To say that much has been said regarding Pope Francis’s 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia would be like saying that Saint Thomas Aquinas asked a lot of questions in the Summa Theologica. (Especially as a lay Dominican, I hope that this analogy suffices – if not, then the Summa reliably alludes to several more.) I read Amoris Laetitia upon its release in the English language, and was edified by the Pope’s insights and tone. However, over the last two years, what I have not observed to a widespread extent is what should be a ready recourse by theologians to a paragraph that has easily been the most overlooked.

The segment to which I am referring actually occurs rather early in Amoris Laetitia, in the introductory section of the apostolic exhortation, and comprises the second paragraph, which reads as follows:

The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in today’s world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family. The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual and pastoral questions. The thinking of pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church, honest, realistic and creative, will help us to achieve greater clarity. 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)

The part of the second paragraph to which I would like to draw your attention is the last two sentences (go back and read them again, if you need to). In other words, Amoris Laetitia makes the clearest sense when considered in light of the Church’s broader teachings on the sacrament of marriage. Far from a call to overhaul to a paradigmatic degree the Lord’s teachings as they appear in Matthew 19:1-12 (cf. Mark 10:1-12), Amoris Laetitia is best read in light of its evaluation by faithful bishops. As such, I would encourage you to read the pastoral advice offered by three prelates who have given us a beautifully clear elucidation of the implications of Amoris Laetitia and what it calls for in localized realms of the universal Church:

These three documents are, of course, not the only substantive ones that have been issued on Amoris Laetitia. Rather, they are exemplary – I thus offer them as epitomes of “clarity with charity,” intended to accompany the faithful in light of the Church’s teaching on marriage, which has stood the test of time insofar as it reflects Christ’s own instructions. As explicated within the Catechism and in pastoral letters such as the USCCB’s 2009 document Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan, the Church continues to emphasize the permanentfaithful, and fruitful union of husband and wife that constitutes the sacrament of matrimony.

Simultaneously, as marriage encounters novel challenges (and other dilemmas that will surely come) in the modern era, may we continue to look to the example of – as well as, of course, ask for the intercession of – the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in order to fortify married couples, their families, society broadly, and the kingdom of God by extension.