The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 2:03:12

Amoris Laetitia, chapter four

Katie van Schaijik, Jul 23, 2016

Since the last installment of my "live blogging" of Amoris Laetitia was posted over a month ago, I might need to adjust the title of the series. "Barely-blogging" or "Amoris Laetitia at a slow crawl" might be more appropriate. Anyhow, a recent article on the subject in L'Osservatore Romano by our former, beloved and esteemed professor Rocco Buttiglione reminds me to get back to it.

I was happy to find that Rocco, too, is out of sympathy with the Pope's critics, who at times seem so attached to their accustomed ways of thinking that they've shut their ears to "what the spirit is saying to the churches."

The sensus fidei of the Christian people immediately embraced and followed [Pope Francis]. But some of the learned class seem to have trouble understanding him. They criticize him and portray him as out of harmony with the Church’s tradition, and more specifically, out of step with his great predecessor, Pope John Paul II. They seem disconcerted by the fact that they find no support in Francis’s teaching to affirm their own theories, and they do not want to depart from their intellectual framework and listen more closely to the surprising freshness of Francis’s message.

I like that distinction between the Christian people with their sensus fidei and "the learned class" with their theories. I like, too, his implicit rejection of the scholar's temptation to reduce the tradition to documents. And he is right to point to Francis' continuity with John Paul II, who not only defended the objectivity of truth, but constantly promoted the truth of subjectivity.

Now back to AL, with renewed resolve to open my heart fully and freely to its essential message. I am up to Chapter Four, called "Love in Marriage."

It begins:

All that has been said so far would be insufficient to express the Gospel of marriage and the family, were we not also to speak of love.

Once again, I'm inwardly applauding. For years and decades (thanks to the influence of von Hildebrand and Wojtyla) I've been lamenting teachings on courtship and marriage that make practically no mention of love—as if the main thing we need to be concerned about in pursuing the married vocation is sin-avoidance. This Pope, like his predecessors, sees it very differently. 

Indeed, the grace of the sacrament of marriage is intended before all else “to perfect the couple’s love”.  

It follows that the first aim of pastors vis a vis married couples should be to support and encourage them in growing their love for one another and their children.

Paragraphs 90 - 119 offer an extended reflection on those well-known verses about love in 1 Corinthians 13. The reflections are partly exegetical, but the Pope's prime aim, as I read him, seems to be pastoral. He is trying to open our eyes to the contrast between the love revealed and called for in the gospel and the master/slave tendencies of our fallen condition.

- In 91, he interprets "patience" as "restraint." Love doesn't force or overwhelm others. It doesn't use its strength to get its way.

- In 92, he offers a caveat: "Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us." And: 

Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like.

 - In 95, he all but writes, "live and let live."

- In 96, he speaks of love in terms familiar to those tuned in to the social teachings of the Church:

This same deeply rooted love also leads me to reject the injustice whereby some possess too much and others too little. It moves me to find ways of helping society’s outcasts to find a modicum of joy. That is not envy, but the desire for equality.

 Excessive disparities in wealth play in to the master/slave dynamic.

- 97 includes a good description of narcissism, though it doesn't use the word.

- In 98 he reminds us: 

Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase.

 And then this: [my bold]

Jesus told his disciples that in a world where power prevails, each tries to dominate the other, but “it shall not be so among you” (Mt 20:26). The inner logic of Christian love is not about importance and power; rather, “whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Mt 20:27). In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love.

 - And in 99:

Every day, “entering into the life of another, even when that person already has a part to play in our life, demands the sensitivity and restraint which can renew trust and respect. Indeed, the deeper love is, the more it calls for respect for the other’s freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart”. 

As I say, the Pope is plainly alert to the master/slave dynamic. If he had consulted me, though, in the writing of this section, I might have urged him to develop more the implications of love for the "slave side". He emphasizes well and truly the importance of the "masters" needing to humble themselves, show gentleness, kindness and restraint. But I would have like to see more about the very different way "slaves" must learn to "fight evil" and "always say 'no' to violence in the home." (104) 

I justify the utterance of such a bold opinion by pointing out that the Pope himself has more than once called for a greater development of the theology of femininity and a greater role for women in the Church. He knows there's a lacuna that needs filling.

The same goes for paragraphs 105 - 108 on forgiveness. Though I agree with every word, I think a vital element is missing. He speaks eloquently of the need to forgive and forbear, but not at all about the need to repent the wrongs we have done against others. In my experience, the failure to admit wrong and shoulder responsibility for harm done is the more common destroyer-of-communion in family life than unforgiveness. (Jules wrote a post on the priority of repentance last year.)

I would venture to guess that the reflections on 1 Corinthians 13 (which continue through paragraph 119) are the Pope's own. Unlike other parts of the exhortation, where I strongly feel the influence of others, such as Cardinal Schönborn, in these paragraphs I hear the Pope's familiar voice and manner. It's the voice of a pastor more than an intellectual.

I'll stop there for now.