Despite this, I’ve never quite been comfortable with the Catholic Woman ™ movement. As a single woman into my thirties I felt out of place. Now that I’m married the paradigmatic Catholic Woman ™ still alienates me: I kept my birth name. I kept my professional ambition. I’m not sacrificially tending to a brood of young’uns or to aging parents. Not to say I wouldn’t do those last two things, but I’m not, and certain strains of Catholicism make me feel as if I am doing family wrong.
Reading Amoris Laetitia today, I finally felt that I’m actually “doing family” just fine.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of marriage, Francis writes an extended treatment of relationship, beginning with the relational nature of the Trinity. Families are important because they are fundamental relationships, and relationships are our calling.
At times it seems like the focus on the family is a fetish, idolizing fresh-faced young Catholic parents who live a picture-perfect conventional life. But the extended context-setting of the first two sections of the document challenge this fixation by getting to the root of the blessedness of family. Family, for many of us, is the most intense experience of relationship in our lives, and feeds all our other relationships.
Because of this primacy, family should be supported. Such support means more than insisting families fit a mold. This support means ensuring housing, opportunity, education, access to culture, a safety net, and a larger community. Amoris Laetitia always comes back to the communal responsibility to encourage relationship and family.
Sometimes supporting families means encouraging people whose actions you find distasteful, being gratuitous with support and not worrying who deserves it, and certainly not keeping tabs on who is following the rules.
Sometimes, rules are a blessing, guiding us toward right action and letting us know that there may be consequences if we overstep. Rules are simple. Rules are clear.
But life is neither simple nor clear, and the muddier parts of human existence call for nuanced decisions about what is right and wrong. This is when we need to rely on our conscience.
One, of course, is the importance of conscience. “…not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.” (AL 3). This is not new, but it flies in the face of strain of Catholicism that some mistake for the only true expression of the faith: one which imagines that our thorniest relationships can be defined by strict, universal rules, and that only those who fall on the right side of those rules can be considered worthy.
“We are called to form consciences, not to replace them.” Admitting that on many issues, decisions will be up to individual consciences is terrifying. Suddenly it becomes much harder to know what to do – or to judge others choices – than it was when we thought strict rules applied to all situations.
Yet formation of conscience is paramount. Individualism that is not rooted in truth is not the same as a fully formed Christian conscience. This puts another burden on the believer: to pray, think, read, research, and do all the other work necessary to form one’s conscience. When done intentionally this discernment is a joyful burden.
Judging by this document (and of course, many others), the guide of such discernment should be love. Francis makes it clear that anything that is not love is not of God – domestic violence, discrimination toward migrants, subjugation of women, exploitation of children and the elderly.
I joked to a friend tonight that a key idea of Amoris Laetitia was “don’t be a [ ]”. In many ways, Francis makes this point. He urges Catholics not to blame this, that, or the other thing for the changes we see in society – indeed he remarks on the Church’s responsibility in destabilizing changes. He urges pastors to be sensitive and pastoral to those in “irregular” situations. He reiterates that all people, regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status or anything else, must be treated with dignity as children of God.
There were moments that this document gave me goosebumps. It beautifully shares the hard truth: that there are no easy answers. At the same time it is inspirational, setting before us lovely, Godly aspirations and inviting us to move ever closer to those goals.
I have only read about half of the document (highlights here!) , and look forward to reviewing it further. What have been your takeaways from Amoris Laetitia?