by Jane Bleasdale
USF School of Education
With its challenging vocabulary and dry nature, reading a papal document on your own is no easy task. However, participating in a discussion like a book club makes the experience more lively and palatable, both spiritually and mentally.
Over the course of three meetings, a group of us faculty and staff read Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation from this past spring. In our discussions, we focused on themes that were relevant, provoking, and affirming:
- Gender, feminism and modern families
- Love in marriage and LGBTQ relationships
- Conscience, pastoral practice and divorced and remarried Catholics
In a Catholic Jesuit university setting such as ours at USF, it is unsurprising that diverse voices were heard around that table when gathered to reflect on the experience of reading Amoris Laetitia. In reading the document, we found places of and occasions for great hope. The voice of Pope Francis resonated, and his message of mercy and inclusion was deeply present.
In the opening paragraphs, Pope Francis gave us great hope that we were about to read a document that was a true reflection of the modern Church and the families we love:
Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. (sec. 3)
But as we journeyed through Amoris Laetitia, we found the document lacking a true understanding of our world, our community, and our families– perhaps because the voices of experience were missing from the conversation. Perhaps we were hoping for something that would at least leave the door open and offer a sign of hope for those trapped in marriages as victims of abuse, the childless couple who decide to use IVF (in vitro fertilization), or the significant numbers of our community who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in today’s world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family. (sec. 2)
Pope Francis’ voice of grace and mercy was definitely present in the document – we found this to be consoling and a sign of some hope that those of us at the table who are divorced, or gay or unmarried– or perhaps in nontraditional marriages– would be accepted and welcomed to the table too.
I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal. (sec. 299)
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. (sec. 301)
It is always jarring to read the words ‘mortal sin’ and know that your life, your relationship, or your family are being described in such ways. Some members of our group felt we could grasp onto the light the hope of this simple statement, while others appear once again crushed or alienated by the Church.
Many people in our group felt that the gift of conscience, written about in a deeply spiritual and faithful way in Vatican II, was once again being recognized by the Church. As faith-filled Catholics, my colleagues experience conscience as a grace, formed in faith and positive messages from the Gospels. We applauded the way conscience was embraced once aging by Church leaders.
Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. (sec. 303)
However, we also experienced sadness and frustration when the Synod seemed to go out of its way to affirm the traditional view of marriage and the role of the male and female: patriarchal, rooted in Old Testament teaching, and not what we commonly experience as ‘Gospel values.’ We felt at times that the tone of Amoris Laetitia did not sound or feel like the Pope himself was speaking, and that a more formal, less inclusive message was being conveyed.
As our group concluded – and Advent began—we shared some messages of hope for the Church. However, we were also left with a sense of disappointment for what might be, and could be, within our Church community.