Reaction to Pope Francis' recent apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love") has drawn praise from throughout the world including here in Vermont.
"In a lot of ways, the document sets a tone of trying to bring all of us closer to Christ, through our relationships with family, spouses, children and the Church," said Father Daniel Jordan, judicial vicar and a Tribunal judge for the Diocese of Burlington. "It acknowledges our brokenness in places but also acknowledges that God loves us and is here to help us grow."
The document is the pope's reflection on the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which addressed all aspects of family life and included contentious discussions about under what circumstances divorced and remarried Catholics could receive Communion.
It does not offer any new rules or norms. Rather, Pope Francis urges careful reflection on ministry to families and, especially, greater consideration in the language and attitude used when working with those who do not fully live Church teaching.
"The document is also meant to foster dialogue between the people of God and their pastors," Father Jordan said.
The overarching theme that struck him while reading the document is how it discusses the beauty of marriage and love. He will likely give a copy of the document to the engaged couples he works with to ponder the beauty of the commitment that is marriage.
Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne. "What initially strikes me is that Pope Francis has woven a beautiful portrait of the Church's vision for marriage and family life."
"I think that by and large, the average Catholic is going to find that what the pope is saying here is very arresting and new and creative and imaginative," Archbishop Blase J. Cupich of Chicago said at a news conference April 8, the day the document was released at the Vatican. "He is saying things they haven't heard before with regard to the Church."
For instance, individuals in shaping their conscience take responsibility, and nobody can come in and in some way try to replace that conscience, he noted. "He talks about the need for families to be tolerant with each other in situations where people's lives are not perfect so that we don't separate ourselves and judge."
This is not about a reform of rules. This is about a reform of Church," the archbishop added.
Carrie Handy, respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington, pointed out that Pope Francis "resoundingly affirms Catholic teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, on openness to children and on the sanctity of life at all stages."
As a Catholic wife of 30 years and as a parent, she found the document encouraging. "Chapter 4, with its discussion of St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians passages on love, resonated very strongly with my own experience," she said. "I think that part could be used in Pre Cana [marriage] preparation."
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston said "Amoris Laetitia" is a joyful invitation for families to live the works of mercy and to receive the gift of God's healing where there is sin and brokenness. "As he has done time and again, Pope Francis challenges us to approach the weak with compassion, to 'enter into the reality of other people's lives and to know the power of tenderness.'"
Bishop Peter A. Libasci of Manchester, N.H., commented that sometimes what the Church actually teaches and why it holds these teachings is not communicated as effectively as others' perceptions of who and what Catholics are about. "That is exactly why Pope Francis calls upon us to make a bold effort: so that all Catholics–indeed all people of good will–will see the effort that the Church is making to be close to them, regardless of what their situation might be or how alienated from the Church they may feel," he said.
Read Amoris Laetitia
Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer, and Catholic News Service.
Cori Urban is a longtime writer for the communications efforts of the Diocese of Burlington and former editor of The Vermont Catholic Tribune.