Sunday, April 24, 2016

Amoris Laetitia and the Missing Word

The Exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been out for a few weeks now. I've done several hours of reading and analysis on it, including a word cloud:

Which gives us a phrase that I'd call the central message of this Exhortation: Family Can Love Life.

But what nags me isn't what is in this most excellent description of the state of marriage in the world. Even the "problematic" Chapter 8 is at least talking about the real experience some people have with irregular, less than ideal marriage. No, what bugs me is one word that was left out:


It occurs to me though that there are two possible explanations for this word being missing, one of which is mildly irritating, and the second of which is downright frightening:

1. Mildly irritating to those of us in North America and Europe who are serious about our marriages and faith is that our small-t traditional language of sin and repentance is a foreign concept to Pope Francis. Not that he doesn't have the concept, but that he doesn't have the language. Sin and repentance in Latin America are considered private- the seal of the confessional inviolate in a way that does not occur in the United States. People don't talk about their sin, let alone repentance for sin- it's all hidden away behind the door of the confessional. So charitably, it was left out of the exhortation simply because people don't talk about it. Which leads us to the more frightening conclusion, at least to me.

2. This is a Synodal Exhortation- which means a small representative of Bishops met to discuss these issues *as they see them in their ministry*. They had non-Bishops speak as well, but even then, we're talking an extremely small representative sample. Still, hundreds of people spoke. But it is possible, that in all those people, we did not have a single one who understood the great role repentance plays in marriage- especially in the ideal form of marriage where divorce isn't a possibility.

Oddly enough, it is in those communities and cultures in the global north- in North America, in Europe and Asia- where the lack of repentance is exactly what has gone wrong with marriage. Thanks to no-fault divorce laws- which are completely unthinkable in Latin America and Africa, though sadly Australia joins in with the north on this topic- experiences of repentance in family are dying. Individualism, the individualism Pope Francis rightly says destroys marriage, destroys repentance first. It is the inability of the individual spouses to repent that destroys a family.

I fear that #2 is more true than #1- one doesn't get to be a priest, let alone a Pope, without learning to speak of repentance. And if #2 is the real reason- what a sad state of the family we live in today.

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