May 12, 2016
Two weeks ago I issued a statement saying that I would study Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, "Amoris Laetitia," or "The Joy of Love." As I've made my way through it, I have been struck by his intimate awareness of the beauty of marriage in the Scriptures, the desire people have to live out Christian marriage, the struggles of modern family life, and finally, his deep desire to renew marriage in the light of the Gospel. Beyond any of the debates that have been taking place about the exhortation, promoting this renewal seems to be the essential message of the Pope.
Pope Francis covers a lot of ground in the 250-plus pages of "Amoris Laetitia." He encourages people to read it carefully and patiently. He begins with a reflection on the nature and gift of marriage found in the Word of God and then moves to an analysis of the present situation of marriage. His examination includes a consideration of the reasons why many young people are turning away from marriage, why marriages are experiencing difficulty, and what is happening in marital law around the world.
At the root of these changes, in the assessment of the Synod Fathers and the Pope, is an individualistic culture that promotes self-centeredness and a lack of generosity or self-sacrifice for others. This results in an experience that I hear of often. The Synod Fathers described it as "loneliness, arising from the absence of God in a person's life and the fragility of relationships" (AL, 43).
Today's self-centered, "me first" orientation breaks off relationships as soon as they seem burdensome or no longer useful. This worldview, in turn, encourages relativistic attitudes that wound relationships, especially marriage and family life – the most fundamental component of society. Relativism convinces people that perhaps nothing is universally true. The Holy Father sees this belief as giving momentum to several destructive forces, including the "legal deconstruction of the family," the failure to help the vulnerable, and the unequal treatment of women (cf. AL 47, 53, 54).