“Amoris Laetitia” presents a joyful vision of Christian marriage

A family prays after arriving for Sunday Mass in 2011 at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Alexandria, Va.

Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetita," presents, at considerable length, his reflections and discernment based upon the two synods devoted to the Catholic understanding of marriage and family life.

It is clear, even from a first reading, how closely the pope has entered into dialogue with the documents (the relationes) produced by the synods of 2014 and 2015. He quotes from both extensively. As he himself writes: “The various interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem reflecting many legitimate concerns and honest questions. For this reason, I thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather the contributions of the two recent Synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection,  dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges” (No. 4).


“Amoris Laetitia” represents, then, the rich harvest that the pope has gleaned from the weeks of synodal deliberations and discernment, as well as from the considerable number of written interventions and the two final reports. This is how he orients the reader to the document at hand: “

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. The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs (No. 7).

Let me underscore these two points. First, the document is, indeed, lengthy—over 50,000 words in the English translation and does not lend itself to a quick read—so beware headlines purporting to give the real “low down.” Second, the document’s nine chapters are like mini-treatises that can well serve as discrete soundings of different aspects of the beauty, promise and challenge of the Christian vision of marriage and family life.

Thus, for example, Chapter 4, “Love in Marriage,” is an extended spiritual reading of the “Hymn to Agape” in 1 Corinthians 13 (chosen by so many couples as a reading for the liturgy of marriage). In his meditation, the pope converts what at times is a sentimental option into a deep pondering of the overwhelming mystery of divine and human love.

Chapter 7, “Toward a Better Education of Children,” offers wonderful insights by a master pedagogue on the challenging and indispensable role of the family in the Christian formation and moral education of their offspring—often in face of a society propagandizing contrary values.

In highlighting these chapters I wish to call attention to two features of Francis that permeate his teaching. One encounters everywhere the refined sensibility and long experience of the Jesuit spiritual director and educator.

In addition, the rich considerations of these chapters will doubtless receive but short shrift from the secular media, avid to reduce the nuanced whole to some headline-grabbing phrase or garbled assertion.

As accomplished educator and spiritual director, Pope Francis is acutely aware of pedagogical and spiritual process and progress. Hence his impassioned plea for the need to accompany and support. But he is equally clear about the impediments, both personal and cultural, that can block or derail growth to maturity and authenticity. Chapter 2, “The Experiences and Challenges of Families,” and Chapter 6, “Some Pastoral Perspectives,” confront and critique those challenges at some length.

Thus, in Chapter 8, entitled “Accompanying, Discerning, and Integrating Weakness,” the pope significantly insists:

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 … 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 (No. 307).

The pope (I contend) recognizes the “graduality” of growth, not of the goal.

Ultimately, the heart of “Amoris Laetitia” is its proclamation of the transcendent beauty and joy of the marriage of a man and woman in Christ and the generous and fecund family life that issues from their love. Let no commentary distract, much less detract, from this stupendous reality that Pope Francis, in company with the synod participants, celebrates: Christian marriage—at once erotic, sacramental and fruitful in Christ. 

Taste and savor—slowly—Love’s Joy.

Take a deeper look at “Amoris Laetitia.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Lisa Weber
3 years 10 months ago
"A Joyful Vision of Christian Marriage" is a good start. The impression that marriage is joyful is not something a person is likely to get from officialdom in the Catholic Church. I haven't had time to read the document yet, but if the pope offers "a deep pondering of the overwhelming mystery of divine and human love", he is on the right track. Romantic love is very similar to spirituality - God speaks to us of love in a language that we already know. That is why the condemnation of sexuality (and women) in the Catholic Church is so damaging.
Luis Gutierrez
3 years 10 months ago
Even more damaging is the exclusion of women from the ministerial priesthood. People know that having sex is good and never paid much attention to the "sex is dirty" mentality. But all the faithful, perhaps men even more than women, suffer from the lack of feminine presence in the church hierarchy. Ecclesiastical patriarchalism is becoming an obstacle to grace, compromises the integrity of the Church as a family, and is an unmitigated disaster for the new evangelization.
Richard Murray
3 years 10 months ago
Dear Friends, After having been silent on religion for some months, Ross Douthat at the zionist New York Times has said more subterfuge and nonsense about Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia.” Here’s a critique of Douthat’s article: https://scripturefinds.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/part-ii-ross-douthat-is-a-literary-fukushima/ And here is a downloadable version: https://www.academia.edu/24247902/Ross_Douthat_Is_a_Literary_Fukushima_Part_II


The latest from america

The meeting “renewed the will to pursue the institutional dialogue at a bilateral level to foster the life of the Catholic Church and the good of the Chinese people.”
Gerard O’ConnellFebruary 14, 2020
Pope Francis is not the first: Pope Benedict XVI also called for a “civil economy,” in his encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” (Retired Pope Benedict XVI being greeted by Pope Francis on June 28, 2016. CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano, handout)
The pope’s gathering of economists in Assisi next month is part of a long process of establishing a new economic model that goes beyond financial self-interest, writes the social entrepreneur Felipe Witchger.
Felipe WitchgerFebruary 14, 2020
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics
As did Martin Scorsese in “The Irishman,” director Marco Bellochio poses challenging questions about guilt and the nature of truth in “The Traitor,” a film which does much to remove the glossy veneer of organized crime.
Ryan Di CorpoFebruary 14, 2020
Photo: Unsplash/Svyatoslav Romanov
At times “10 Things” feels like being witness to little acts of self-liberation.
Jim McDermottFebruary 14, 2020