This post isn't really about Amoris laetitia, since I haven't read it yet. Yes, I've looked over it, and yes, of course, I've taken a look at the parts that touch on the 'hot button' issues. When my regular travels in the coming week take me by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana on the via di Propaganda, I'll pick up a nice, physical copy and start to give to the exhortation the careful reading it deserves.
First impressions brought up a memory for me. One day, during my first experience in religious life, I sat down with my journal to express a frustrating confusion. I asked myself, in the language I had then, if it was possible to be both a "compassionate minister" and a "faithful Catholic." I wanted it to be possible; indeed I needed it to be possible. But in the world to which I was being introduced it seemed like these things couldn't go together. Compassionate pastoral care of people who, for example, lived with same-sex attraction or who were divorced and civilly remarried, or in any way found that their particular circumstances left them in a less than perfectly serene relationship with what the Church teaches (and isn't that all of us!), meant that you had to at least water down what the Church taught, if not dismiss it altogether. To adhere to what the Church taught meant not being able to be kind or welcoming or compassionate.
I was still a new convert and I desired very much to embrace what the Catholic Church proposed. I was also discerning a call to religious life, and in the sort of religious life to which I felt attracted, this meant a life of professional ministry. How was it possible that these things didn't fit together? This sort of confusion was no small part of the difficulties that led to my having to leave my first religious community.
Pope Francis makes me happy because it seems to me that this is exactly what he insists on. The Church must not fail to propose, preach, and call people to the ideals that she teaches, for it is in these that human persons, relationships, and societies will find their health and salvation. But on the other hand, the Church's pastors must treat each person and situation according to its particular circumstances, as the tangled and mysterious reality of blessedness and brokenness that all of us and all our relationships are. Of course this means that pastoral care is hard work, requiring great attention and discernment. For those who have the care of souls, it means rejecting both the laziness of being nice so as not to have to challenge when it might serve someone's salvation, as well as the laziness of rigidity, which begins to forget that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, and which prefers clear and distinct categories to the (blessed) messiness of real lives.
I love how Pope Francis, in presenting his teaching as he does, offers something to disappoint Catholic factions on all sides. Nor does his doctrine fit easily into a headline or a sound bite, and so the world won't get it either. But as someone I know who is close to him says, one of the most remarkable things about Pope Francis is that he is a man without fear. Amen.
More to come.