What stuns you in the recent document of Pope Francis on family, Amoris Laetitia, is its intense humanity.
He reflects on various aspects of married life, whether it be about the attraction between two young people, tensions between married couples, difficulties between family members, or pastoral concern for people in strained relationships or caught in broken bonds.
He may disappoint media men with an “immoderate desire for change without sufficient reflection,” or those eager for precise rules, valid for all occasions. Rather, he seeks to find meaning in concrete realities and point a direction.
He proposes a “constructive approach,” to change even a helpless case of cohabitation into an “opportunity.”
His style is not to lament present-day evils, nor to impose “rules by sheer authority.” He prefers rather to explain and convince, provide reasons and suggest motivations, and invite people to keep searching further.
Solutions adopted should suit cultures, he says, and should be sensitive to traditions and address local needs.
Rather than overstress doctrinal, bioethical, and moral issues, he invites an “openness to grace”. Rather than hold an “artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities”, he urges a situational, personal, and human understanding of problems in married life, holding out hope even in the worst circumstances.
He sings of mercy and compassion, of love and understanding, all through the document.
However, for all his leniency, he makes himself absolutely clear with regard to the marriage bond, “Their union is real and irrevocable”
Yet in equally impressive manner he brings poetry and idealism into an area where others see only frozenness and sterility, “Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope,” and “You can’t have a family without dreams.”
That’s no wonder.
Francis represents a Master who said that “tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the Kingdom” before others, and who at the same breath added, “You must be perfect – just as your Father in heaven is perfect”, and “pluck out your eye if it is an obstacle.”
Mercy is not about yielding to evil, but about learning the “divine pedagogy of grace” and moving towards fullness of life.
Selflessness is nurtured in the family. Pope Francis feels certain that those who “use others” will end up by being used by others in turn.
Here is where he combines practical psychology with high idealism and inspiring poetry. Inspiration energizes. He warns family members against:
- Words that demean, sadden, rouse anger, or show scorn, or adopting a tone that hurts, ridicules or offends.
- Neglect of the elderly.
- Feminism that deliberately excludes motherhood.
- The weakening of a father figure for which many cultures long.
Christians among tribal communities understand very well when the pope says, “Large families are a joy for the Church,” that a “kind look” is important, that the wider family of relatives and friends provides security and builds up confidence, that every member of the family and each individual child is “unique,” that memories of old wounds need to be healed, that believing families should evangelize each other, and that a family spirituality should be fostered.
It is typical of Pope Francis see “dramatic beauty” even in a family crisis, because it opens out life to new possibilities.
When he rejects “cold bureaucratic morality”, he is not pointing the way to a lukewarm, relativist attitude, but to greater generosity and deeper commitment. He admits that there is “no easy recipe,” but invites pastors to be conscientious and responsible in discernment.
His aim is certainly not to water down the challenges of the Gospel, but their fuller realization.
Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil is the emeritus Archbishop of Guwahati, India, and presently the Apostolic Administrator of Jowai.