The mainstream media would have us believe that Pope Francis is just another valiant "liberal" fighting to help modernize the Catholic Church. This narrative guides much of what goes reported--and unreported--in secular media outlets each week.
But is Pope Francis really just trying to subvert Church teachings on human sexuality, marriage and family in order that they might better reflect the conventional wisdom of the world? Chapter 5 of Amoris Laetitia contradicts such narratives. Indeed, the reading of The Joy of Love which best fits the facts would be that Pope Francis continues to lead with both the fullness of the Catholic faith and the beauty of a Catholic world view (re)proposed in rapidly changing contexts.
Indeed, the Holy Father seems to be holding fast to the classic Catholic "both/and" approach: The Church's mission is both to maintain fidelity to God's revealed truths in the Church's Scripture and Tradition, and to engage the hearts of seekers everywhere by creatively highlighting the implications of such a vision of human existence. Pope Francis embodies both creative missionary outreach and fidelity to the Gospel. (Check out Bishop Barron's brilliant 9-minute commentary on Amoris.)
For the mainstream media, creative fidelity would be oxymoronic because being "creative" typically means freeing oneself from fidelity to the tradition that has preceded the present day. From a secular perspective, being creative implies changing not maintaining. This "either/or" mentality of worldly thought can see only the binary choice between sameness or difference.
But the Church is a living organism marked by both continuity and change: Bl. John Henry Newman's example of the stream which deepens and widens over time to become a great river both maintains its original identity and exhibits new characteristics down the line. Here are a few examples of Pope Francis' beautiful reflection on "Love Made Fruitful" (AL, ch. 5) both delivering timeless insights from the treasury of the deposit of faith, and doing so in refreshingly accessible ways:
- "Love always gives life." (n. 165)
- "Each child has a place in God's heart from all eternity; once he or she is conceived, the Creator's eternal dream comes true. Let us pause to think of the great value of that embryo from the moment of conception. We need to see it with the eyes of God, who always looks beyond mere appearances." (n. 168)
- "'Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism...It is they who testify to the beauty of life'....Dear mothers: thank you! Thank you for what you are in your family and for what you give to the Church and the world." (n. 174)
- "God sets the father in the family so that by the gifts of his masculinity he can be 'close to his wife and share everything, joy and sorrow, hope and hardship'...To be a father who is always present. When I say 'present', I do not mean 'controlling'. Fathers who are too controlling overshadow their children, they don't let them develop." (n. 177)
- "Adoption is a very generous way to become parents....Those who accept the challenge of adopting and accepting someone unconditionally and gratuitously become channels of god's love." (n. 179)
- "Just as God asks us to be his means of hearing the cry of the poor, so too he wants us to hear the cry of the elderly...We must reawaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel like a living part of the community." (n. 191)
In the closing chapters of The Joy of Love, Pope Francis emphasizes both that he is not changing Church doctrine and that the Church needs new pastoral responses which will bring the light of the Gospel to people on the peripheries.
Onward and upward!