Amoris Lætitia Pope Francis singled out as being authoritative). What is clear from the numerous reactions so far is that Pope Francis’ words are being interpreted in contradictory terms not only by some, whose capacity for interpreting them could be questioned and whose conclusions could easily be dismissed, but by competent and expert readers of this 264 page apostolic exhortation.

Instead of engaging with interpretations of Francis’ text, I would here like to take a look directly at what he says in AL that could lead us to a “yes” or “no” conclusion, and instead of presuming to settle the issue, just offer you my own reading.

The obvious starting point is a passage from §305, which is often quoted and which is in the middle of the section entitled “The discernment of “irregular” situations” that spans paragraphs 296-312. Before looking at it, let’s get a sense of the lay of the land first. Right from the get go, in §296, Francis declares that:
“There are two ways of thinking which recur throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement... The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart... For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous.”
In §297, Francis then reiterates that “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” and speaks with great clarity about the need to preserve the Gospel ideal:
“Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion.”
What reinstatement and inclusion do not mean is an “anything goes” or a change to what the Church has taught about Christian ideals. At the same time, in §298, Francis calls for nuance instead of a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to the divorced and remarried:
“The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment. One thing is a second union consolidated over time, with new children, proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment, a consciousness of its irregularity and of the great difficulty of going back without feeling in conscience that one would fall into new sins. [...] Another thing is a new un- ion arising from a recent divorce, with all the suffering and confusion which this entails for children and entire families, or the case of someone who has consistently failed in his obligations to the family.”
Francis echoes Benedict XVI in acknowledging that no “easy recipes” exist here and adds that “the discernment of pastors must always take place “by adequately distinguishing”, with an approach which “carefully discerns situations”.” §300 then sets out a specific, five-stage “examination of conscience” that is to be part of a discernment process involving a pastor and the divorced remarried person. Such a process also has specific pre-conditions: “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it.”

§301 presents the consideration of “mitigating factors in pastoral discernment” and Francis declares that it “can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace.” (Bearing in mind that “sanctifying grace” is the state that one needs to be in to be eligible for the reception of the Eucharist.) §302 then backs up the legitimacy of the concept of mitigating factors by pointing to passages in the Catechism, which Francis summarizes by saying:
“For this reason, a negative judgment about an objective situation does not imply a judgment about the imputability or culpability of the person involved.”
§303 then calls for a “better incorporation” of “individual conscience [...] into the Church’s praxis,” saying that
“conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized.”
Next, we get a section entitled “Rules and discernment,” which opens with the following statement at the beginning of §304:
“It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being.”
Next, Francis “earnestly ask[s] that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment”:
“Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects... In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all... The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”.
What does this mean? Even general rules that set out an absolute good, cannot - in their formulation - provide for all particular situations. Therefore, Francis says in the opening line of §305, “a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,” which brings us to the key passage in §305 where Francis declares that a person “in an objective situation of sin” (such as re-marriage after divorce) can nonetheless be “living in God’s grace” (a pre-requisite for access to the Eucharist1):
“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”
To elaborate on what help can be expected from the Church, the above sentence points to the following, much-debated footnote number 351:
“In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).”
The most obvious interpretation, to my mind, here is that, yes, what Pope Francis is saying is that access to the Eucharist is a possibility in the context of the pastor-lead discernment, where he understands the particular circumstances of a person who approaches him on the back of the pre-conditions spelled out above. It is worth noting here that Cardinal Müller has specifically denied such an interpretation of footnote 351, claiming that “this footnote refers to objective situations of sin in general, not to the specific case of civilly remarried divorcees.” Personally, I find this very hard to see, given that the entire section, in the very middle of which we are here, is all about the divorced and civilly remarried ... Furthermore, it is primarily §301 that is the basis of the Eucharist being offered to some divorced and civilly remarried - as “medicine and nourishment”, since it states that those in “irregular” circumstances may nonetheless be in a state of grace. Footnote 351 is then just a spelling out of §301’s consequences.

Before wrapping up my reading of AL from the perspective of whether or not the divorced and civilly remarried have access to the Eucharist (through the above process of pastor-lead discernment), it is also worth noting two aspects of the exhortation that, I believe, indirectly support my interpretation.

First, that Pope Francis never says that the divorced and civilly remarried are excluded from access to the Eucharist, while at the same time making categorical statements about abortion (“So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life.” (§83)), same-sex marriage (“there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (§251)) and the indissolubility of marriage (“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” (§52)). If Pope Francis would have wanted to maintain pastoral practice as it stands, he could have said that there is no change to it. In fact, even when asked directly after the publication of AL about whether there were “new, concrete possibilities that didn’t exist before” with regard to the “discipline that regulates access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried”, his response was: “I can say yes, many.”

Second, Pope Francis does explicitly speak about obstacles to receiving the Eucharist in a different context, which consist in “creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among [the Church’s] members” and in “turn[ing] a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent[ing] to various forms of division, contempt and inequality”:
“The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members. This is what it means to “discern” the body of the Lord, to acknowledge it with faith and charity both in the sacramental signs and in the community; those who fail to do so eat and drink judgement against themselves. The celebration of the Eucharist thus becomes a constant summons for everyone “to examine himself or herself”, to open the doors of the family to greater fellowship with the underprivileged, and in this way to receive the sacrament of that eucharistic love which makes us one body. We must not forget that “the ‘mysticism’ of the sacrament has a social character”. When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.” (§186)
Against the background of the above secondary features of Amoris Lætitia, but primarily because of the introduction of greater granularity to how the state of grace is understood of those who are divorced and civilly remarried, as expressed in §301, I have to side with the German Synod Fathers’ and with Robert Spaemann’s reading that Amoris Lætitia does indeed allow for access to the Eucharist for some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.2, 3



1 The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of [Penance and] Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (§1385) and that “[t]he whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” (§1468), with Pope Benedict XVI even bringing these two points together explicitly in in Sacramentum Caritatis §20, emphasizing “the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily”.
2 Beyond what Familiaris Consortio set out in its §84, where the divorced and civilly remarried who abstained from sex were declared to be in a position to receive the Eucharist. I.e., already with St. John Paul II the prohibition was not absolute.
3 Just in case you feel like exclaiming that the Church’s understanding and teaching never changes, take a look here and here (but mainly at the second “here”).

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Amoris Lætitia: virginity and marriage

Arcabas holy family

2104 words, 11 min read

The change of mindset that is at the heart of Amoris Lætitia, in terms of how we are to journey together with and towards God, also has implications on a variety of more specific questions and Pope Francis even spells some of them out in the text itself. One of the most beautiful of these, to my mind, is a re-presentation of the value of virginity and marriage and of their mutual relationship.

If we look back at the development of how virginity and marriage have been understood throughout the history of the Church, we can trace the roots of a long-standing preference for virginity to the words of St. Paul: “[B]ecause of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. [… But] I wish everyone to be as I am [celibate]” (1 Corinthians 7:2,7) and to Jesus’ words in the Gospels: “When they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but they are like the angels in heaven.” (Mark 12:25).

St. Thomas Aquinas then supplements these passages with rational grounds for a higher value being attached to virginity:

“Virginity is more excellent than marriage, which can be seen by both faith and reason. Faith sees virginity as imitating the example of Christ and the counsel of St. Paul. Reason sees virginity as rightly ordering goods, preferring a Divine good to human goods, the good of the soul to the good of the body, and the good of the contemplative life to that of the active life.” (ST II-II.152.4)

At the council of Trent (1545–1563), a claim to the opposite is declared as punishable by excommunication: “If anyone saith that the marriage state is to be preferred before the state of virginity, let him be anathema,” which was re-affirmed as recently as 1954 by Pope Pius XII in his encyclical Sacra Virginitas:

“This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as We have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy council of Trent, and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Finally, We and Our Predecessors have often expounded it and earnestly advocated it whenever occasion offered. But recent attacks on this traditional doctrine of the Church, the danger they constitute, and the harm they do to the souls of the faithful lead Us, in fulfillment of the duties of Our charge, to take up the matter once again in this Encyclical Letter, and to reprove these errors which are so often propounded under a specious appearance of truth.” (§32)

Now, there have also been examples of a more egalitarian perspective on marriage and virginity, including in the early centuries of the Church, such as the Synod of Gangra in 340 AD:

“Canon 1: If any one shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven] let him be anathema.

Canon 9: If any one shall remain virgin, or observe continence, abstaining from marriage because he abhors it, and not on account of the beauty and holiness of virginity itself, let him be anathema.

Canon 10: If any one of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord’s sake shall treat arrogantly the married, let him be anathema.”

And the current, 1993 Catechism also speaks about the two states in a balanced way:

“Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce each other.” (§1620)

Yet, even here there are remnants of a superiority being attributed to virginity:

“Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.” (§1619)

It is against this backdrop that paragraphs 159-162 of Amoris Lætitia are so important in that they dispel lingering feelings of disparity that even the post-conciliar Catechism contains.

Pope Francis starts off by associating virginity with love and pointing to the Scriptural roots of its value:

Virginity is a form of love. As a sign, it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom and the need for complete devotion to the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where “they neither marry not are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30).

He then provides context and nuance, especially with regard to St. Paul’s words:

Saint Paul recommended virginity because he expected Jesus’ imminent return and he wanted everyone to concentrate only on spreading the Gospel: “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). Nonetheless, he made it clear that this was his personal opinion and preference (cf. 1 Cor 7:6-9), not something demanded by Christ: “I have no command in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:25). All the same, he recognized the value of the different callings: “Each has his or her own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7).

So, already Paul’s preference for virginity can be read in a personal context and against a background of a recognition of other paths to God, which leads Pope Francis to making the following declaration - again quoting St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, as he does profusely throughout AL:

Reflecting on this, Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical texts “give no reason to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy” based on sexual abstinence. Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another.

To counter-balance the well-known and historically-dominant presentation of virginity being more perfect than marriage, Francis next points to the 13th century English theologian, Alexander of Hales, who:

stated that in one sense marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality of “Christ’s union with the Church, or the union of his divine and human natures”.

Therefore, and here Francis passes the word to St. John Paul II again:

“it is not a matter of diminishing the value of matrimony in favour of continence”.“There is no basis for playing one off against the other... If, following a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a ‘state of perfection’ (status perfectionis), this has to do not with continence in itself, but with the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels”. A married person can experience the highest degree of charity and thus “reach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and woman”.

What John Paul II does here masterfully is not reject virginity’s claim to perfection, but, by going to its root, which is “a life based on the evangelical counsels” he argues that such perfection - the perfection previously though to be exclusively that of virginity - “is possible and accessible to every man and woman”. Instead of a downgrading of virginity, this is a recognition of the potential virginity - as a putting into practice of the evangelical counsels - of all.

Next follows Pope Francis’ presentation of what virginity and marriage are and how they complement each other:

The value of virginity lies in its symbolizing a love that has no need to possess the other; in this way it reflects the freedom of the Kingdom of Heaven. Virginity encourages married couples to live their own conjugal love against the backdrop of Christ’s definitive love, journeying together towards the fullness of the Kingdom. For its part, conjugal love symbolizes other values. On the one hand, it is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the Trinity. The family is also a sign of Christ. It manifests the closeness of God who is a part of every human life, since he became one with us through his incarnation, death and resurrection. Each spouse becomes “one flesh” with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything with him or her until death.

After pointing to how married couples can benefit from the witness of virgins, who remind them of “Christ’s definite love”, Francis elaborates the mirror image of this advice by spelling out how virgins can be enriched and encouraged by the witness of married couples:

Celibacy can risk becoming a comfortable single life that provides the freedom to be independent, to move from one residence, work or option to another, to spend money as one sees fit and to spend time with others as one wants. In such cases, the witness of married people becomes especially eloquent. Those called to virginity can encounter in some marriages a clear sign of God’s generous and steadfast fidelity to his covenant, and this can move them to a more concrete and generous availability to others. Many married couples remain faithful when one of them has become physically unattractive, or fails to satisfy the other’s needs, despite the voices in our society that might encourage them to be unfaithful or to leave the other. A wife can care for her sick husband and thus, in drawing near to the Cross, renew her commitment to love unto death. In such love, the dignity of the true lover shines forth, inasmuch as it is more proper to charity to love than to be loved. We could also point to the presence in many families of a capacity for selfless and loving service when children prove troublesome and even ungrateful. This makes those parents a sign of the free and selfless love of Jesus. Cases like these encourage celibate persons to live their commitment to the Kingdom with greater generosity and openness. Today, secularization has obscured the value of a life-long union and the beauty of the vocation to marriage. For this reason, it is “necessary to deepen an understanding of the positive aspects of conjugal love”.

To sum up Francis’ position, virginity and marriage can be seen as reflecting different aspects of the one reality of Christ: virginity its definitive fullness, marriage its trinitarian incarnation and universal closeness. In fact, Francis distills their complementarity in the following words:

Whereas virginity is an “eschatological” sign of the risen Christ, marriage is a “historical” sign for us living in this world, a sign of the earthly Christ who chose to become one with us and gave himself up for us even to shedding his blood. Virginity and marriage are, and must be, different ways of loving. For “man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him” (St. John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, 1979).

When I read the above, it made me think of how its opposite mirrors some of the Christological heresies of the Early Church. In some sense, a valuing of virginity over marriage can be thought of as a form of gnostic docetism that emphasizes Jesus’ divinity and denies the truth of his incarnation, while a preference for marriage, at the expense of virginity, would be aligned with an Arianism that denies the divinity of Jesus and his unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. To my mind, Pope Francis’ words present virginity and marriage in a truly Trinitarian way, where their diversity expresses the richness and personal nature of God’s love and where their unity is a witness to its all-encompassing universality. It is only when both virginity and marriage are recognized as “different ways of loving” - both made perfect insofar as they are love - that we see the God who is Love, who is Trinity and who is fullness of life (cf. John 10:10).

Monday, 18 April 2016

Amoris Lætitia: has anything changed?

Brueghel jesus writing

1965 words, 10 min read

On the flight back from visiting refugees on the island of Lesbos (and bringing three Muslim families back with him to the Vatican!), Pope Francis was asked point blank: “[W]ith respect to the discipline that regulates access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried, [...] are there new, concrete possibilities that didn’t exist before the publication of the exhortation or not?” In other words, has anything actually changed, or is it “just” a rehashing of the previous status quo, albeit in nicer words.

To this, Francis responded with a clear: “I can say yes, many,” and then recommended a reading of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s presentation of Amoris Lætitia during the press conference on 8th April, when the exhortation was published. Pope Francis then added that Schönborn “is a great theologian. He was the secretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and he knows the doctrine of the faith well. In that presentation, your question will find an answer.”

Before we take a look at what the cardinal said, let’s look at Pope Francis’ next answer from the same in-flight press conference, just to put the question about the divorced and re-married into context:

“One of the recent popes, speaking of the Council, said that there were two councils: the Second Vatican Council in the Basilica of St. Peter, and the other, the council of the media. When I convoked the first synod, the great concern of the majority of the media was communion for the divorced and remarried, and, since I am not a saint, this annoyed me a bit, and then made me sad. Because, thinking of those media who said, this, this and that, don’t they realize that that is not the important problem? Don’t they realize that instead the family throughout the world is in crisis? And the family is the basis of society. Do you not realize that young people don’t want to marry? Don’t you realize that the lack of jobs and employment opportunities mean that dad and mum take on two jobs, and children grow up alone and don’t learn to grow in dialogue with dad and mum? These are the big problems!”
Let’s turn to Cardinal Schönborn’s presentation of Amoris Lætitia (AL) now, to get a sense of what its impact on the divorced and re-married is.

First, Schönborn sets out the foundation of AL, which is universal inclusion:
“No-one must feel condemned, no-one is scorned. In this climate of welcome, the discourse on the Christian vision of marriage and the family becomes an invitation, an encouragement, to the joy of love in which we can believe and which excludes no-one, truly and sincerely no-one.”
Second, he highlights two modes of engagement that AL revolves around and emphasizes that they are directed towards all:
“In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis said that we must take of our shoes before the sacred ground of others (EG 36). This fundamental attitude runs throughout the Exhortation. And it is also provides the most profound reason for the other two key words, to discern and to accompany. These words apply not only to the so-called “irregular situation” (Pope Francis underlines this “so-called”) but rather for all people, for every marriage and for every family. Indeed, we are all journeying and we are all in need of “discernment” and “accompaniment”.”
Schönborn then acknowledges a potential misunderstanding of inclusion as “relativism,” “permissiveness,” “laxity” or “anything goes,” and juxtaposes it against an opposite, contrary danger of an “obsession with controlling and dominating everything.” As a means of navigating between these opposed dangers,
“Pope Francis often returns to the issue of trust in the conscience of the faithful: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL 37). The great question, obviously, is this: how do we form consciences? How do we arrive at what is the key concept of all this great document, the key to correctly understanding Pope Francis’ intentions: “personal discernment”, especially in difficult and complex situations? “Discernment” is a central concept in Ignatian exercises. Indeed, these must help to discern the will of God in the concrete situations of life. It is discernment that grants a person a mature character, and the Christian path should be of help in reaching this personal maturity: not forming automatons, externally conditioned and remote-controlled, but people who have matured in their friendship with Christ. Only when this personal “discernment” is mature is it also possible to arrive at “pastoral discernment”; which is important especially in “those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us” (AL 6).”
We now arrive at the point in AL (Chapter 8), where “the question of how the Church treats these wounds, of how she treats the failure of love” is addressed. The basis here is again a declaration of the desire to integrate, reinstate:
“With regard to those who are divorced and civilly remarried, [Pope Francis] states: “I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that … the logic of integration is the key to their pastoral care. … Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church and experience her as a mother who welcomes them always…” (AL 299).”
Schönborn then acknowledges the elephant in the room: “But what does this mean in practice? Many rightly ask this question,” and responds by saying that “The definitive answers are found in Amoris Lætitia, paragraph 300.” So, let’s take a look at it next in full:
“If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same. Priests have the duty to “accompany [the divorced and remarried] in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop. Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at reconciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied anyone”. What we are speaking of is a process of accompaniment and discernment which “guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God. Conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow. Given that gradualness is not in the law itself (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), this discernment can never prescind from the Gospel demands of truth and charity, as proposed by the Church. For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”. These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard.” (AL, §300)
Here, Schönborn singles out that those who expected a “new set of general rules” will be “disappointed” and that it is pastoral discernment instead that AL puts forward. This is covered in paragraphs 300-312 and contains the process and examination of conscience proposed in last year’s Synod by the German-language working group (§85 of the 2015 Relatio Finalis which is quoted above in AL §300).

The next big question then is about what Pope Francis says “in relation to access to the sacraments for people who live in “irregular” situations.” And the answer here is in the context presented in §300, where the formulaic is shunned in favor of personal and pastoral discernment:
““Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God” (AL 205). [Pope Francis] also reminds us of an important phrase from Evangelii Gaudium, 44: “A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties” (AL 304). In the sense of this “via caritatis” (AL 306), the Pope affirms, in a humble and simple manner, in a note (351) that the help of the sacraments may also be given “in certain cases”. But for this purpose he does not offer us case studies or recipes, but instead simply reminds us of two of his famous phrases: “I want to remind priests that the confessional should not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (EG 44), and the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (EG 47).”
Finally, Schönborn acknowledges the challenges of the above and sums up AL as follows:
“Pope Francis acknowledges this concern [of the “discernment of situations” not being regulated more precisely]: “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion” (AL 308). However, he challenges this, remarking that “We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311). Pope Francis trusts in the “joy of love”. Love is able to find the way. It is the compass that shows us the road. It is both the goal and the path itself, because God is love and love is from God. Nothing is more demanding than love. It cannot be obtained cheaply. Therefore, no-one should be afraid that Pope Francis invites us, with Amoris Lætitia, to take too easy a path. The road is not an easy one, but it is full of joy!”
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s presentation of Amoris Lætitia is very clear and the answer both to the question of whether anything has changed for the divorced and civilly remarried and to the question of whether anything has changed about their access to the Eucharist is a clear “Yes!”. However, it is a yes that is not in the form of a new decision tree, à la those used in call centers to deal with customer queries, but an invitation to a relationship of accompanying and discernment in which God’s will is sought and where God’s love and mercy flow.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Amoris Lætitia: from Noah's ark to the road to Emmaus

Emmaus arkabas

1057 words, 5 min read

The more I think about Amoris Lætitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, the more it seems to me that the great impact it will have on the lives of families may even be among its lesser contributions to the world. Amoris Lætitia is a dramatic sea-change in how the roles of the individual and of the Church are understood in all aspects of life and it is a re-setting of how the perfection we are called to as children of God, and the necessary imperfection resulting from our finite powers, now relate to each other and to our being community.

By way of analogy, I believe that Amoris Lætitia is a move from the Church being modeled on Noah’s ark to a recognition that she is journeying towards Emmaus. The Church cannot be thought of as having been constructed following strict, specific and complete instructions and being called to the role of a gate-keeper who lets creatures in following a pre-determined passenger list, with those who are in being destined for hope and salvation, while those who are out being condemned. Instead, she is on a journey, huddled together for mutual support, discussing worries and fears that transform into hope, joy and salvation by the, initially unrecognized, presence of Jesus in her midst.

What Amoris Lætitia does first of all is break down the false categories of “good” versus “irregular” families by recognizing that each family and each one of us is in need of mercy, forgiveness and growing perfection. This is the result of the twofold nature of the family. First, that it is an ideal of divine proportions: “The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection. [...] it is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the Trinity. The family is also a sign of Christ.” (§11, §161) Second, that it is, here on Earth, sought by finite and imperfect persons and that, therefore, “there is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign entails “a dynamic process..., one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God”. (§122).

Given what the fully-realized family is, we are all members of imperfect families and what we - both as families and as the Church who is “a family of families” (§87) - are called to is to support each other and help each other get ever closer to the ideal we seek. Instead of drawing an arbitrary line between different levels of imperfection and calling one side “good” and the other “irregular,” we need a change of paradigm that Pope Francis is proposing in the following way:

“Here I would like to reiterate something I sought to make clear to the whole Church, lest we take the wrong path: “There are two ways of thinking which recur throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement... The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart... For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous”. Consequently, there is a need “to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” and “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition”. (§296)
Before we look at what “reinstatement” looks like, it is also worth hearing from Francis what he thinks about how the Church has done lately in passing on the Gospel message of the family, in his characteristically direct words:
“At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite. (§36)

We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard 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. (§37)”
In the very next sentence, Francis then delivers one of the key points of Amoris Lætitia: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” It is not the Church who acts as my conscience, as the gate-keeper to right or wrong, but it is she who helps me develop my conscience, given to me by God, that it may be ever more attuned to discerning and acting on God’s will.

This, however, does not at all mean an individualization, a move to it being just up to me to understand what the right thing is to do. Amoris Lætitia places discernment firmly in the context of relationships. For me to act according to my conscience imposes a duty on me to form my conscience by understanding it in the context of a relationship with another person who is also committed to living the Gospel. Pope Francis here proposes the following: “I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord.” (§312).

There are great treasures in the 264 pages of Amoris Lætitia on a broad variety of topics, but I believe that the revolution it brings is in replacing a “cold bureaucracy” of rules not with new, albeit more inclusive, rules, but with the need for discerning God’s will in the context of a relationship, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20).

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Amoris Lætitia: help each person find their own way

Amoris laetitia

13319 words, 1 hr 7 min read

I have just finished reading Amoris Lætitia (The Joy of Love) - Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “on love in the family” - and I would like to share those passages from its 264 pages (60K words) that spoke to me most intensely. Amoris Lætitia is a profoundly beautiful gift to the Church and to the world since it, to my mind, is above all a brave recognition of the vast variety in which God’s love can manifest itself (“Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.”) and a dramatic emancipation of the laity (“We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”) The tone of the exhortation is brotherly, rather than regal or pre- or proscriptive (e.g., certain methods “are to be promoted”, “I sincerely believe ...”, “... help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community.”) and there is a tremendous sense of tenderness and concern for all emanating from its lines.

I have also been surprised by the extensive incorporation of entire paragraphs from the final documents of the two Synods on the Family (with Pope Francis occasionally just adding that he agrees with the Synod Fathers) and by the wholesale reliance on St. John Paul’s Theology of the Body (to my delight!) and on St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought.

A final highlight for me has been both the avoidance of replacing one set of rigid rules by another set of (even if more inclusive) rules. Rules are placed at the service of personal relationship, of discernment and of awe in the face of the ineffable nature of how God relates to each one of us at our most intimate.

I feel a great sense of gratitude to Pope Francis for what he has done for the Church and the world through this apostolic exhortation and I am sure I will return to it many times and reflect on it beyond just having scratched its surface above.

Next follows about 1/5th of the exhortation that stood out for me (and I, obviously, encourage you to read the text in full for yourself):




The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. (§1)

Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13), until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle... needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”. (cf Gaudium et Spes, 44) (§3)

Given the rich fruits of the two-year Synod process, this Exhortation will treat, in different ways, a wide variety of questions. This explains its inevitable length. Consequently, I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text. […] It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for “families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity”. (§7)

The Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises. This is true from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family with all its burden of violence but also its enduring strength (cf. Gen 4) to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb (Rev 21:2, 9). Jesus’ description of the two houses, one built on rock and the other on sand (cf. Mt 7:24-27), symbolizes any number of family situations shaped by the exercise of their members’ freedom, for, as the poet says, “every home is a lampstand” (Jorge Luis Borges, “Calle Desconocida”). (§8)

The majestic early chapters of Genesis present the human couple in its deepest reality. Those first pages of the Bible make a number of very clear statements. The first, which Jesus paraphrases, says that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (1:27). It is striking that the “image of God” here refers to the couple, “male and female”. Does this mean that sex is a property of God himself, or that God has a divine female companion, as some ancient religions held? Naturally, the answer is no. We know how clearly the Bible rejects as idolatrous such beliefs, found among the Canaanites of the Holy Land. God’s transcendence is preserved, yet inasmuch as he is also the Creator, the fruitfulness of the human couple is a living and effective “image”, a visible sign of his creative act. (§10)

The ability of human couples to beget life is the path along which the history of salvation progresses. Seen this way, the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection. Saint John Paul II shed light on this when he said, “Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love. That love, in the divine family, is the Holy Spirit”.6 The family is thus not unrelated to God’s very being.7 This Trinitarian dimension finds expression in the theology of Saint Paul, who relates the couple to the “mystery” of the union of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:21-33). (§11)

This encounter, which relieves man’s solitude, gives rise to new birth and to the family. Significantly, Adam, who is also the man of every time and place, together with his wife, starts a new family. Jesus speaks of this by quoting the passage from Genesis: “The man shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one” (Mt 19:5; cf. Gen 2:24). The very word “to be joined” or “to cleave”, in the original Hebrew, bespeaks a profound harmony, a closeness both physical and interior, to such an extent that the word is used to describe our union with God: “My soul clings to you” (Ps 63:8). The marital union is thus evoked not only in its sexual and corporal dimension, but also in its voluntary self-giving in love. The result of this union is that the two “become one flesh”, both physically and in the union of their hearts and lives, and, eventually, in a child, who will share not only genetically but also spiritually in the “flesh” of both parents. (§13)

[I]n the concern he shows for children – whom the societies of the ancient Near East viewed as subjects without particular rights and even as family property – Jesus goes so far as to present them as teachers, on account of their simple trust and spontaneity towards others. “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3-4). (§18)

For good reason Christ’s teaching on marriage (cf. Mt 19:3-9) is inserted within a dispute about divorce. The word of God constantly testifies to that sombre dimension already present at the beginning, when, through sin, the relationship of love and purity between man and woman turns into domination: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). (§19)

Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables: children who leave home to seek adventure (cf. Lk 15:11-32), or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9). He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-10), the failure of guests to come to a banquet (Mt 22:1-10), and the anxiety of a poor family over the loss of a coin (Lk 15:8-10). (§21)

[W]e can see that the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering. For it shows them the goal of their journey, when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more” (Rev 21:4). (§22)

Christ proposed as the distinctive sign of his disciples the law of love and the gift of self for others (cf. Mt 22:39; Jn 13:34). He did so in stating a principle that fathers and mothers tend to embody in their own lives: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Love also bears fruit in mercy and forgiveness. We see this in a particular way in the scene of the woman caught in adultery; in front of the Temple, the woman is surrounded by her accusers, but later, alone with Jesus, she meets not condemnation but the admonition to lead a more worthy life (cf. Jn 8:1-11). (§27)

Against this backdrop of love so central to the Christian experience of marriage and the family, another virtue stands out, one often overlooked in our world of frenetic and superficial relationships. It is tenderness. Let us consider the moving words of Psalm 131. As in other biblical texts (e.g., Ex 4:22; Is 49:15; Ps 27:10), the union between the Lord and his faithful ones is expressed in terms of parental love. Here we see a delicate and tender intimacy between mother and child: the image is that of a babe sleeping in his mother’s arms after being nursed. As the Hebrew word gamûl suggests, the infant is now fed and clings to his mother, who takes him to her bosom. There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological. Drawing on this image, the Psalmist sings: “I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast” (Ps 131:2). We can also think of the touching words that the prophet Hosea puts on God’s lips: “When Israel was a child, I loved him... I took them up in my arms... I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them” (Hos 11:1, 3-4). (§28)

With a gaze of faith and love, grace and fidelity, we have contemplated the relationship between human families and the divine Trinity. The word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Begetting and raising children, for its part, mirrors God’s creative work. The family is called to join in daily prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple in which the Spirit dwells. (§29)

Like Mary, [families] are asked to face their family’s challenges with courage and serenity, in good times and bad, and to keep in their heart the great things which God has done (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families. (§30)

[W]e rightly value a personalism that opts for authenticity as opposed to mere conformity. While this can favour spontaneity and a better use of people’s talents, if misdirected it can foster attitudes of constant suspicion, fear of commitment, self-centredness and arrogance. Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others. (§33)

We also need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation. We need a healthy dose of self-criticism. Then too, we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation. Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns. At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families. This excessive idealization, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite. (§36)

We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfillment than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard 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. (§37)

[W]e have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness. Many people feel that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery. (§38)

We treat affective relationships the way we treat material objects and the environment: everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop. Then, goodbye. Narcissism makes people incapable of looking beyond themselves, beyond their own desires and needs. Yet sooner or later, those who use others end up being used themselves, manipulated and discarded by that same mind-set. It is also worth noting that breakups often occur among older adults who seek a kind of “independence” and reject the ideal of growing old together, looking after and supporting one another. (§39)

Here I would stress that dedication and concern shown to migrants and to persons with special needs alike is a sign of the Spirit. Both situations are paradigmatic: they serve as a test of our commitment to show mercy in welcoming others and to help the vulnerable to be fully a part of our communities. (§47)

Here I would also like to mention the situation of families living in dire poverty and great limitations. The problems faced by poor households are often all the more trying. For example, if a single mother has to raise a child by herself and needs to leave the child alone at home while she goes to work, the child can grow up exposed to all kind of risks and obstacles to personal growth. In such difficult situations of need, the Church must be particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort and acceptance, rather than imposing straightaway a set of rules that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy. Rather than offering the healing power of grace and the light of the Gospel message, some would “indoctrinate” that message, turning it into “dead stones to be hurled at others”. (§49)

In various countries, legislation facilitates a growing variety of alternatives to marriage, with the result that marriage, with its characteristics of exclusivity, indissolubility and openness to life, comes to appear as an old-fashioned and outdated option. Many countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will. Surely it is legitimate and right to reject older forms of the traditional family marked by authoritarianism and even violence, yet this should not lead to a disparagement of marriage itself, but rather to the rediscovery of its authentic meaning and its renewal. (§53)

In this brief overview, I would like to stress the fact that, even though significant advances have been made in the recognition of women’s rights and their participation in public life, in some countries much remains to be done to promote these rights. Unacceptable customs still need to be eliminated. I think particularly of the shameful ill-treatment to which women are sometimes subjected, domestic violence and various forms of enslavement which, rather than a show of masculine power, are craven acts of cowardice. The verbal, physical, and sexual violence that women endure in some marriages contradicts the very nature of the conjugal union. I think of the reprehensible genital mutilation of women practiced in some cultures, but also of their lack of equal access to dignified work and roles of decision-making. History is burdened by the excesses of patriarchal cultures that considered women inferior, yet in our own day, we cannot overlook the use of surrogate mothers and “the exploitation and commercialization of the female body in the current media culture”. There are those who believe that many of today’s problems have arisen because of feminine emancipation. This argument, however, is not valid, “it is false, untrue, a form of male chauvinism”. The equal dignity of men and women makes us rejoice to see old forms of discrimination disappear, and within families there is a growing reciprocity. If certain forms of feminism have arisen which we must consider inadequate, we must nonetheless see in the women’s movement the working of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women. (§54)

It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. [...] 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. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created. (§56)

I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems. The situations that concern us are challenges. We should not be trapped into wasting our energy in doleful laments, but rather seek new forms of missionary creativity. (§57)

In and among families, the Gospel message should always resound; the core of that message, the kerygma, is what is “most beautiful, most excellent, most appealing and at the same time most necessary”. This message “has to occupy the centre of all evangelizing activity”. It is the first and most important proclamation, “which we must hear again and again in different ways, and which we must always announce in one form or another”. Indeed, “nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wise than that message”. In effect, “all Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma”. (§58)

Our teaching on marriage and the family cannot fail to be inspired and transformed by this message of love and tenderness; otherwise, it becomes nothing more than the defence of a dry and lifeless doctrine. The mystery of the Christian family can be fully understood only in the light of the Father’s in nite love revealed in Christ, who gave himself up for our sake and who continues to dwell in our midst. I now wish to turn my gaze to the living Christ, who is at the heart of so many love stories, and to invoke the re of the Spirit upon all the world’s families. (§59)

Marriage is a vocation, inasmuch as it is a response to a specific call to experience conjugal love as an imperfect sign of the love between Christ and the Church. Consequently, the decision to marry and to have a family ought to be the fruit of a process of vocational discernment. (§72)

Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed. So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the “property” of another human being. The family protects human life in all its stages, including its last. (§83)

The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches. (§87)

[W]e cannot encourage a path of fidelity and mutual self-giving without encouraging the growth, strengthening and deepening of conjugal and family love. Indeed, the grace of the sacrament of marriage is intended before all else “to perfect the couple’s love”. Here too we can say that, “even if I have faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:2-3). The word “love”, however, is commonly used and often misused. (§89)

In a lyrical passage of Saint Paul, we see some of the features of true love:
“Love is patient, love is kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;

it is not arrogant or rude.

Love does not insist on its own way,
it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice at wrong,

but rejoices in the right.

Love bears all things,

believes all things,

hopes all things,

endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7). (§90)

Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the centre and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds. That is why the word of God tells us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:31). Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. (§92)

Throughout the text, it is clear that Paul wants to stress that love is more than a mere feeling. Rather, it should be understood along the lines of the Hebrew verb “to love”; it is “to do good”. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, “Love is shown more by deeds than by words”. It thus shows its fruitfulness and allows us to experience the happiness of giving, the nobility and grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly, without asking to be repaid, purely for the pleasure of giving and serving. (§94)

Love inspires a sincere esteem for every human being and the recognition of his or her own right to happiness. I love this person, and I see him or her with the eyes of God, who gives us everything “for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17). As a result, I feel a deep sense of happiness and peace. This same deeply rooted love also leads me to reject the injustice whereby some possess too much and others too little. It moves me to find ways of helping society’s outcasts to find a modicum of joy. That is not envy, but the desire for equality. (§96)

To be open to a genuine encounter with others, “a kind look” is essential. This is incompatible with a negative attitude that readily points out other people’s shortcomings while overlooking one’s own. A kind look helps us to see beyond our own limitations, to be patient and to cooperate with others, despite our differences. Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a rm social fabric. In this way, it grows ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we end up seeking our convenience alone and life in common becomes impossible. [...] Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement. These were the words that Jesus himself spoke: “Take heart, my son!” (Mt 9:2); “Great is your faith!” (Mt 15:28); “Arise!” (Mk 5:41); “Go in peace” (Lk 7:50); “Be not afraid” (Mt 14:27). These are not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn. In our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another. (§100)

We have repeatedly said that to love another we must first love ourselves. Paul’s hymn to love, however, states that love “does not seek its own interest”, nor “seek what is its own”. This same idea is expressed in another text: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4). The Bible makes it clear that generously serving others is far more noble than loving ourselves. Loving ourselves is only important as a psychological prerequisite for being able to love others: “If a man is mean to himself, to whom will he be generous? No one is meaner than the man who is grudging to himself ” (Sir 14:5-6). (§101)

Saint Thomas Aquinas explains that “it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be loved”; indeed, “mothers, who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved”. Consequently, love can transcend and over ow the demands of justice, “expecting nothing in return” (Lk 6:35), and the greatest of loves can lead to “laying down one’s life” for another (cf. Jn 15:13). Can such generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully, really be possible? Yes, because it is demanded by the Gospel: “You received without pay, give without pay” (Mt 10:8). (§102)

[W]e keep looking for more and more faults, imagining greater evils, presuming all kinds of bad intentions, and so resentment grows and deepens. Thus, every mistake or lapse on the part of a spouse can harm the bond of love and the stability of the family. Something is wrong when we see every problem as equally serious; in this way, we risk being unduly harsh with the failings of others. The just desire to see our rights respected turns into a thirst for vengeance rather than a reasoned defence of our dignity. (§105)

Today we recognize that being able to forgive others implies the liberating experience of understanding and forgiving ourselves. Often our mistakes, or criticism we have received from loved ones, can lead to a loss of self-esteem. We become distant from others, avoiding affection and fearful in our interpersonal relationships. Blaming others becomes falsely reassuring. We need to learn to pray over our past history, to accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our limitations, and even to forgive ourselves, in order to have this same attitude towards others. (§107)

When a loving person can do good for others, or sees that others are happy, they themselves live happily and in this way give glory to God, for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). Our Lord especially appreciates those who find joy in the happiness of others. If we fail to learn how to rejoice in the well-being of others, and focus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence, for, as Jesus said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The family must always be a place where, when something good happens to one of its members, they know that others will be there to celebrate it with them. (§110)

Paul says that love “bears all things” (panta stégei). This is about more than simply putting up with evil; it has to do with the use of the tongue. The verb can mean “holding one’s peace” about what may be wrong with another person. It implies limiting judgment, checking the impulse to issue a rm and ruthless condemnation: “Judge not and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37). (§112)

Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse’s good side, not their weakness and faults. In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them. This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognizes that these failings are a part of a bigger picture. We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. The other person loves me as best they can, with all their limits, but the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. It is real, albeit limited and earthly. If I expect too much, the other person will let me down, for he or she can neither play God nor serve all my needs. Love coexists with imperfection. It “bears all things” and can hold its peace before the limitations of the loved one. (§113)

[T]rust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships. The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies. (§115)

[T]he love between husband and wife, [is] a love sanctified, enriched and illuminated by the grace of the sacrament of marriage. It is an “affective union”,116 spiritual and sacrificial, which combines the warmth of friendship and erotic passion, and endures long after emotions and passion subside. (§120)

Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God is also communion: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. And this is precisely the mystery of marriage: God makes of the two spouses one single existence. (§121)

We should not however confuse different levels: there is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign entails “a dynamic process..., one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God”. (§122)

In marriage, the joy of love needs to be cultivated. When the search for pleasure becomes obsessive, it holds us in thrall and keeps us from experiencing other satisfactions. Joy, on the other hand, increases our pleasure and helps us find fulfillment in any number of things, even at those times of life when physical pleasure has ebbed. Saint Thomas Aquinas said that the word “joy” refers to an expansion of the heart. Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another: “they help and serve each other”. (§126)

Beauty – that “great worth” which is other than physical or psychological appeal – enables us to appreciate the sacredness of a person, without feeling the need to possess it. In a consumerist society, the sense of beauty is impoverished and so joy fades. Everything is there to be purchased, possessed or consumed, including people. Tenderness, on the other hand, is a sign of a love free of selfish possessiveness. It makes us approach a person with immense respect and a certain dread of causing them harm or taking away their freedom. Loving another person involves the joy of contemplating and appreciating their innate beauty and sacredness, which is greater than my needs. This enables me to seek their good even when they cannot belong to me, or when they are no longer physically appealing but intrusive and annoying. For “the love by which one person is pleasing to another depends on his or her giving something freely”. (§127)

The aesthetic experience of love is expressed in that “gaze” which contemplates other persons as ends in themselves, even if they are in rm, elderly or physically unattractive. A look of appreciation has enormous importance, and to begrudge it is usually hurtful. How many things do spouses and children sometimes do in order to be noticed! Much hurt and many problems result when we stop looking at one another. This lies behind the complaints and grievances we often hear in families: “My husband does not look at me; he acts as if I were invisible”. “Please look at me when I am talking to you!”. “My wife no longer looks at me, she only has eyes for our children”. “In my own home nobody cares about me; they do not even see me; it is as if I did not exist”. Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being. (§128)

[J]oy also grows through pain and sorrow. In the words of Saint Augustine, “the greater the danger in battle the greater is the joy of victory”. After suffering and struggling together, spouses are able to experience that it was worth it, because they achieved some good, learned something as a couple, or came to appreciate what they have. Few human joys are as deep and thrilling as those experienced by two people who love one another and have achieved something as the result of a great, shared effort. (§130)

Marital love is not defended primarily by presenting indissolubility as a duty, or by repeating doctrine, but by helping it to grow ever stronger under the impulse of grace. A love that fails to grow is at risk. Growth can only occur if we respond to God’s grace through constant acts of love, acts of kindness that become ever more frequent, intense, generous, tender and cheerful. Husbands and wives “become conscious of their unity and experience it more deeply from day to day”. The gift of God’s love poured out upon the spouses is also a summons to constant growth in grace. (§134)

Everyone has something to contribute, because they have their life experiences, they look at things from a different standpoint and they have their own concerns, abilities and insights. We ought to be able to acknowledge the other person’s truth, the value of his or her deepest concerns, and what it is that they are trying to communicate, however aggressively. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue. (§138)

Keep an open mind. Don’t get bogged down in your own limited ideas and opinions, but be prepared to change or expand them. The combination of two different ways of thinking can lead to a synthesis that enriches both. The unity that we seek is not uniformity, but a “unity in diversity”, or “reconciled diversity”. Fraternal communion is enriched by respect and appreciation for differences within an overall perspective that advances the common good. We need to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike. A certain astuteness is also needed to prevent the appearance of “static” that can interfere with the process of dialogue. For example, if hard feelings start to emerge, they should be dealt with sensitively, lest they interrupt the dynamic of dialogue. The ability to say what one is thinking without offending the other person is important. Words should be carefully chosen so as not to offend, especially when discussing difficult issues. Making a point should never involve venting anger and inflicting hurt. A patronizing tone only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others. Many disagreements between couples are not about important things. Mostly they are about trivial matters. What alters the mood, however, is the way things are said or the attitude with which they are said. (§139)

Finally, let us acknowledge that for a worthwhile dialogue we have to have something to say. This can only be the fruit of an interior richness nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer and openness to the world around us. Otherwise, conversations become boring and trivial. When neither of the spouses works at this, and has little real contact with other people, family life becomes stifling and dialogue impoverished. (§141)

[A] love lacking either pleasure or passion is insufficient to symbolize the union of the human heart with God: “All the mystics have affirmed that supernatural love and heavenly love find the symbols which they seek in marital love, rather than in friendship, filial devotion or devotion to a cause. And the reason is to be found precisely in its totality” (A. Sertillanges, L’Amour chrétien ). Why then should we not pause to speak of feelings and sexuality in marriage? (§142)

As true man, Jesus showed his emotions. He was hurt by the rejection of Jerusalem (cf. Mt 23:27) and this moved him to tears (cf. Lk 19:41). He was also deeply moved by the sufferings of others (cf. Mk 6:34). He felt deeply their grief (cf. Jn 11:33), and he wept at the death of a friend (cf. Jn 11:35). These examples of his sensitivity showed how much his human heart was open to others. (§144)

Excess, lack of control or obsession with a single form of pleasure can end up weakening and tainting that very pleasure and damaging family life. A person can certainly channel his passions in a beautiful and healthy way, increasingly pointing them towards altruism and an integrated self-fulfillment that can only enrich interpersonal relationships in the heart of the family. This does not mean renouncing moments of intense enjoyment, but rather integrating them with other moments of generous commitment, patient hope, inevitable weariness and struggle to achieve an ideal. Family life is all this, and it deserves to be lived to the fullest. (§148)

Some currents of spirituality teach that desire has to be eliminated as a path to liberation from pain. Yet we believe that God loves the enjoyment felt by human beings: he created us and “richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). Let us be glad when with great love he tells us: “My son, treat yourself well... Do not deprive yourself of a happy day” (Sir 14:11-14). Married couples likewise respond to God’s will when they take up the biblical injunction: “Be joyful in the day of prosperity” (Ec 7:14). What is important is to have the freedom to realize that pleasure can find different expressions at different times of life, in accordance with the needs of mutual love. In this sense, we can appreciate the teachings of some Eastern masters who urge us to expand our consciousness, lest we be imprisoned by one limited experience that can blinker us. This expansion of consciousness is not the denial or destruction of desire so much as its broadening and perfection. (§149)

God himself created sexuality, which is a marvellous gift to his creatures. If this gift needs to be cultivated and directed, it is to prevent the “impoverishment of an authentic value”. Saint John Paul II rejected the claim that the Church’s teaching is “a negation of the value of human sexuality”, or that the Church simply tolerates sexuality “because it is necessary for procreation”. Sexual desire is not something to be looked down upon, and “and there can be no attempt whatsoever to call into question its necessity”. (§150)

Sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken seriously, in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity. As such, “the human heart comes to participate, so to speak, in another kind of spontaneity”. In this context, the erotic appears as a specifically human manifestation of sexuality. It enables us to discover “the nuptial meaning of the body and the authentic dignity of the gift”. In his catecheses on the theology of the body, Saint John Paul II taught that sexual differentiation not only is “a source of fruitfulness and procreation”, but also possesses “the capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the human person becomes a gift”. A healthy sexual desire, albeit closely joined to a pursuit of pleasure, always involves a sense of wonder, and for that very reason can humanize the impulses. (§151)

In no way, then, can we consider the erotic dimension of love simply as a permissible evil or a burden to be tolerated for the good of the family. Rather, it must be seen as gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses. As a passion sublimated by a love respectful of the dignity of the other, it becomes a “pure, unadulterated affirmation” revealing the marvels of which the human heart is capable. (§152)

As Saint John Paul II wisely observed: “Love excludes every kind of subjection whereby the wife might become a servant or a slave of the husband... The community or unity which they should establish through marriage is constituted by a reciprocal donation of self, which is also a mutual subjection”. (§156)

[A]uthentic love also needs to be able to receive the other, to accept one’s own vulnerability and needs, and to welcome with sincere and joyful gratitude the physical expressions of love found in a caress, an embrace, a kiss and sexual union. (§157)

Virginity is a form of love. As a sign, it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom and the need for complete devotion to the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a reflection of the fullness of heaven, where “they neither marry not are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). […] Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical texts “give no reason to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy” based on sexual abstinence. Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and consequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another. Alexander of Hales, for example, stated that in one sense marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality of “Christ’s union with the Church, or the union of his divine and human natures”. (§159)

A married person can experience the highest degree of charity and thus “reach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and woman”. (§160)

The value of virginity lies in its symbolizing a love that has no need to possess the other; in this way it reflects the freedom of the Kingdom of Heaven. Virginity encourages married couples to live their own conjugal love against the backdrop of Christ’s definitive love, journeying together towards the fullness of the Kingdom. For its part, conjugal love symbolizes other values. On the one hand, it is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the Trinity. The family is also a sign of Christ. It manifests the closeness of God who is a part of every human life, since he became one with us through his incarnation, death and resurrection. Each spouse becomes “one flesh” with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything with him or her until death. Whereas virginity is an “eschatological” sign of the risen Christ, marriage is a “historical” sign for us living in this world, a sign of the earthly Christ who chose to become one with us and gave himself up for us even to shedding his blood. Virginity and marriage are, and must be, different ways of loving. For “man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him”. (§161)

The family is the setting in which a new life is not only born but also welcomed as a gift of God. Each new life “allows us to appreciate the utterly gratuitous dimension of love, which never ceases to amaze us. It is the beauty of being loved first: children are loved even before they arrive”. Here we see a reflection of the primacy of the love of God, who always takes the initiative, for children “are loved before having done anything to deserve it”. And yet, “from the first moments of their lives, many children are rejected, abandoned, and robbed of their childhood and future. There are those who dare to say, as if to justify themselves, that it was a mistake to bring these children into the world. This is shameful! ... How can we issue solemn declarations on human rights and the rights of children, if we then punish children for the errors of adults?” [...] God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity. (§166)

Every child growing within the mother’s womb is part of the eternal loving plan of God the Father: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer 1:5). Each child has a place in God’s heart from all eternity; once he or she is conceived, the Creator’s eternal dream comes true. Let us pause to think of the great value of that embryo from the moment of conception. We need to see it with the eyes of God, who always looks beyond mere appearances. (§168)

A child is a human being of immense worth and may never be used for one’s own bene t. So it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations. (§170)

I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities – motherhood in particular – also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all. (§173)

A mother who watches over her child with tenderness and compassion helps him or her to grow in confidence and to experience that the world is a good and welcoming place. This helps the child to grow in self-esteem and, in turn, to develop a capacity for intimacy and empathy. A father, for his part, helps the child to perceive the limits of life, to be open to the challenges of the wider world, and to see the need for hard work and strenuous effort. A father possessed of a clear and serene masculine identity who demonstrates affection and concern for his wife is just as necessary as a caring mother. There can be a certain flexibility of roles and responsibilities, depending on the concrete circumstances of each particular family. But the clear and well-de ned presence of both figures, female and male, creates the environment best suited to the growth of the child. (§175)

Some couples are unable to have children. We know that this can be a cause of real suffering for them. At the same time, we know that “marriage was not instituted solely for the procreation of children... Even in cases where, despite the intense desire of the spouses, there are no children, marriage still retains its character of being a whole manner and communion of life, and preserves its value and indissolubility”.199 So too, “motherhood is not a solely biological reality, but is expressed in diverse ways”. (§178)

[S]ome Christian families, whether because of the language they use, the way they act or treat others, or their constant harping on the same two or three issues, end up being seen as remote and not really a part of the community. Even their relatives feel looked down upon or judged by them. (§182)

The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members. [...] The celebration of the Eucharist thus becomes a constant summons for everyone “to examine himself or herself” (v. 28), to open the doors of the family to greater fellowship with the underprivileged, and in this way to receive the sacrament of that eucharistic love which makes us one body. We must not forget that “the ‘mysticism’ of the sacrament has a social character”.207 When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need. (§186)

In the replies given to the worldwide consultation, it became clear that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families. The experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy could also be drawn upon. (§202)

Seminarians should receive a more extensive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal, formation in the areas of engagement and marriage. Their training does not always allow them to explore their own psychological and affective background and experiences. Some come from troubled families, with absent parents and a lack of emotional stability. There is a need to ensure that the formation process can enable them to attain the maturity and psychological balance needed for their future ministry. [...] It is important for families to be part of the seminary process and priestly life, since they help to reaffirm these and to keep them well grounded in reality. (§203)

There are a number of legitimate ways to structure programmes of marriage preparation, and each local Church will discern how best to provide a suitable formation without distancing young people from the sacrament. They do not need to be taught the entire Catechism or overwhelmed with too much information. Here too, “it is not great knowledge, but rather the ability to feel and relish things interiorly that contents and satisfies the soul” (Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises). Quality is more important than quantity, and priority should be given – along with a renewed proclamation of the kerygma – to an attractive and helpful presentation of information that can help couples to live the rest of their lives together “with great courage and generosity”.241 Marriage preparation should be a kind of “initiation” to the sacrament of matrimony, providing couples with the help they need to receive the sacrament worthily and to make a solid beginning of life as a family. (§207)

It is important that marriage be seen as a matter of love, that only those who freely choose and love one another may marry. (§217)

I recall an old saying: still water becomes stagnant and good for nothing. If, in the first years of marriage, a couple’s experience of love grows stagnant, it loses the very excitement that should be its propelling force. Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope. Hope is the leaven that, in those first years of engagement and marriage, makes it possible to look beyond arguments, conflicts and problems and to see things in a broader perspective. It harnesses our uncertainties and concerns so that growth can take place. Hope also bids us live fully in the present, giving our all to the life of the family, for the best way to prepare a solid future is to live well in the present. (§219)

Among the causes of broken marriages are unduly high expectations about conjugal life. Once it becomes apparent that the reality is more limited and challenging than one imagined, the solution is not to think quickly and irresponsibly about separation, but to come to the sober realization that married life is a process of growth, in which each spouse is God’s means of helping the other to mature. [...] Each marriage is a kind of “salvation history”, which from fragile beginnings – thanks to God’s gift and a creative and generous response on our part – grows over time into something precious and enduring. Might we say that the greatest mission of two people in love is to help one another become, respectively, more a man and more a woman? Fostering growth means helping a person to shape his or her own identity. Love is thus a kind of craftsmanship. (§221)

Decisions involving responsible parenthood presupposes the formation of conscience, which is ‘the most secret core and sanctuary of a person. There each one is alone with God, whose voice echoes in the depths of the heart’ (Gaudium et Spes, 16). Moreover, “the use of methods based on the ‘laws of nature and the incidence of fertility’ (Humanae Vitae, 11) are to be promoted, since ‘these methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favour the education of an authentic freedom’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2370). (§222)

Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary. Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one other and gaze in each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a stronger relationship. Sometimes the frenetic pace of our society and the pressures of the workplace create problems. At other times, the problem is the lack of quality time together, sharing the same room without one even noticing the other. (§224)

Young married couples should be encouraged to develop a routine that gives a healthy sense of closeness and stability through shared daily rituals. These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together and sharing household chores. Yet it also helps to break the routine with a party, and to enjoy family celebrations of anniversaries and special events. We need these moments of cherishing God’s gifts and renewing our zest for life. As long as we can celebrate, we are able to rekindle our love, to free it from monotony and to colour our daily routine with hope. (§226)

[S]howing love for a spouse who is not a believer, bestowing happiness, soothing hurts and sharing life together represents a true path of sanctification. Love is always a gift of God. Wherever it is poured out, it makes its transforming presence felt, often in mysterious ways (§228)

The life of every family is marked by all kinds of crises, yet these are also part of its dramatic beauty. Couples should be helped to realize that surmounting a crisis need not weaken their relationship; instead, it can improve, settle and mature the wine of their union. Life together should not diminish but increase their contentment; every new step along the way can help couples find new ways to happiness. Each crisis becomes an apprenticeship in growing closer together or learning a little more about what it means to be married. There is no need for couples to resign themselves to an inevitable downward spiral or a tolerable mediocrity. On the contrary, when marriage is seen as a challenge that involves overcoming obstacles, each crisis becomes an opportunity to let the wine of their relationship age and improve. Couples will gain from receiving help in facing crises, meeting challenges and acknowledging them as part of family life. (§232)

Family breakdown becomes even more traumatic and painful in the case of the poor, since they have far fewer resources at hand for starting a new life. A poor person, once removed from a secure family environment, is doubly vulnerable to abandonment and possible harm. (§242)

It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church. “They are not excommunicated” and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community. (§243)

The Church makes her own the attitude of the Lord Jesus, who offers his boundless love to each person without exception. During the Synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives. (§250)

The work of handing on the faith to children, in the sense of facilitating its expression and growth, helps the whole family in its evangelizing mission. It naturally begins to spread the faith to all around them, even outside of the family circle. Children who grew up in missionary families often become missionaries themselves; growing up in warm and friendly families, they learn to relate to the world in this way, without giving up their faith or their convictions. We know that Jesus himself ate and drank with sinners (cf. Mk 2:16; Mt 11:19), conversed with a Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:7-26), received Nicodemus by night (cf. Jn 3:1-21), allowed his feet to be anointed by a prostitute (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and did not hesitate to lay his hands on those who were sick (cf. Mk 1:40-45; 7:33). The same was true of his apostles, who did not look down on others, or cluster together in small and elite groups, cut off from the life of their people. Although the authorities harassed them, they nonetheless enjoyed the favour “of all the people” (Acts 2:47; cf. 4:21, 33; 5:13). (§289)

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 the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society. Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way. The Synod Fathers stated that the Church does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage. (§292)

The Synod addressed various situations of weakness or imperfection. Here I would like to reiterate something I sought to make clear to the whole Church, lest we take the wrong path: “There are two ways of thinking which recur throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement... The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart... For true charity is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous”. Consequently, there is a need “to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” and “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition”. (§296)

It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel! Here I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried, but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves. Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which separates from the community (cf. Mt 18:17). Such a person needs to listen once more to the Gospel message and its call to conversion. Yet even for that person there can be some way of taking part in the life of community, whether in social service, prayer meetings or another way that his or her own initiative, together with the discernment of the parish priest, may suggest. (§297)

If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same. [...] For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it”. These attitudes are essential for avoiding the grave danger of misunderstandings, such as the notion that any priest can quickly grant “exceptions”, or that some people can obtain sacramental privileges in exchange for favours. When a responsible and tactful person, who does not presume to put his or her own desires ahead of the common good of the Church, meets with a pastor capable of acknowledging the seriousness of the matter before him, there can be no risk that a specific discernment may lead people to think that the Church maintains a double standard. (§300)

For an adequate understanding of the possibility and need of special discernment in certain “irregular” situations, one thing must always be taken into account, lest anyone think that the demands of the Gospel are in any way being compromised. The Church possesses a solid body of reflection concerning mitigating factors and situations. Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. More is involved here than mere ignorance of the rule. A subject may know full well the rule, yet have great difficulty in understanding “its inherent values”, or be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin. As the Synod Fathers put it, “factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision”. Saint Thomas Aquinas himself recognized that someone may possess grace and charity, yet not be able to exercise any one of the virtues well; in other words, although someone may possess all the infused moral virtues, he does not clearly manifest the existence of one of them, because the outward practice of that virtue is rendered difficult: “Certain saints are said not to possess certain virtues, in so far as they experience difficulty in the acts of those virtues, even though they have the habits of all the virtues”. (§301)

[I]ndividual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. Naturally, every effort should be made to encourage the development of an enlightened conscience, formed and guided by the responsible and serious discernment of one’s pastor, and to encourage an ever greater trust in God’s grace. Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. In any event, let us recall that this discernment is dynamic; it must remain ever open to new stages of growth and to new decisions which can enable the ideal to be more fully realized. (§303)

It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects... In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all... The principle will be found to fail, according as we descend further into detail”. It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care. (§304)

For this reason, a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in “irregular” situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives. This would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, “sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families”. Along these same lines, the International Theological Commission has noted that “natural law could not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions”. Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.[Footnote: In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, “I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium [24 November 2013], 44: AAS 105 [2013], 1038). I would also point out that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak” (ibid., 47: 1039).] Discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits. By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. Let us remember that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”. The practical pastoral care of ministers and of communities must not fail to embrace this reality. (§305)

In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur: “Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the sacrament of marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church”. A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves. To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown. (§307)

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion. But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”. The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements. The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Jesus “expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated”. (§308)

The teaching of moral theology should not fail to incorporate these considerations, for although it is quite true that concern must be shown for the integrity of the Church’s moral teaching, special care should always be shown to emphasize and encourage the highest and most central values of the Gospel, particularly the primacy of charity as a response to the completely gratuitous offer of God’s love. At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel. It is true, for example, that mercy does not exclude justice and truth, but first and foremost we have to say that mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth. For this reason, we should always consider “inadequate any theological conception which in the end puts in doubt the omnipotence of God and, especially, his mercy”. (§311)

This offers us a framework and a setting which help us avoid a cold bureaucratic morality in dealing with more sensitive issues. Instead, it sets us in the context of a pastoral discernment filled with merciful love, which is ever ready to understand, forgive, accompany, hope, and above all integrate. That is the mindset which should prevail in the Church and lead us to “open our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society”. I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church. (§312)

We have always spoken of how God dwells in the hearts of those living in his grace. Today we can add that the Trinity is present in the temple of marital communion. Just as God dwells in the praises of his people (cf. Ps 22:3), so he dwells deep within the marital love that gives him glory. (§314)

If a family is centred on Christ, he will unify and illumine its entire life. Moments of pain and difficulty will be experienced in union with the Lord’s cross, and his closeness will make it possible to surmount them. In the darkest hours of a family’s life, union with Jesus in his abandonment can help avoid a breakup. Gradually, “with the grace of the Holy Spirit, [the spouses] grow in holiness through married life, also by sharing in the mystery of Christ’s cross, which transforms difficulties and sufferings into an offering of love”.374 Moreover, moments of joy, relaxation, celebration, and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection. Married couples shape with different daily gestures a “God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord”. (§317)

There comes a point where a couple’s love attains the height of its freedom and becomes the basis of a healthy autonomy. This happens when each spouse realizes that the other is not his or her own, but has a much more important master, the one Lord. No one but God can presume to take over the deepest and most personal core of the loved one; he alone can be the ultimate centre of their life. At the same time, the principle of spiritual realism requires that one spouse not presume that the other can completely satisfy his or her needs. The spiritual journey of each – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer nicely put it – needs to help them to a certain “disillusionment” with regard to the other, to stop expecting from that person something which is proper to the love of God alone. This demands an interior divestment. The space which each of the spouses makes exclusively for their personal relationship with God not only helps heal the hurts of life in common, but also enables the spouses to find in the love of God the deepest source of meaning in their own lives. Each day we have to invoke the help of the Holy Spirit to make this interior freedom possible. (§320)

Our contemplation of the fulfillment which we have yet to attain also allows us to see in proper perspective the historical journey which we make as families, and in this way to stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a consistency which we will only encounter in the Kingdom to come. It also keeps us from judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty. All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine. May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us. (§325)