Professors Cornelius Casey, Fáinche Ryan and Michael Kirwan presented a series of lectures based upon Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family, Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love, in Loyola Institute on Saturday 9 June, each identifying what they perceived to be the positive and negative aspects of this magisterial document.
Prof Michael Kirwan began by placing Amoris Laetitia within the context of Pope Francis’ ‘Year of Mercy’, a theme later picked up and developed in Prof Fáinche Ryan’s lecture. Michael pointed out that overly pious images of the family are divorced from the reality of most family’s experiences, which, for the most part, are, at the very least, messy, and often just plain chaotic. He proceeded to explain that Jesus, in fact, often adopted an ‘anti-family’ stance towards the Jewish ideal of family, insofar as he called people to a new way of belonging, a new way of ‘being family’. Michael also explained one of Pope Francis’ favourite phrases, ‘time is greater than space’, as an openness to difference, and a refusal to shut down dialogue due to prejudicial thinking. Furthermore, time incorporates waiting, a necessary requirement when seeking solutions to resolving problems. Michael also drew attention to Pope Francis’ concept of life as a pilgrimage, a journey towards holiness. The Church’s role is to show mercy and accompany ‘the weakness of her children’.
Prof Cornelius Casey presented a thought provoking lecture beginning with a consideration of the intriguing sources Pope Francis refers to throughout his document, including references to many non-Catholics, for example, Martin Luther King, Buddhist and Hindu masters, Protestant theologians, poets, and even the film Babette’s Feast. Pope Francis also referred to points made at various bishop’s conferences across the world. Here Pope Francis is modelling the type of listening and discerning badly needed in the Church today if the authority of the Christian moral tradition is to be invigorated for contemporary times. Cornelius concluded his presentation by asking the audience to consider where Catholics might find the authority of the Catholic moral tradition after Amoris Laetitia. He suggested that the answer lies in re-imagining an alternative to the present, understood as connected with the Risen Christ, especially through the Eucharist, although, as Cornelius points out, the greatest challenge might be to imagine an alternative to consumerism. For him the most important message to take away from Amoris Laetitia is to keep the discussions open, and to keep praying for clarity.
Prof Fáinche Ryan also emphasised Pope Francis’ message of mercy, focusing on his call for the Church to accompany the weak and suffering. Mercy should never be ‘obscured by the pursuit of a supposedly pure justice’ (Amoris Laetitia, Footnote 364). This means that when marriages break down, the Church does not turn [her] back on the couple, but instead holds out the hand of mercy and love. The controversial question on whether divorced and re-married Catholics should be allowed to receive communion is best contextualised in terms of Pope Francis’ reminder that communion ‘is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.’
Concluding with a discussion on the presentation of women in Amoris Laetitia, Fáinche applauded Pope Francis’ acknowledgement of patriarchal structures within society. However, those same structures within the Church itself also need to be addressed. While Amoris Laetitia made a number of positive statements regarding the importance of feminism, the image of motherhood presented could result in the confining of women to roles dictated by their biological structures. Phrases such as “feminine genius” diminish women’s wider experience and roles.
In the final analysis, the over-riding message from this stimulating and inspiring seminar on Amoris Laetitia was Pope Francis’ emphasis on the need for open-ended dialogue and discernment, conscious always of human frailty and weakness, which seeks love and mercy, not judgement and condemnation, from the Church whose doors should always be open. “We are all left with a better understanding of Amoris Laetitia,” says Edith O Nualláin, candidate for the MPhil in Christian Theology, “and with far more questions than we had before the seminar began, which is possibly the highest form of accolade Pope Francis might have wished for.”
From left to right in photo are Michael Kirwan SJ, Fáinche Ryan, Irish Jesuit Provincial Leonard Moloney, and Cornelius Casey.