WelCom May 2017:
Sharron Cole –
It is now one year since Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia, the apostolic exhortation that brought together the discussion and results of the 2014 and 2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family. It is interesting to reflect on how the Synod process and exhortation are influencing the Catholic community regionally and nationally.
Amoris Laetitia is a long document that reflects on family life and is designed to encourage families, with Francis strongly reminding the Church it should avoid simply judging people and imposing rules on them without considering their struggles. It asks the Church to:
- meet people where they are
- consider the complexities of people’s lives
- respect people’s consciences when it comes to moral decisions
Unsurprisingly, media attention has focused on Chapter 8: ‘Accompanying, discerning, and integrating weakness’, regarded as the most controversial section. Some bishops have released guidelines, which advise that following a process of discernment with an examination of conscience, integration into the Church’s life and with the pastoral guidance, the divorced and civilly remarried may have access to the sacraments. Others have released guidelines that make it clear the door remains closed. That so many are side tracked by the debate over Chapter 8 is a pity because it may mean many may not understand Amoris Laetitia is very much about a merciful, loving, welcoming, inclusive and pastoral pope and church.
Francis says pastoral care entails accepting, accompanying, discerning, reinstating; but the least refined and practised of these is discernment. He reminds us the Church is called ‘to form consciences, not to replace them’ (AL 37). Pastors need to help people not to simply follow the rules but to practise discernment.
Our forthcoming archdiocesan Synod ‘17 is encouraging synod participants to follow a discernment process in their response to synod questions. This is described in the synod document as:
‘At heart, the process begins with the belief that God wants a person, or a group, to make good, healthy and life-giving decisions; and through the “discernment of spirits”, that is, sorting out what is coming from God and what is not, one gains clarity about the best path. God, therefore, both wants and enables individuals and groups to arrive at good decisions,’ Fr James Martin sj.
Probably because Amoris Laetitia is so long, many if not most Catholics are daunted by the prospect of studying it. The best way to read the document as an individual is just to take it one chapter at a time. But more enjoyable and enlightening is to study the document in groups. The National Catholic Reporter has two excellent study guides, which are easily downloaded.
Recently, I spoke on my synod experience and Amoris Laetitia at the Archdiocesan Catholic Women’s League Congress. The congress then split into groups of about six participants and each picked a chapter, read its summary and discussed a number of questions, each linked to particular paragraphs. Some found it a little hard to get started but soon warmed to the task. This was very heartening because it is only through reading, debate, discussion and discernment that Amoris Laetitia will fulfil its purpose, which the Holy Father says will almost certainly contribute towards the growth, consolidation and holiness of the family.
Sharron Cole, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church, Petone, was one of two New Zealand lay representatives at the Synod of the Family in Rome, October 2015.