Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Like (I strongly suspect) the vast majority of commentators who have commented publicly on the new apostolic exhortation, I have not read Amoris Laetitia carefully and in its entirety. I've read a fair bit of commentary, though . . . which reminds me of one of my favorite bits from the (wonderful) film, Metropolitan:
Audrey Rouget: What Jane Austen novels have you read?
Tom Townsend: None. I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it's all just made up by the author.
Anyway, three "quick takes":
First, the document is too long. It just is. (Another film reference . . . "too many notes.") It's length makes it less likely that it will have the pastoral and evangelical effects that I believe the Holy Father wants it to have. Few lay people will read the whole thing and -- I strongly suspect -- not even all conscientious, well-meaning, pastorally-minded priests will read the whole thing, either. This means that the document's "message" will, unfortunately, be in no small part a function of spinners and quote-hunters, whose goals in spinning and quote-hunting might not be the same as Pope Francis's.
Second, as I've noted on some other occasions, regarding the reactions among commentators to Pope Francis's statements and writings, I'm seeing -- and, to be clear, it might not be a representative sample -- a disappointing amount of "this document is great because it's making those I disagree with politically and in the Church uncomfortable and angry." I understand, entirely, the appeal of schadenfreude but if one's analysis, evaluation, and reception of the document are simply a function of that emotion, then it could well be that it is one, and not one's opponents, who doesn't "get" Pope Francis.
Third, and more substantively. I share the concern -- and not, I feel confident, because my "heart" is particularly "hard" on these matters -- that the document is making so much (again, in the limited parts I've read) of the importance of not letting "rules" get in the way of mercy, accompaniment, invitation, evangelization, etc., that it will be read as suggesting that the truths and goods that the Church's "rules" reflect and serve are themselves the obstructions and stumbling blocks. It is, for example, the Truth about the Eucharist, and not only a rule about receiving it, that is implicated in debates about whether those who are in second civil marriages may receive it. (To say this is not to be the "pharisee," nor is it to disagree with the Holy Father that the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.")
One more thing: As someone who hates "Valentine's Day" (as it is celebrated in the United States), I wish the Holy Father had given it a big, fat anathema.