Chapter Eight finishes off with six paragraphs under the heading of “The Logic of Pastoral Mercy.” I suppose we can ask questions: What logic is this? How is this pastoral? Where’s the mercy?
Those troubled by Amoris Laetitia 305 and its footnote might find stumbling blocks continue in these paragraphs. I think it’s important to read the whole document, not only if one considers oneself a fangirl or fanboy of Pope Francis, but also if one feels unsettled. Maybe especially if one is unsettled by the Holy Father’s emphasis. Certainly sections 307 through 312 need to be read in their entirety. How do you read these words that follow?
307. In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur: “Young people who are baptized should be encouraged to understand that the sacrament of marriage can enrich their prospects of love and that they can be sustained by the grace of Christ in the sacrament and by the possibility of participating fully in the life of the Church”.(Relatio Synodi 2014, 26)
I would think there is no problem with this proposition. Sacramental marriage is an opportunity for personal enrichment as well as supernatural grace. The synod bishops endorse this, as does the pope.
I would take Pope Francis at his word here:
A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves.
Follow the Church’s prescriptions, and people will come off better in the long run. They will experience something better not only personally, but also in the realm of faith and grace.
That said, the counsel is not to water down, but to understand that people fall short of an ideal:
To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being. Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown.
What do you make of this priority of strengthening marriages? I don’t think the Holy Father is only writing of marriages in trouble. Though he might be. This seems a significant challenge to pastors: Are we expending too much energy dealing with crisis points, and not enough in acts of maintenance, sustenance, and nourishment? One pastor I knew prided himself and his staff on the “5,000-mile check-ups” they offered to willing newlyweds. Extending that metaphor a bit, does February 14th serve as an opportunity to look under the hood, or when we gather for lovers’ nights is it more about admiring our shiny exteriors, and maybe burnishing the finish? Maybe instead we might consider the real possibility that the innards of our relationships need some tending and care.