Pope Francis’ Tweetstorm on the Family

Since the release of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis has tweeted frequently on the family. Check out his tweets:


The Joy of Love

Marriage seems to be losing popularity. According to the Pew Research Center, only 51% of adults in the United States are married, versus 72% in 1960. Still, a majority of women and men do want to be married (61%). As a couple who’s been married nearly two years, and as people who love telling others how awesome marriage is, my wife and I have wondered why the many in media or comedy are so negative about marriage. Even though the divorce rate has decreased, it seems so engrained in our psyches that marriage is seen as a burden rather than a grace that is freely embraced. Images of good marriages are hard to find on TV, yet each time Sarah and I do find marriage being shown in a positive light we fall in love with the show (Madam Secretary and Parenthood are two examples).

This past week Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). Many were expecting much to be said about divorced and remarried Catholics being able to receive communion or about same-sex marriages. Yet the document focused little on those issues. While important issues, the pope chose to focus on the heartbreaking state of broken heterosexual marriages, something we don’t often address in our current marriage debates. Amoris Laetitia is a beautiful and poetic writing on the gift of love and marriage. It’s comprehensive. It addresses families and marriages at practically every stage and situation. It’s a long overdue exhortation on marriage rooted in the real situations families have to deal with and as I read through its 264 pages, I could relate it well to my own marriage. As Thomas D. Williams says in his Crux article, “I suddenly found a letter that was written to me and for me, and I cannot help but think that many others will have a similar experience.”

The Challenges of Marriage
The pope has a clear view of the reality of marriages that are superficial or based on a lack of freedom. Marriage, he says, “can come to be seen as a way station, helpful when convenient, or a setting in which rights can be asserted while relationships are left to the changing winds of personal desire and circumstances.” Yet at the same time he acknowledges the challenges of marriage, especially in their early years. Sarah and I found our first months especially challenging. The fantasy weddings from the movies and even the Church’s “almost artificial theological ideal of marriage”, Pope Francis says, can become an “excessive idealization … [that] has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.” So the pope instead founds his discussion in practical realities. He calls marriage a process and a path to personal development, together. The couple journeys with and through their imperfections. “We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows.” Read More


5 Things to Look for in Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love)

Pope Francis has released his much anticipated apostolic exhortation on the family and it’s 263 pages!! Before you give up and just turn to Chapter 8 for the “juicy stuff,” like divorced and remarried Catholics or treatment of LGBT persons, let me offer 5 points to note and urge you to stick with the 269 pages.

1. Biblical Reflection on Marriage, Family, and Humanity

“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)” (8).

It is no surprise that Francis begins with the Bible and weaves biblical reflection throughout the 263 pages. He literally begins with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. And it is significant that he includes Cain and Abel, because the Bible is not a fairy tale or romantic comedy.  Pain, suffering, even violence are woven into the biblical narrative and human life.  Highlighting biblical truth and the revealed word of God, highlighting the Good News requires two things: facing the reality of the text in all its complexity and facing human existence in all its messiness. Francis does this artfully when parsing out the influence of patriarchal cultures in St. Paul while lifting out the revealed truths contained within the text.  A full evaluation of the biblical exegesis requires a biblical scholar, and I am a mere moral theologian…but his pastoral use of the bible is something to pay attention to.

2. 1 Corinthians 13: Rethinking the worlds most popular wedding reading

OK, so we all know the text: Love is Patient, Love is Kind….we’ve all heard it read at almost every Catholic wedding we’ve attended.  1 Corinthians is a beautiful text. Yet, it often feels played out or trendy – everyone uses it and so we stop really listening to it.  Refocusing our attention, Francis chooses this passage as a major section of Amoris Laetitia.  Weaving Greek and biblical exegesis, Francis lays out a vision of love beginning with marriage but expanding to love within the human community.

Love is not jealous includes “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).

3. Who is my family? Towards the One Human Family

Catholic “family” conversations often drive me crazy. Too often our discussions of family are driven by contemporary American society and its obsession with the nuclear family (marriage and parent/child). My friend and fellow theologian Kathryn Getek has highlighted this as a cause for the seeming disconnect internalized by many between teachings on the family and Catholic social teaching, which begins with the image of the one human family as equal brothers and sisters in Christ.  Looking at Life within the Wider Family, Francis examines the importance not only of parents and children but also siblings and grandparents.

I was blessed to know my grandparents and they were a profound influence on the person I became. I appreciate Francis’ call to care for the elderly but also to recognize the importance of grandparents within the family. He cautions, “A family that fails to respect and cherish its grandparents, who are its living memory, is already in decline, whereas a family that remembers has a future” (193).

Similarly, he attends to the importance of siblings and the role of siblings in teaching us how to live in a community. Finally, we are all part of a wider family – the one human family which includes our neighbors and in-laws and is an ever-expanding community.

4. Discernment and Conscience: A Reminder Our Pope Is a Jesuit

This document is an important reminder for the Church and moral theology to realign its priorities. Early on he states, “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 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). The call not only to form consciences but to respect and trust the consciences of married couples is an important aspect of this document. This does not change Church teaching, but Francis clearly asserts it is not enough to just state that those not conforming or living up to the rules are just in a state of mortal sin. (check out 42, 222, 298-301…to name a few).

Discernment is the crucial tool when discussing conscience and it may be where Francis is at his most Ignatian.  Throughout the long section dealing with pastoral concerns and “irregular situations,” Francis spends the most time on discernment—recognizing the individual persons and complexities of each context—and turns to Thomas Aquinas. He writes, “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” (304).  He does not change specific doctrinal rules, but failure to live up to that rule in itself does not signify moral culpability, does not negate the persons conscience, discernment process, or that one is a member of the Body of Christ. For this same reason, he clarifies, “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.” (304). The entire Chapter 8 (which is most of the “hot button questions”) is treated through this attention to the call of discernment.

5. Don’t Put the Mercy of God in a Box

Finally—in what is clearly the overarching message of the Jubilee of Mercy—we don’t get to put God’s Mercy in a box.  He explains:

“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 is the logic of pastoral mercy as the section is titled.  If you’ve been watching and listening to Pope Francis on mercy for the last year…a very clear, integrated vision has emerged. When reading the final section of the exhortation, I could not help but envision the culminating scene to Dirty Dancing. If there is one overarching message Pope Francis is hammering home, it is that no one puts God’s mercy in a corner.

 



Why Christmas Matters the Other 364 Days of the Year

After weeks of anticipation, the frenzy of shopping for gifts and making travel arrangements, and all the excitement of the big day, Christmas has once again come and gone. For many, Christmas’s passing is cause for major consternation. Each year, millions of people fall into depression in the weeks following Christmas and New Year’s. It seems that Christmas day inevitably fails to meet all the hopes and expectations pinned upon it year after year by so many people around the world.

The irony of it all is that this is a conundrum of our own making. We build up all sorts of expectations for Christmas day, but more often than not neglect the reason behind the celebration. This is ironic because the thing we most easily lose sight of amidst the busyness of the holiday season is the only thing—the only person—that can fulfill our hopes.

Fortunately for us, the fact that another Christmas has come and gone does not mean that we’ve missed our chance, that we are resigned to a state of depression until the next holiday. Yes, the gifts have been unwrapped and the food consumed, but we still have the opportunity with every new day to turn our attention to what matters most—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose Incarnation we celebrated (at least in theory) this past Thursday.

Here’s the reason why we can rest assured this opportunity remains open to us: The Son of God may have been born on a particular day, which we commemorate on a particular date each year, but it is not entirely accurate to describe the Incarnation as a one-time event. When Jesus was about to ascend to heaven—that is, when it seemed he was about to leave the world—he told his disciples that it was to our benefit that he should go, for he would send his Spirit upon us (Jn 16:7). The author of John’s letters reassures us, “And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us” (1 Jn 3:24). Not only that, but Jesus promised that when we eat the bread and drink the cup in memory of him, we are truly receiving him within ourselves. All of this points to the fact that the Incarnation is ongoing. Jesus is always coming into the world in each one of us.

I, for one, find this fact immensely comforting. Recognizing that the Incarnation is ongoing takes off all the pressure we tend to put on one day of the year. It frees us up to welcome God into the world and our lives on a day-to-day basis. To be sure, doing so requires more effort than stockpiling gifts once a year. Like anything worthwhile, it demands patience.

Take Mary and Joseph for example. They knew their child was to be the Son of God (Lk 1:35) and the savior of the world (Mt 1:21), yet, for the most part, he was a child like any other. As an infant, he cried and nursed. As a child, he ran and played and scraped his knees. It was only when he reached the age of 30 (or thereabouts) that Jesus began to manifest the divine power at work in him. For all the years prior, his parents had patiently watched him grow, waiting for the day when he would reveal himself to be all that he was foretold to be.

Like Mary and Joseph, we must show patience if our Advent hopes are to meet with fulfillment rather than letdown. We do not have the privilege of watching the Son of God grow from an unassuming infant into the wonder-working Messiah. However, we do enjoy the blessing of witnessing the Incarnation at work in the people around us. Where Mary and Joseph faced the challenge of seeing God in a child who depended on them to feed him and wipe his bottom, we face the challenge of seeing Christ in the people around us who are irritable and self-centered, who lie to us and let us down, who don’t behave as we think Christians ought. Jesus did not reveal himself to be God in a single day. Neither, then, should we expect Jesus to reveal himself in others all at once. The Incarnation is ongoing, and we need to have the patience to watch it unfold gradually.

God did not intend for the joy of Christmas to be limited to one day a year. It awaits us in the dawning of each new day and in every loving encounter with another person. Whether or not we experience that joy depends on our ability to see Christ in others and to have patience when his likeness is slow in emerging.