Jesus Never Imposes: ‘Amoris Laetitia’, discernment, and Christian maturity

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Pietro M. Schiavone, SJ

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“It is important to observe,” writes the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, “that Amoris Laetitia (AL) reminds us above all of God’s mercy and compassion, rather than solely moral regulations and canonical rules.”[1]

This is a theme that Pope Francis has been repeating since the beginning of his pontificate. In his speech opening the Pastoral Congress of the diocese of Rome,[2] he affirmed “the sensitivity with which God looks at our families helps us to direct our consciences in the same way as his.” He said that “the emphasis placed on mercy puts reality before us in a realistic way, not, however, with just any realism, but with the realism of God,” and that it is necessary to reject the “enclosures” that “shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness.” He concluded: “this impels us to develop a family ministry designed to welcome, accompany, discern and integrate.”

These are the verbs that the pope has resorted to in answering the question: “How do we prevent a double morality from arising in our communities, one demanding and one permissive, one rigorist and one lax?” After stressing that “neither are the truth,” he said that “the Gospel chooses another way. For this, use those four words – welcome, accompany, integrate, discern – without nosing into people’s moral lives.”

Discern and integrate, taking into account mitigating factors and situations! Not least because, as we read in Amoris Laetitia: “The Church possesses a solid body of reflection about mitigating factors and situations” (AL 301). Discerning and integrating are not about exercising control, but about helping us understand the reality we live in starting from experience “so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

These are the themes that we can consider as guidelines[3] together with a quote that deals with the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried: “The logic of integration is the key to pastoral care…” (AL 299).

Considering Concrete Reality

Of fundamental importance is the opening of the second chapter of Amoris Laetitia on “The Experiences and Challenges of Families.” Quoting St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (FC), no. 4, the pope writes: “We do well to focus on concrete realities, since ‘the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history,’ and through these ‘the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family’” (AL 31).

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