Reading the various reactions of commentators on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) would leave the average Catholic (like me) in a complete tizzy.
Did they read the same exhortation that I read? Or are we seeing the usual predictable and required spin which zealots use to advance their own personal agendas? I sat up half the night reading what I thought was a beautiful and practical series of insights into the meaning of sacramental marriage and family and love and sacrifice and holiness and God.
I saw soaring advice for married lovers. I saw the beauty of a woman — and the gallantry of a man. I saw marital counseling worthy of wrinkled, experienced professionals (again like me). I saw the glory of having children. I saw deep meaning in adopting an unwanted baby. I saw a magnificent commentary on love as written so gloriously in 1 Cor 13 by the blessed apostle Paul. For most of the approximately-260 pages, the message and “exhortation” are filled with compassion, mercy and truth. Such thought is the great bulk of the letter. With warm, loving invitation far down in the text, Pope Francis suggests to those who are alienated how to get closer to Jesus — which struck me as the central thrust in understanding what he is saying.
Whether married in the Church or not, there are pastoral ways of bringing Jesus into one’s life. The Church has been doing such pastoral practice for centuries, even if quietly. One cannot, after reading this letter, easily run away from the Lord.
There also is a warm, loving nod to same-sex attracted people who need and want love and intimacy, as does every child of Adam and Eve. Some say he goes too far, or not far enough. Or they are deeply disappointed. It goes on and on.
Perhaps we must patiently reread and think and pray over this remarkable document that, I predict, will the be the shining star of this pontificate.
Paulist Fr. James Lloyd, age 95, is the oldest-living Paulist Father. He resides at the Paulist Fathers Motherhouse on West 59th Street in New York City, just blocks from where he grew up on Manhattan’s West Side. He holds a Ph.D. in psychology from New York University.