In three days, the Vatican releases the Pope Francis post-synod document Amoris Laetitia–in the vernacular, the Joy of Love. Lots of ink and screen pixels have been spent on the topic of the family. Nothing really significant here, but a few thoughts …
Readers here know my sticking point on adoption. Millions of the world’s children languish without permanent families. With no institutional effort to provide for girls and boys already born, the Church’s witness as pro-life and pro-family is severely muted. These young people, aged from infancy to late adolescence, are invisible to too many otherwise good believers. Many people are hung up on the Church’s sexism. But I’d say that the bias against age is deeper, broader, and more insidious.
The Christian sacramental system adopted marriage. Eventually. Marriage was first a biological, then a social/cultural reality. It continues to change as we move from considerations of family and inheritance to love, choice, and personal economics. The human aspect of marriage can end. Spouses can be separated by choice, by force, or by failing to grasp personal change, illness, or other human factors.
Maybe we need to look at positives first. More marriages last longer today because people live longer. Many couples transcend challenges that would test stability, if not virtue, in others. First world men today also spend much more time with their children than their fathers and grandfathers did. The variety and quantity of institutional efforts to form and maintain believers in marriage has never been greater. A lot of people are doing good work, so that needs to be recognized and celebrated.
One aspect lacking in both broken marriages and in the institutional church is trust. Spouses distrust one another. Priests and laypeople. Bishops, pastors, and theologians. Left and right. Rome and everywhere else. I wonder if the root problem of the family isn’t reflected more in the lack of trust throughout the Church.
I think the institutional church needs to sort out its ambivalence. A lack of recognition of families among the recognized Communion of Saints. Tunnel vision on 1 Corinthians 11. Sexism. There are a lot of blunders that hamper the recognition of some bishops and theologians as credible witnesses for the family. And more importantly, for holiness.
What do I expect from Amoris Laetitia? I expect a good start. Not a final word on families. Something to build on for the decades ahead. It will be good that the work ahead will be harder than what we’ve done so far.