Our Holy Father, in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, on the marriage vows of husband and wife…
The lasting union expressed by the marriage vows is more than a formality or a traditional formula; it is rooted in the natural inclinations of the human person. (para. 123)
The meaning and value of their physical union is expressed in the words of consent, in which they accepted and offered themselves each to the other, in order to share their lives completely. Those words give meaning to the sexual relationship and free it from ambiguity. (para. 74)
Vows free sexual relationships from ambiguity. If I do say so, these sentences remind me of the speech about Coriolanus and Hamlet that I wanted to give at the Synod.
If we’re going to have sex, we human beings, we must do so honestly. (Otherwise, we practice ritual scarification on our own souls.)
Often, unchastity involves out-and-out dishonesty. Sometimes, though, “ambiguity” says it better. Couples who intend to marry sometimes have sex too soon. Which doesn’t involve the kind of dishonesty we usually condemn by using the word fornication.
By the same token: without a vow of lifelong fidelity, sex–even between two people thoroughly “in love”–remains cruelly ambiguous.
Holy Father’s word to fiancees:
Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances.
What is important is the love you share, strengthened and sanctified by grace. You are capable of opting for a more modest and simple celebration in which love takes precedence over everything else. (para. 212)
… Holy Father urges spouses to read, pray, and otherwise expand their horizons, in order to avoid “trivial and boring conversations, dialogue without something to say.” (para. 141)
…Regarding the relationship of the parish and the couple:
The Church is a family of families, constantly enriched by the lives of all those domestic churches. In virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, every family becomes, in effect, a good for the Church. From this standpoint, reflecting on the interplay between the family and the Church will prove a precious gift for the Church in our time. The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church. The safeguarding of the Lord’s gift in the sacrament of matrimony is a concern not only of individual families but of the entire Christian community. (para. 87)
Every family deserves a sacrosanct sphere of privacy. Minding other people’s business gets us in trouble. But: divorce is not just one couple’s business. Adultery is not just one couple’s problem. It really does take a village to raise a child. And God does expect us to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
Whenever I become aware of any danger of divorce in the flock, I go immediately to spiritual Defcon 5. We owe it to each other to help couples stay together. And any third party that would play fast and loose with a married couple’s fidelity can and should receive a beat-down.
…Almost all the genuinely interesting paragraphs of Amoris laetitia can be found in Chapter Four, our Holy Father’s extended commentary on I Corinthians 13. This part of the Exhortation reads something like part II-II of St. Thomas’ Summa Theo. Holy Father explains the meaning of words we use to refer to marital virtues. For example:
Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. (para. 92)
A child is a human being of immense worth and may never be used for one’s own benefit. So it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations. For children are a gift. Each one is unique and irreplaceable… We love our children because they are children, not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams. We love them because they are children. (para. 170)
Parents need to consider what they want their children to be exposed to, and this necessarily means being concerned about who is providing their entertainment, who is entering their rooms through television and electronic devices, and with whom they are spending their free time. (para. 260)
A person’s affective and ethical development is ultimately grounded in a particular experience, namely, that his or her parents can be trusted. (para. 263)
Frequently, sex education deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex”. Such expressions convey a negative attitude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance. It is always irresponsible to invite adolescents to toy with their bodies and their desires, as if they possessed the maturity, values, mutual commitment and goals proper to marriage. They end up being blithely encouraged to use other persons as an means of fulfilling their needs or limitations. (para. 283)
Handing on the faith presumes that parents themselves genuinely trust God, seek him and sense their need for him. (para. 287)
…Weird: Para. 83 lurches, apropros of nothing, from abortion to euthanasia to the death penalty.
Fire the editor. Really. This document runs to a nearly absurd length. Everything it has to say, it says at least twice, if not three or four times.
Hopefully someone eventually will collect into a book the pope’s 2015 General-Audience Catecheses on the family. That book will do the world more good than this ponderous post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
Holy Father’s word to separated parents:
You separated for many problems and reasons. Life gave you this trial, but your children should not have to bear the burden of this separation or be used as hostages against the other spouse. They should grow up hearing their mother speak well of their father, even though they are not together, and their father speak well of their mother. (para. 245)
…Okay, final analysis: what has our Holy Father given us with Amoris laetitia?
An extensive, elaborate, fundamentally beautiful exposition of what we believe about marriage and family life. Hopefully we will spend years ruminating over, and digesting, Amoris laetitia. (We will have to spend years doing it, because, like I said, short it ain’t.)
That said, IMHO, our Holy Father has NOT given us: any kind of real answer to our pastoral problems. (I’m with my man Ross Douthat on that.) Papa Francesco gives us a lot of homespun wisdom in these many pages. Some of it reads like Aristotle’s Nicomachaean Ethics. But Amoris laetitia does not possess Aristotelian precision. And Aristotle did not make it a practice to lash out at straw men who don’t exist.
Apostolic Exhortation 2016 does not address what I call the central issue:
Worldlings do not consider a life without sex possible. Christians recognize a life without sex as the fundamental form of human existence. (Our blessed Lord and Savior’s pilgrim life, and the life of all the saints in the Kingdom.)
The fundamental vocation, the one we all share, is: to put both feet into the grave. “Vocation” means living with patient endurance, insensible of the world’s attractions, interiorly focused on the life to come.
We are surrounded by pagans. Some of them are perfectly nice. Many of them are not. All of us–pagans and Christians alike: we all will die.
Christ, poor, chaste, and obedient to the Father unto death, is the answer.