An Article by National Catholic Reporter website.posted on the
If you are a layperson and want to read the pope’s apostolic exhortation on the family, skip the first three chapters and start with Chapter 4. If you are a priest, moral theologian, or divorced Catholic, read Chapter 8.
The 263-page exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) was released at noon today at the Vatican, 6 A.M. Eastern Time.
The opening chapter is a scriptural reflection, but frankly it comes off as a collection of Scripture references that don’t really hang together well.
It is not that the chapter is bad; there are some good passages. For example, it is nice to see a positive exegesis of Genesis’s description of Eve as a helper fit for Adam. Later in Chapter 4 he deals with St. Paul’s wives “be subject to your husbands.”
The second chapter examines “the actual situation of families, in order to keep firmly grounded in reality.” This chapter, like the first chapter of the pope’s encyclical on the environment, reflects the pope’s insistence that facts matter.
I think it gives a realistic description of the state of family life, but there are a few surprises.
One remarkable feature of this chapter is its call for “a healthy dose of self-criticism” in the church.
“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,” he writes. “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.”
“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,” he continues. “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.”
This chapter also calls for state action to promote employment, decent housing, and adequate health care, as well as care for migrants and persons with special needs.
Most remarkable is the condemnation of the excesses of “patriarchal cultures” and “male chauvinism,” and the demand that we must “see in the women’s movement the workings of the Spirit for a clearer recognition of the dignity and rights of women.”
The third chapter recalls “some essential aspects of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family.”
He starts by emphasizing that the church’s “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 defense of a dry and lifeless doctrine.”
Alas, the chapter does sometimes get bogged down in dry and lifeless doctrine, with numerous quotes from the past three popes and Vatican II.
Let me emphasize, I am not saying don’t read the first three chapters. Rather I am saying begin at Chapter 4 and come back to these chapters later.
Chapter 4 is a masterpiece.
Other Catholic media articles on the subject.
Press release – “Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family Welcomed by USCCB Family Life Committee Chairman” (Bishop Richard J. Malone, of Buffalo, NY)