Here is a copy of the text of his latest letter, – the Apostolic Exhortation following the recent Synod on the Family - published earlier in April 2016. Click here to read it.
Or read the following Summary:
Pope Francis’ post Apostolic Exhortation
Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family
It is not by chance that Amoris Laetitia (AL), “The Joy of Love”, the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “on Love in the Family”, was signed on 19 March, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph. It brings together the results of the two Synods on the family convoked by Pope Francis in 2014 and 2015. It often cites their Final Reports; documents and teachings of his Predecessors; and his own numerous catecheses on the family. In addition, as in previous magisterial documents, the Pope also makes use of the contributions of various Episcopal Conferences around the world (Kenya, Australia, Argentina…) and cites significant figures such as Martin Luther King and Erich Fromm. The Pope even quotes the film Babette’s Feast to illustrate the concept of gratuity.
The Apostolic Exhortation is striking for its breadth and detail. Its 325 paragraphs are distributed over nine chapters. The seven introductory paragraphs plainly set out the complexity of a topic in urgent need of thorough study. The interventions of the Synod Fathers make up [form] a “multifaceted gem” (AL 4), a precious polyhedron, whose value must be preserved. But the Pope cautions that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium”. Indeed, for some questions, “each country or region … can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For ‘cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle … needs to be inculturated, if it is to be respected and applied’” (AL 3). This principle of inculturation applies to how problems are formulated and addressed and, apart from the dogmatic issues that have been well defined by the Church’s magisterium, none of this approach can be “globalized”. In his address at the end of the 2015 Synod, the Pope said very clearly: “What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous – almost! – for a bishop from another; what is considered a violation of a right in one society is an evident and inviolable rule in another; what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”
The Pope clearly states that we need above all to avoid a sterile juxtaposition between demands for change and the general application of abstract norms. He writes: “The debates carried on in the media, in certain publications and even among the Church’s ministers, range from an immoderate desire for total change without sufficient reflection or grounding, to an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations” (AL 2).
Chapter One: “In the light of the Word” (8-30)
Following this introduction, the Pope begins his reflections with the Holy Scriptures in the first chapter, which unfolds as a meditation on Psalm 128 (which appears in the Jewish wedding liturgy as well as that of Christian marriages). The Bible “is full of families, births, love stories and family crises” (AL 8). This impels us to meditate on how the family is not an abstract ideal but rather like a practical “trade” (AL 16), which is carried out with tenderness (AL 28), but which has also been confronted with sin from the beginning, when the relationship of love turned into domination (cf. AL 19). Hence, the Word of God “is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering. For it shows them the goal of their journey…” (AL 22).
Chapter two: “The experiences and challenges of families” (31-57)
Building on the biblical base, in the second chapter the Pope considers the current situation of families. While keeping “firmly grounded in [the] reality” of family experiences (AL 6), he also draws heavily on the final Reports of the two Synods. Families face many challenges, from migration to the ideological denial of differences between the sexes (“ideology of gender” AL 56); from the culture of the provisional to the anti-birth mentality and the impact of biotechnology in the field of procreation; from the lack of housing and work to pornography and abuse of minors; from inattention to persons with disabilities, to lack of respect for the elderly; from the legal dismantling of the family, to violence against women. The Pope insists on concreteness, which is a key concept in the Exhortation. And it is concreteness, realism and daily life that make up the substantial difference between acceptable “theories” of interpretation of reality and arbitrary “ideologies”.
Citing Familiaris Consortio, Francis states that “we do well to focus on concrete realities, since ‘the call and the demands of the Spirit resound in the events of history’, and through these ‘the Church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family’” (AL 31). Conversely, if we fail to listen to reality, we cannot understand the needs of the present or the movements of the Spirit. The Pope notes that rampant individualism makes it difficult today for a person to give oneself generously to another (cf. AL 33). Here is an interesting picture of the situation: “The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals” (AL 34).
The humility of realism helps us to avoid presenting “a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families” (AL 36). Idealism does not allow marriage to be understood for what it is, that is, a “dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment”. It is unrealistic to think that families can sustain themselves “simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace” (AL 37). Calling for a certain “self-criticism” of approaches that are inadequate for the experience of marriage and the family, the Pope stresses the need to make room for the formation of the conscience of the faithful: “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL 37). Jesus proposed a demanding ideal but “never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery” (AL 38).
Chapter three: “Looking to Jesus: The vocation of the family” (58-88)
The third chapter is dedicated to some essential elements of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family. This chapter is important because its 30 paragraphs concisely depict the vocation of the family according to the Gospel and as affirmed by the Church over time. Above all, it stresses the themes of indissolubility, the sacramental nature of marriage, the transmission of life and the education of children. Gaudium et Spes of VaticanII, Humanae Vitae of PaulVI, and Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II are widely quoted.
The chapter provides a broad view and touches on “imperfect situations” as well. We can read, in fact: “‘Discernment of the presence of ‘seeds of the Word’ in other cultures (cf. Ad Gentes 11) can also apply to the reality of marriage and the family. In addition to true natural marriage, positive elements exist in the forms of marriage found in other religious traditions’, even if, at times, obscurely” (AL 77). The reflection also includes the “wounded families” about whom the Pope – quoting the Final Report of the 2015 Synod extensively – says that “it is always necessary to recall this general principle: ‘Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations’ (Familiaris Consortio, 84). The degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases and factors may exist which limit the ability to make a decision. Therefore, while clearly stating the Church’s teaching, pastors are to avoid judgements that do not take into account the complexity of various situations, and they are to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience and endure distress because of their condition” (AL 79).
Chapter four: “Love in marriage” (89-164)
The fourth chapter treats love in marriage, which it illuminates with Saint Paul’s Hymn to Love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. This opening section is truly a painstaking, focused, inspired and poetic exegesis of the Pauline text. It is a collection of brief passages carefully and tenderly describing human love in absolutely concrete terms. The quality of psychological introspection that marks this exegesis is striking. The psychological insights enter into the emotional world of the spouses – positive and negative – and the erotic dimension of love. This is an extremely rich and valuable contribution to Christian married life, unprecedented in previous papal documents.
This section digresses briefly from the more extensive, perceptive treatment of the day-to-day experience of married love which the Pope refuses to judge against ideal standards: “There is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union existing between Christ and his Church, for marriage as a sign entails ‘a dynamic process…, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God’” (AL 122). On the other hand, the Pope forcefully stresses the fact that conjugal love by its very nature defines the partners in a richly encompassing and lasting union (AL 123), precisely within that “mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures” (Al 126) which indeed make up a marriage.
The chapter concludes with a very important reflection on the “transformation of love” because “Longer life spans now mean that close and exclusive relationships must last for four, five or even six decades; consequently, the initial decision has to be frequently renewed” (AL 163). As physical appearance alters, the loving attraction does not lessen but changes as sexual desire can be transformed over time into the desire for togetherness and mutuality: “There is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all through life. Yet if a couple can come up with a shared and lasting life project, they can love one another and live as one until death do them part, enjoying an enriching intimacy” (AL 163).
Chapter five: “Love made fruitful” (165-198)
The fifth chapter is entirely focused on love’s fruitfulness and procreation. It speaks in a profoundly spiritual and psychological manner about welcoming new life, about the waiting period of pregnancy, about the love of a mother and a father. It also speaks of the expanded fruitfulness of adoption, of welcoming the contribution of families to promote a “culture of encounter”, and of family life in a broad sense which includes aunts and uncles, cousins, relatives of relatives, friends. Amoris Laetitia does not focus on the so-called “nuclear” family” because it is very aware of the family as a wider network of many relationships. The spirituality of the sacrament of marriage has a deeply social character (cf. AL 187). And within this social dimension the Pope particularly emphasizes the specific role of the relationship between youth and the elderly, as well as the relationship between brothers and sisters as a training ground for relating with others.
Chapter six: “Some pastoral perspectives” (199-258)
In the sixth chapter the Pope treats various pastoral perspectives that are aimed at forming solid and fruitful families according to God’s plan. The chapter use the Final Reports of the two Synods and the catecheses of Pope Francis and Pope John Paul II extensively. It reiterates that families should not only be evangelized, they should also evangelize. The Pope regrets “that ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families” (AL 202). On the one hand, the psycho-affective formation of seminarians needs to be improved, and families need to be more involved in formation for ministry (cf. AL 203); and on the other hand, “the experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy could also be drawn upon” (AL 202).
The Pope then deals with the preparation of the engaged for marriage; with the accompaniment of couples in the first years of married life, including the issue of responsible parenthood; and also with certain complex situations and crises, knowing that “each crisis has a lesson to teach us; we need to learn how to listen for it with the ear of the heart” (AL 232). Some causes of crisis are analysed, among them a delay in maturing affectively (cf. AL 239).
Mention is furthermore made of accompanying abandoned, separated or divorced persons. The Exhortation stresses the importance of the recent reform of the procedures for marriage annulment. It highlights the suffering of children in situations of conflict and concludes: “Divorce is an evil and the increasing number of divorces is very troubling. Hence, our most important pastoral task with regard to families is to strengthen their love, helping to heal wounds and working to prevent the spread of this drama of our times” (AL 246). It then touches on the situations of a marriage between a Catholic and a Christian of another denomination (mixed marriages), and between a Catholic and someone of another religion (disparity of cult). Regarding families with members with homosexual tendencies, it reaffirms the necessity to respect them and to refrain from any unjust discrimination and every form of aggression or violence. The last, pastorally poignant part of the chapter, “When death makes us feel its sting”, is on the theme of the loss of dear ones and of widowhood.
Chapter seven: “Towards a better education of children” (259-290)
The seventh chapter is dedicated to the education of children: their ethical formation, the learning of discipline which can include punishment, patient realism, sex education, passing on the faith and, more generally, family life as an educational context. The practical wisdom present in each paragraph is remarkable, above all the attention given to those gradual, small steps “that can be understood, accepted and appreciated” (AL 271).
There is a particularly interesting and pedagogically fundamental paragraph in which Francis clearly states that “obsession, however, is not education. We cannot control every situation that a child may experience… If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges. What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy” (AL 260).
The notable section on education in sexuality is very expressively entitled: “Yes to sex education”. The need is there, and we have to ask “if our educational institutions have taken up this challenge … in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialized and impoverished”. Sound education needs to be carried out “within the broader framework of an education for love, for mutual self-giving” (AL 280). The text warns that the expression ‘safe sex’ conveys “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” (AL 283).
Chapter eight: “Guiding, discerning and integrating weakness” (291-312)
The eighth chapter is an invitation to mercy and pastoral discernment in situations that do not fully match what the Lord proposes. The Pope uses three very important verbs: guiding, discerning and integrating, which are fundamental in addressing fragile, complex or irregular situations. The chapter has sections on the need for gradualness in pastoral care; the importance of discernment; norms and mitigating circumstances in pastoral discernment; and finally what the Pope calls the “logic of pastoral mercy”.
Chapter eight is very sensitive. In reading it one must remember that “the Church’s task is often like that of a field hospital” (AL 291). Here the Holy Father grapples with the findings of the Synods on controversial issues. He reaffirms what Christian marriage is and adds that “some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way”. The Church therefore “does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage” (AL 292).
As far as discernment with regard to “irregular” situations is concerned, the Pope states: “There is a need ‘to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations’ and ‘to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress because of their condition’” (AL 296). And he continues: “It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community, and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy” (AL 297). And further: “The divorced who have entered a new union, for example, can find themselves in a variety of situations, which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment” (AL 298).
In this line, gathering the observations of many Synod Fathers, the Pope states that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal”. “Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services… Such persons need to feel not as excommunicated members of the Church, but instead as living members, able to live and grow in the Church… This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbringing of their children” (AL 299).
In a more general vein, the Pope makes an extremely important statement for understanding the orientation and meaning of the Exhortation: “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations, … it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is needed is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since ‘the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases’, the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same” (AL 300). The Pope develops in depth the needs and characteristics of the journey of accompaniment and discernment necessary for profound dialogue between the faithful and their pastors.
For this purpose the Holy Father recalls the Church’s reflection on “mitigating factors and situations” regarding the attribution of responsibility and accountability for actions; and relying on St. Thomas Aquinas, he focuses on the relationship between rules and discernment by stating: “It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that, precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule” (AL 304).
The last section of the chapter treats “The logic of pastoral mercy”. To avoid misunderstandings, Pope Francis strongly reiterates: “To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown” (AL 307).
The overall sense of the chapter and of the spirit that Pope Francis wishes to impart to the pastoral work of the Church is well summed up in the closing words: “I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.” (AL 312).
On the “logic of pastoral mercy”, Pope Francis emphasizes: “At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311).
Chapter nine: “The spirituality of marriage and the family” (313-325)
The ninth chapter is devoted to marital and family spirituality, which “is made up of thousands of small but real gestures” (AL 315). The Pope clearly states that “those who have deep spiritual aspirations should not feel that the family detracts from their growth in the life of the Spirit, but rather see it as a path which the Lord is using to lead them to the heights of mystical union” (AL 316). Everything, “moments of joy, relaxation, celebration, and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection” (AL 317). He then speaks of prayer in the light of Easter, of the spirituality of exclusive and free love in the challenge and the yearning to grow old together, reflecting God’s fidelity (cf. AL 319). And finally the spirituality of care, consolation and incentive: the Pope teaches that “all family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others” (AL 322). It is a profound “spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them” (AL 323).
In the final paragraph the Pope affirms: “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love … All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. (…) May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us” (AL 325).
The Apostolic Exhortation concludes with
A Prayer to the Holy Family.
* * *
As can readily be understood from a quick review of its contents, the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia seeks emphatically to affirm not the “ideal family” but the very rich and complex reality of family life. Its pages provide an openhearted look, profoundly positive, which is nourished not with abstractions or ideal projections, but with pastoral attention to reality. The text is a close reading of family life, with spiritual insights and practical wisdom useful for every human couple or persons who want to build a family. Above all, it is patently the result of attention to what people have lived over many years. The Exhortation Amoris Laetitia: On Love in the Family indeed speaks the language of experience and of hope.
[00534-EN.01] [Original text: English]
In the Jubilee of Mercy
Presentation of the post synodal Apostolic exhortation of the Holy Father Francis
on love in the family
at a Press Conference in the Vatican today, Friday, 8th April 2016
I am happy and honoured to present the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which Pope Francis signed on 19 March, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, and which is made public today said Card. Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops.
For Amoris Laetitia to be released in the very midst of the Jubilee of Mercy is significant, and to this the text refers three times, directly citing the Bull of Indiction Misericordiae Vultus six times. The document crowns the two years of work of the Synod, whose broad reflection has included all dimensions of the family institution, which today suffers from severe crises throughout the entire world. Human societies, marked by conflict and violence, need reconciliation and pardon starting with their vital core: the family. The Jubilee of Mercy is truly good news for families of every continent, especially those which are wounded and humiliated.
The title Amoris Laetitia (AL) is in continuity with that of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (EG): from the joy of the Gospel to the joy of love in the family. The synodal process has presented the beauty of the family by speaking of love. This constitutes the foundation of the family institution, because God is love among Persons, Trinity and not solitude. In this document, the Holy Father deepens the “gospel of marriage and the family” (AL 89) and offers concrete pastoral orientations which, in continuity with the previous EG, take on new dynamism and value.
“The various interventions of the Synod Fathers, to which I paid close heed, made up, as it were, a multifaceted gem” (AL 4) – writes the Holy Father, evoking the geometric design of the polyhedron already used in EG (cf. 236). In fact, the results of the Synod Fathers’ work brings together the diversity of experiences and points of view of the particular Churches. Disputes between different opinions took place with freedom and openness, which allowed an almost unanimous outcome to be achieved.
The principle according to which “time is greater than space” (EG, 222-225; Al, 3, 261) suggests that time is needed and there are different ways to find the best solutions to the different situations. In this regard, the Exhortation says: “Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it” (AL, 3). For example, the text refers to three prime situations in which the passage of time is necessary: in preparation for marriage (cf. AL, 205-216); in the education of children (cf. AL, 261); in mourning a death in the family (cf. AL, 255).
The key to reading
In full harmony with the Jubilee period that the Church is living, a suitable key for reading the document is “the logic of pastoral mercy” (AL, 307-312). The Holy Father clearly affirms the doctrine of marriage and the family, especially in ch. III, and he proposes it as an indispensable ideal. Referring to young people, he states: “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur. […] Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral care to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown” (AL, 307). On the other hand, the Pope does not overlook the fragility of families and even their failure. From EG (n. 44): “Without detracting from the evangelical ideal, there is a need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively appear”, making room for “the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best” (AL, 308).
The Exhortation is made up of nine chapters, subdivided into 325 paragraphs with 391 notes and the final prayer to the Holy Family. The Holy Father explains the development of the document (cf. AL, 6): the prologue, inspired by Sacred Scripture (ch. I), gives the appropriate tone to the document and leads to considering the current situation of families (ch. II), in light of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family (ch. III). He then treats love in marriage (ch. IV) which becomes fruitful in the family (chap. V); this is the heart of the document. Some pastoral perspectives follow for building solid and fruitful families according to God’s plan (ch. VI) and to improve the education of children (ch. VII). Chapter VIII is an invitation to mercy and pastoral discernment when facing situations that do not fully meet the ideal that the Lord proposes. The Exhortation concludes with some guidelines on family spirituality (ch. IX).
In the introduction, Pope Francis himself explains the reason for the inevitable length of the text. Reflecting the synodal journey, the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation would necessarily include not only the questions strictly connected to the family, but also a wide variety of related topics. The length and detail of the text require leisurely reading, not necessarily continuous, and various readers may select according to their specific interests (cf. AL, 7).
Amoris Laetitia is a further outstanding expression of the pontificate of Pope Francis; it is a splendid synthesis and points towards further horizons. The fundamental basis of the Exhortation is made up of the final documents of the two synodal assemblies on the family: 52 citations from the Synod Report (Relatio Synodi) 2014 and 84 from the Final Report (Relatio Finalis) 2015, for a total of 136. In this way the Holy Father attributes great importance to collegial and synodal work, welcoming it and integrating it.
Furthermore, the text makes numerous references to the Fathers of the Church (St. Leo the Great and St. Augustine), to medieval and modern theologians (St. Thomas, cited 19 times; St. Dominic, Blessed Jordan of Saxony; Alexander of Hales; St. Ignatius of Loyola, 3 times; St. Robert Bellarmine; St. John of the Cross); to contemporary authors (Joseph Pieper, Antonin Sertillanges, Gabriel Marcel, Erich Fromm, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Mario Benedetti, Martin Luther King). Among the documents of previous Popes are mentioned, for example: Casti Connubii of Pius XI; Mystici Corpori Christi of Pius XII; Humanae Vitae of Blessed Paul VI (twice directly plus 4 times in other documents cited in the text); the Catechesis on Human Love (23 times) and Familiaris Consortio (21 times + 6) of St. John Paul II; Deus Caritas Est of Benedict XVI (9 times + 1). The Second Vatican Council is well cited (22 times + 6), as is The Catechism of the Catholic Church (13 times + 2). Moreover, in addition to the citations of Evangelii gaudium (16 + 1), there are 50 citations from Pope Francis’ catecheses on the family at general audiences. Finally, other documents of the Holy See are cited 12 times and documents of Episcopal Conferences 10 times.
Worth noting are the expressions the Holy Father uses to acknowledge the relevance of the work undertaken during two years by the Bishops of the whole world with their Churches, when he says “I support” (AL, 297), “I am in agreement with” (AL, 299), “I consider very fitting” (AL, 302). He refers explicitly to the Synod or to the Synod Fathers about 20 times.
1) In an era of global crisis in which families often suffer, the Exhortation takes a positive look at the beauty of married love and the family. The space dedicated to love and to its fertility, particularly in chapters IV and V, is an original contribution, both for the overall content and for the way of presenting it. Each expression of love in the hymn to love of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) is a spiritual and existential meditation on the life of the spouses, sketched with wise insight, by an experienced spiritual guide who encourages growth in conjugal love.
2) The Bishop has the task of leading the people of God, following the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd who “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). The pastoral ministry of the Bishop also involves the exercise of judicial power. The Holy Father has defined this through the two Motu Proprio, Mitis iudex Dominus Iesus e Mitis et misericors Iesus, as follows: “With these, I wished to make clear that the Bishop himself in the Church over which he has been appointed shepherd and head, is by that very fact the judge of those faithful entrusted to his care” (AL, 244). It follows that the Bishop, through the priests and properly trained pastoral workers, makes appropriate services available to whoever are experiencing family difficulties, crisis and failure.
3) Like any pastor, Pope Francis addresses his paternal care to the “immense variety of concrete situations” (AL, 300). Therefore, he says: “it is understandable that neither the Synod nor the Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (ibid). Since – as the Synod has affirmed – “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”, it is necessary to proceed with “a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases” (ibid).
The baptized living in a second marriage must be integrated and not excluded. In this regard the Exhortation is very clear: “Their participation can be expressed in different ecclesial services, which necessarily requires discerning which of the various forms of exclusion currently practiced […] can be surmounted” (AL, 299).
To accompany and integrate people who live in these so-called “irregular” situations, pastors need to look them in the face one by one. The document says that “priests have the duty to ‘accompany [the divorced and remarried] on the way of discernment in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church and the guidelines of the bishop’” (AL, 300). In this process of discernment, “it will be useful to make an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. The divorced and remarried should ask themselves: how did they act towards their children when the conjugal union entered into crisis; whether or not they made attempts at re-conciliation; what has become of the abandoned party; what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family and the community of the faithful; and what example is being set for young people who are preparing for marriage” (ibid). Discernment takes place through “conversation with the priest, in the internal forum, [and] contributes to the formation of a correct judgment on what hinders the possibility of a fuller participation in the life of the Church and on what steps can foster it and make it grow” (ibid).
4) From the perspective of fulfilling the ideal of marriage, the Exhortation has put great emphasis on the preparation of engaged couples for the sacrament, in order to provide “the help they need to receive the sacrament worthily and to make a solid beginning of life as a family” (AL, 207). The Pope states that, in this preparation, it is necessary to draw from the “doctrinal beliefs” and the “precious spiritual resources” of the Church as well as to have recourse to “practical programmes, sound advice, proven strategies and psychological guidance” (AL, 211).
The Exhortation also signals the need for this journey to continue after the celebration, especially in the first years of married life. The Pope reminds the newly married couple that “marriage is not something that happens once for all. […] Their gaze now has to be directed to the future that, with the help of God’s grace, they are daily called to build” (AL, 218).
5) The document states that “the Fathers also considered the specific situation of a merely civil marriage or, with due distinction, even simple cohabitation, noting that ‘when such unions attain a particular stability, legally recognized, are characterized by deep affection and responsibility for their offspring, and demonstrate an ability to overcome trials, they can provide occasions for pastoral care with a view to the eventual celebration of the sacrament of marriage’” (AL, 293).
6) In accompanying the frailties and treating the wounds, the principle of gradualness in pastoral care reflects divine teaching: how God cares for all his children, beginning with the weakest and furthest away, so “the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an imperfect manner” (AL, 78) because they all have to be integrated into the life of the ecclesial community (cf. AL, 297). The Pope states, in fact, that “no one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” (ibid).
Not limiting itself to so-called “irregular” situations, the Exhortation, therefore, opens up the wide horizon of undeserved grace and unconditional mercy for “everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves” (ibid).
In the face of the upheavals that are disrupting the world today, we discover the greatness of God and his love for all people who, constantly wounded, need to be welcomed and cared for by Christ, the Good Samaritan of humanity. From the awareness that God offers and gives mercy and that “the earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion” (CV, 6), emerges the need to go beyond the human horizon of justice with an impulse, a leap forward. This only comes from love, which becomes merciful in the face of human frailty, and is able to inspire courage and hope. The Apostolic Exhortation is set in this context. It touches the heart of the Gospel and heals the wounded person, with this expression: “Mercy is the fullness of justice and the most radiant manifestation of God’s truth” (AL, 311).