Monday, January 9, 2017

Pastoral Perspectives on the Family (AL, ch. 6)

The Baptism of the Lord

Meaningful artistic perspectives, like meaningful pastoral perspectives, do not change the fundamental realities which they reflect and serve. Rather, they open up new dimensions for consideration and help promote a deeper appreciation of what is really real.


In Chapter Six of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis proposes pastoral perspectives on love in the family which would avoid both the "torture chamber" and the "playpen" mentality. Real families have real issues, after all, and the Holy Father has little time for pastoral approaches which would simply keep repeating seemingly intractable rules (read: "torture chamber"). However, neither does he want pastoral approaches which merely embrace and institutionalize the problems, disregarding doctrine and denying the transforming power of God's grace (read: "playpen").

In a dramatic push-pull dynamic, Pope Francis is propelling the Church toward a more creative fidelity toward the profound dignity revealed by the "Gospel of the Family." Witness a few examples from the Holy Father's ongoing both-and approach in "On Pastoral Perspectives" (AL, ch. 6):

  • Preparing engaged couples for marriage: Pope Francis calls for marriage preparation which would be "a kind of 'initiation' to the sacrament of matrimony" (n. 207); he also speaks a direct word to fiances about having the courage to be different--"Don't let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances" (n. 212)!

  • Accompanying the first years of married life: First, the Holy Father reminds newly married couples that "Each marriage is a kind of 'salvation history,' which from fragile beginnings--thanks to God's gift and a creative and generous response on our part--grows over time into something precious and enduring" (n. 221); then, the pope encourages newly married couples to be generous in bestowing life, emphasizing that "the use of methods based on the 'laws of nature and the incidence of fertility' are to be promoted, since 'these methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them and favor the education of an authentic freedom'" (n. 222).

  • Casting a light on crises, worries, and difficulties: Pope Francis observes that "when marriage is seen as a challenge that involves overcoming obstacles, each crisis becomes an opportunity to let the wine of their relationship age and improve" (n. 232); he also devotes extended comments to accompaniment after breakdown and divorce, as well as to complex situations such as same-sex attractions (nn. 241-250).

  • When death makes us feel its sting: On the one hand, the Holy Father writes that "It consoles us to know that those who die do not completely pass away, and faith assures us that the risen Lord will never abandon us" (n. 256), and on the other hand, Pope Francis challenges us with the thought that "If we accept death, we can prepare ourselves for it" (n. 258).

Seemingly ancient insights seem somehow new. Pope Francis wants the Church to champion pastoral perspectives marked by both sensitivity and fidelity.


Faithful artistic perspectives open hearts to the deeper reality made manifest, just as faithful pastoral perspectives create apertures for perceiving God's full revelation of love in the family.

John the Baptist knows who Jesus is, but doesn't understand his ultimate mission--let alone all of its implications for human existence. Jesus reassures him, "Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness
" (Mt 3:15).  This pastoral reassurance seems to speak to the ongoing challenges posed by Amoris Laetitia: Even when we do not fully comprehend the newness of life in Christ, the Lord longs to fulfill all righteousness with and for us. 

If only we allow it.

Grace and Peace,

P.S. This is the sixth of nine installments on Pope Francis' "Love in the Family"; previous reflections include: "In the Light of the Word" (AL, ch. 1); "The Experiences and Challenges of Families" (AL, ch. 2); "Looking to Jesus: The Vocation of the Family" (AL, ch. 3); "Ten Tips on Love in Marriage" (AL, ch. 4); "Love Made Fruitful" (AL, ch. 5).