Reading Amoris Laetitia

Reading Amoris Laetitia June 7, 2016


My usual habit when reading Vatican documents is to blaze through the first couple chapters, or sometimes the entire document, in a single sitting. If I don’t get to the end the first time out, the chances that I’ll ever finish it are slight. Instead, I do exactly what most people do (that is, most people who bother reading primary source Church documents in the first place): I look up the bits that relate to my favourite issues, read a few paragraphs back and forth for context, and comment on that.

Hence my big problem with Amoris Laetitia. One of the first things that Francis says is “I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text.” So this is already off to a bad start for me. He goes on, “The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs.”

Ahem. The Pope has already caught me out here, and we haven’t even made it to Chapter One. I’m not allowed to devour the text, scanning it for useful sound-bites, and I’m not allowed to skip to the bits that concern politicized pastoral questions that are of particular interest to me. Amoris Laetitia is not a storehouse to be raided for ammunition in the Culture Wars; it’s a letter from my Papa, expressing the Wisdom which my Mother, the Church, has treasured in Her heart for me.

I’m supposed to read it slowly, patiently, focusing mostly on the parts that specifically address the needs of my family. This isn’t an encyclical: it’s purpose is not to lay out the doctrine of the Church. Rather, it’s an exhortation: it’s purpose is to remind us of how to apply the teachings that we already know in the context of our own lives.

So, it’s been two and a half months since the document was released and I’ve made it as far as Chapter 4, specifically the section where Pope Francis is defining the different virtues that Paul describes in his famous encomium to love: “Love is patient, love is kind…” As you can see, I’ve been reading very slowly. My goal is to painstakingly uncover and root out doctrinal and practical errors … specifically, doctrinal errors in my own thinking, and practical errors in the way that I go about being a mother and a wife.

For example, I thought that I had patience pretty well nailed. I mean obviously I have slip ups, but generally I take pride in my ability to put on my Stoic face and tolerantly endure. But then I get to the bit where Francis clarifies the patience does not mean being a doormat, and I realize that I still have a lot of work to do.

A few paragraphs later, he calls me out for boasting and showing off. “Such people,” he observes, “think that, because they are more “spiritual” or “wise”, they are more important than they really are. Paul uses this verb on other occasions, as when he says that “knowledge puffs up”, whereas “love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others”.

That’s me, exactly. I have an almost compulsive tendency to demonstrate how smart I am. Beneath this ostentatious cleverness there is, I know, a desperate desire to prove my own worthiness — as though a probing and critical intelligence could save me from the implacable knowledge that I do not live up to my own ideals.

A little later, under “Love is not rude,” he points out that even well-intended interfering in another person’s life can be a form of rudeness: “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”. I don’t think of myself as a particularly rude person, but yeah, it’s definitely true that I have a tendency to try to push the people I love towards virtue — probably as much because I’m tired of putting up with their vices as because I genuinely want the best for them.

This is a long document. 256 pages, in fact. And it is packed with passages like these that gently, kindly, and very astutely point to the areas of my heart that stand in need of reform. So I am going to continue to work through this document the way that I am, slowly, giving myself time to actually try to implement the good counsel that it offers rather than breezing through it, silently congratulating myself every time I hit a passage where I am succeeding admirably, silently picking apart the text and finding ways to dismiss it wherever it challenges me to change.

I have a lot of work to do.

Picture credit: pixabay
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