The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 6:12:40

Amoris Laetitia, 38: What it’s really all about

Katie van Schaijik, Apr 23, 2016

The personalist emphasis continues in paragraph 38. The Pope points to the example of Jesus, who held up "a demanding ideal" ["Be perfect!"] and yet "never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery."  We see again what we have seen all along with this Pope: he is not about changing the moral law; he's about changing hearts, our hearts. 

[It occurs to me here that Jesus didn't generally show warmth and compassion and understanding toward the Pharisees. Toward them, he could be rather severe, no? "You snakes!" He was hard on his disciples sometimes. "Get behind me, Satan!" Why? Because he loved them less? No. Because he is responsive to the inward condition and needs of each individual. The "righteous" are inclined to forget inwardly their utter reliance on grace; they are tempted to think well of themselves and to look down on sinners and dissidents (i.e. to become "masters"). They need to be "brought low." "Sinners" are more inclined to feel ashamed, unclean, and hopeless about themselves (i.e. enslaved). They need to be "lifted up."]

I ask myself: How do "sinners" who know me experience me? What do they feel emanating, spiritually, from me? Is it tenderness? Closeness? Compassion? Care? Hope for themselves? Or do they rather feel judged and ashamed in front of me? Am I more like the father or the elder brother in the story of the prodigal son? In the language of recovery rooms, "Do I seem like a safe person for the vulnerable? or do they want to hide themselves from me?"

Clearly, I have work to do. I'm glad and grateful that the Pope has helped me see it. [Also, I'm going to worry less about whether "the righteous" approve of me. Their approval and disapproval are modes of "mastery;" they measure others outwardly, by performance, prestige, conformity to the law, "success." They relish social hierarchies. Love affirms the person; it levels mountains and fills in the valleys, establishing the conditions for true communion.]

For the first time since I began "live blogging" my reading of this exhortation, I've read some commentary. I've read Cardinal Schönborn's introduction to it, which gives me joy and reassures me I am interpreting rightly as I go. He (who reportedly collaborated on its articulation) reads it as I do.

Pope Francis has succeeded in speaking about all situations without cataloguing them, without categorising, with that outlook of fundamental benevolence that is associated with the heart of God, with the eyes of Jesus that exclude no-one (cf. AL 297), that welcome all and grant the “joy of the Gospel” to all. This is why reading Amoris Laetitia is so comforting. No-one must feel condemned, no-one is scorned. In this climate of welcome, the discourse on the Christian vision of marriage and the family becomes an invitation, an encouragement, to the joy of love in which we can believe and which excludes no-one, truly and sincerely no-one.

The Cardinal speaks of a "change" that happened over the year between the Synods that prepared this document. Was it a change in doctrine? No. Rather, it was a change in discourse, in tone, in the inward attitude of the Synod fathers. It was "a pastoral conversion."

Between the two Synods of October 2014 and October 2015, it may clearly be seen how the tone became richer in esteem, as if the different situations in life had simply been accepted, without being immediately judged or condemned. In Amoris Laetitia this tone of language continues. Before this there is obviously not only a linguistic choice, but rather a profound respect when faced with every person who is never firstly a “problematic case” in a “category”, but rather a unique person, with his story and his journey with and towards God.

We have been given a very great gift in this Pope, in this exhortation.