I have read the papal encyclical "Amoris Laetitia" and I have to say that there are many beautiful things that are said here about conjugal love. The first seven chapters are not an easy read for a lot of reasons. My greatest difficulty was that it was hard to get by what struck me as the constant reach for another way to say the same thing. In term of encyclical writing 101, this particular effort does not shine very brightly.
I have to say that it is perhaps that I was reading in anticipation of meeting what I had been told were serious difficulties with the orthodoxy of the letter that I was already being critical of what I had before me. Maybe yes, maybe no. My jury is still out on that.
Chapter 8 struck me as the one where the pope steps in “it.” I have to say that the sacrament of matrimony is an extremely complex reality. It is a mixture of secular requirements and ecclesiastical ones. It is a contract and a spiritual vow. It engages the conscience in challenging ways. Marriage is marriage for the whole of humanity but it is in the Catholic Universe that it is defined as a sacrament – a divine grace handed down to us by Jesus Christ. It is the sacrament for which the ministers are the two spouses. The people who give themselves to life in matrimony live in a world that tests the grace of matrimony in many changing ways every single day. Every single day the sacramental grace of matrimony is tested in the vastly demanding and dynamic reality of the world.
It is my opinion that in this encyclical the pope tried to do something that none has every tried before. He tried to make public what is impossible to make public. The conscience of human beings does not lend itself to the public square. There is no human being who can judge another human being’s conscience through direct knowledge of it. All any human being can do for another is to offer the measures of the boundaries of right and wrong. The exercise of the behavior is always under the control of the one who is behaving.
The pope in this letter waded into conscientious personal behavior territory at a level that is impossible to legislate or even to regulate with any hope of success. The realities that one confronts in a myriad of matrimonial “situations” are too convoluted and too personal to be the object of absolute rules and regulations. The behavior that they call forth can only be judged between God and the “actors.”
I spent many years working in the marriage tribunal of the Catholic Church in two dioceses. I cannot begin to recount the human entanglements to which I was privy and expected to untangle. I cannot tell you how many “impossible situations” I had to consider. In the end, I don’t know how many, if any, of the believers who were living these “situations” decided to participate fully in the sacraments (Eucharist) as a matter of conscience after they left my office unrequited.
I have not spent any serious time reading the oceans of “ink” that have been spilled in the discussions about this encyclical. It is my guess that many of the discussions revolve around the absolute requirements of the Gospel and the attendant documents of the Church through the ages. I have not spent any time studying the impact that the Church’s exercise of the annulment process has felt due to the reaction to the encyclical.
Finally, I reiterate, the pope tried to answer the question, “Who among you whose animal had fallen into a well on the Sabbath not work to free it from death?” There is also the consideration that tending to bloody victims of crime on the Sabbath is left to the occasional Samaritan who happens by.
Yes, Francis, some things are better left alone. Matrimony x 2 is one of them.
I tell you all that if you enjoy love to the hilt, you will not be close to crying at my funeral.