Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
My husband and I spent our free time the weekend after the release of Amoris Laetitia reading the document, and we would both say that it was really good for our marriage. We liked what we read in the document about marriage and family life as it was full of theological truths and many times practical ways to live out marriage. We have also had many conversations with friends about the document, read many commentaries of it, discussed what really is going on with Chapter 8 (which I am not going to add to the buzz there). One of the concerns a friend had (besides all the issues surrounding Chapter 8) was that the pope really did not state anything new about marriage. What was the whole point of the document if he was just going to reiterate the same teachings on marriage that the Church has always held?
There are many explanations of AL all over the internet, and of them the ones I have found most informative are the ones like Cardinal Burke’s that say that the Pope is not giving new teachings with a post-synodal exhortation. He is addressing what he sees to be a current crisis, that of marriage and the family. He is concerned that people are not getting married, that families are breaking apart, and that people are not having many children. If one really looks at the meat of the document, one will find so much to encourage people in marriage, so much to build up marriages. And it has all been said before, but it needs to be said again. The truths about marriage need to be stated again and again and again in order for marriages to become holy.
Pope Francis reached into the tradition of the Church and collected into his document so many beautiful things about marriage and family life. I found chapter three particularly inspiring as Pope Francis compiled the teachings of previous popes. He took the synods final Relatio and brought in Pope St. John Paul II, Pope St. Leo XIII, Gaudium et Spes, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Paul VI, and his own writing to show how beautiful the Sacrament of marriage is meant to be and how it really is for the sanctification of the spouses and their children. I love this paragraph written by Pope Francis:
“The common life of husband and wife, the entire network of relations that they build with their children and the world around them, will be steeped in and strengthened by the grace of the sacrament. For the sacrament of marriage flows from the incarnation and the paschal mystery, whereby God showed the fullness of his love for humanity by becoming one with us. Neither of the spouses will be alone in facing whatever challenges may come their way. Both are called to respond to God’s gift with commitment, creativity, perseverance and daily effort. They can always invoke the assistance of the Holy Spirit who consecrated their union, so that his grace may be felt in every new situation that they encounter.” (AL 74)
He gave us a beautiful picture of what it should be like, and he, I think, does it accurately. So much of what he talks about I have experienced in my own life. I have witnessed great models of Christian Marriage in my own extended family, grandparents who attend daily Mass, have raised children in the Church who have remained in the Church, who have their own beautiful Catholic families. As I read through the document, I thought, “Yes, yes, yes, I have seen this lived!” And it is beautiful, and Christ really is present in those marriages. The pope wrote this for these marriages, to help them become even better.
I have also witnessed and known of people in broken marriages, those who have been granted annulments, those who have been unjustly abandoned, those who have had to obtain legal divorce for the safety of their children. And it is sad and hard to see those things, to see people I love in horrible situations. But these people have also had great faith, and loved the Church, and sought healing in the Church. These awful things did not keep them from seeking their final end of union with God. The pope wrote this for the people in these marriages and families to encourage them and comfort them.
This document is for everyone, we all have a family of some sort, we all have parents, relatives, those who have raised us, and many of us have a spouse and children. It is something that can build us up as a Church. We can take its advice and make our family lives better, build them up, bring healing to those who are hurt, and seek a deeper conversion within ourselves. If the crisis of marriage and the family is going to be overcome, it has to start with one family and marriage at a time.
Pope Francis said in Amoris Laetitia how important it is to have good conversations in family life, and reading this document could be just what families need:
“Finally, let us acknowledge that for a worthwhile dialogue we have to have something to say. This can only be the fruit of an interior richness nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer and openness to the world around us. Otherwise, conversations become boring and trivial. When neither of the spouses works at this, and has little real contact with other people, family life becomes stifling and dialogue impoverished.” (AL 141)
However you are feeling about the document, disappointment, excitement, suspicion, fear, anger, or hope, let it be for you, to bring you closer to God, to make your family life better. Take time to read all of it, even if it takes you months to get through. Discuss it with your family. Pray about the truths of marriage that it contains. Learn how to better accompany each other. It will help you live a holier family life.