Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Amoris Laetitia: Our Daily Love

 I have long held the view that, in my own lifetime, we have been gifted with the Successors of Peter who uniquely correspond to the needs of the Church of their time. They have been different in their backgrounds and in the styles in which they exercise their pontificate. Where, before being elected Pope, St John Paul II was a philosopher and Pope Benedict XVI a theologian, Pope Francis was a pastor of a diocese. A particular feature of Pope Francis' pontificate has been his ability to speak to ordinary, practical circumstances, and it is this aspect of Amoris Laetitia that has been somewhat neglected. A section headed "Our Daily Love" (nn.90ff) exemplifies this aspect of the Apostolic Exhortation.

This section can be read as an application of St Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to the practicalities of married life. Under the heading "Love bears all things" (nn.112-113), Pope Francis writes:

Married couples joined by love speak well of each other; they try to show their spouse's good side, not their weakness and faults. In any event, they keep silent rather than speak ill of them.  This is not merely a way of acting in front of others; it springs from an interior attitude. Far from ingenuously claiming not to see the problems and weaknesses of others, it sees those weaknesses and faults in a wider context. It recognises these failing are part of a bigger picture. We have to realise that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows..... Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it... Love coexists with imperfection. 

There is, of course, a risk that not speaking ill of a spouse does become "a way of acting in front of others". The "interior attitude" that makes it otherwise is something to be achieved rather than something to be assumed. But learning to live with the imperfections of the other is something important for both marriage and for any long-lasting friendship. 

Under the heading "Love believes all things", Pope Francis reflects on the importance of trust between a married couple: 

This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person to follow their every step lest the escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships... Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood and lies.

 At a time when our society is becoming more aware of the risks of controlling relationships, Pope Francis' messaging has a particular usefulness for young people. In their friendships as they grow up, they can try to experience this freedom in preparation for the future; and in preparing for marriage, in the period of engagement, they can learn to practise it with their future spouse.

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