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is not an abstract word

· The teachings of “Amoris Laetitia” ·

“Over the course of the Exhortation, current and concrete problems are dealt with: the family in today’s world, the education of children, marriage preparation, families in difficulty, and so on: these are treated with a hermeneutic that comes from the whole document which is the magisterial hermeneutic of the Church, always in continuity (without ruptures), yet always maturing”. With these words from the Preface the Holy Father wrote for my book, “Pope Francis, the Family and Divorce: In Defence of Truth and Mercy” (Paulist Press), the Pontiff firmly places Amoris Laetititia in the heart of a rich body of magisterial teaching on the family, stretching back to Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Arcanum.

One of the most significant things Pope Francis stated in his Preface is that Amoris Laetitia must be read in order, from start to finish, otherwise “it will either not be understood or it will be distorted”. Without any doubt, far too many commentators have jumped immediately to the famous chapter eight; yet to do this, is to miss a vital “development of theological reflection” that is unveiled throughout the preceding chapters.

Amoris Laetitia is striking for several reasons. It seeks to explore the truth of individual situations through discernment, recognizing the myriad of problems ordinary families encounter daily. Moreover, it rejects an abstract application of doctrine that does not take into account the truth that only an encounter with the Risen Christ can instigate a true metanoia. It moves away from the use of a “them and us” mentality to family situations, reminding us that we are sinners and all in need of divine mercy. It teaches responsibility to be sympathetic to the plight of others, especially those in second civil marriages, and as a consequence, we must “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of others” (cf. Ex 3:5).

Pope Francis underpins the entire text with a call to welcome, accompany, discern and integrate each family into the bosom of the Church. His dream is of a Church of maternal tenderness that continuously reaches out; one that imitates the love and compassion of the Blessed Virgin who is Hodegetria, the Mother who leads the way to Jesus. 

by Stephen Walford




St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 21, 2019