The Joy of Love
The title of this inspirational piece is the translation of the Latin title of Pope Francis’ latest pronouncements. He issued Amoris Laetitia to address issues of family and related topics. The apostolic exhortation, as the document is called, is the conclusion of a process that began a couple years ago. Through the process there were two synods or meetings of Catholic leaders to consider these various topics.
I followed both of these synods somewhat closely, so much of the new apostolic exhortation is not new. Some of the material was first published in one of the synod summaries after those historic meetings. Of course, there was a great deal of discussion---agreeing and disagreeing with the Pope---during the synod process. And now that the apostolic exhortation has appeared, that same range of response is evident.
I had read a fair amount of preliminary conversation about the upcoming release of the document before it had even been released. So I felt conversant with what the issues would likely be. What no one knew for sure is the positions the Pope would lay out in this document. So when it finally arrived, I eagerly downloaded it so I could speed read through the whole document. And then, I would slow down and work my way through the thing in order to get a real feeling for the issues and how they would be addressed by the Catholic Church.
When I logged on to get the thing, downloaded it and then opened it, I gasped a bit. My copy was over 300 pages in length. Of course, the text did not fit the whole page, so I figured if I re-formatted it, it would probably still be 150 or more pages. It was not going to be a quick read. And I will admit I am still working through it in a more painstaking fashion. I want to be informed and I want to be able be conversant with the details when called upon to discuss it.
So I will share my impressions and my perspective on things. Since it is such a big and significant document, I want to return to it from time to time with the hope that others can benefit from my reading and reflection. My first impression is appreciation for what the Pope is saying. Clearly, he is going to be criticized from many different angles. But some things seem patently obvious as I read it.
My first impression is how invitational the tone of the document is. While the Pope is still saying things and holding positions I would not hold, I find him inviting of all folks to engage the Spirit, who, I am confident, the Pope thinks is very much active in our world. Of course, there are still some points in the document where it feels like we are being told what to do, nevertheless the tone of the exhortation is invitational.
A big reason this is true is due to the Pope wanting his clerical leaders and lay folks alike to be pastoral. He resonates with my own tradition when it seems he is putting experience to the forefront. For example, worship is not a bunch of ideas being celebrated on Sunday morning. Worship is an experience of a living encounter with the God who created us and wants a great deal from us. And worship is a communal experience where all of us are drawn together into a big family of God. We are invited into this experience.
The next observation I had of the document was how inclusive it sought to be. I know some may not feel this as strongly as I do, but I was impressed by the Pope’s sincere appeal to include folks who had previously been marginalized. I feel confident he has a vision of the church that is more inclusive, more sensitive and more loving than many of the actual churches we all know. I know the Pope is not changing some doctrine that many Catholics and others very much want. But I also think he feels the church is bigger than doctrine. He is making progress. I agree the Catholic Church is not yet where I want to see it, but I am not a member of that church, so it is not my decision.
The final observation I have of the Pope’s hopes is the strong feeling that he wants to integrate the ones he includes and the ones he invites into the family of God. He is pushing out further the borders and boundaries of the church. He wants it to be bigger, wider, more understanding, more tolerant and then some. He wants leaders to apply love rather than always the rule. It seems to me he is leaving room for individual conscience.
I do not think for a moment the Pope simply chose randomly some kind of nice title for this apostolic exhortation. I am confident the title was carefully selected. The title is itself a powerful message and pointer to all he considers important: the joy of love. The operative principle of joy in the life of the spiritual person is love. In one sense the Pope joins the gospel writer, John, in positing only one rule: the rule of love.
This is an apostolic exhortation. Each of us---and all of us, Catholic and beyond---is enjoined to love and to love boldly. Invite, include and integrate all those whom you love into the one big family of God. That’s the call; now heed the call.