Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love): Reviewed by Aidan Hart

10/04/2016Print This Post

Pope Francis_Joy of Love review

Aidan Hart reviews Pope Francis’ latest gift to the universal Church. He sees it as “a papal document like no other; its underlying tone of God’s compassionate mercy for all human failure and its understanding of the realities and messiness of many peoples’ lives are outstanding.”

The papal Exhortation, as it is officially termed, is the result of a two-year long process of consultation within the Catholic Church. The laity were invited to complete an online questionnaire (very poorly designed and carried out) while a representative body of bishops and cardinals, and a few hand-picked lay people and married couples, were invited to two week-long conferences in Rome during which Pope Francis encouraged frank and open discussion among the clerics present. The Exhortation, entitled The Joy of Love, is Pope Francis’ thoughtful response to the results of all the consultation, including, no doubt, advice and written drafts from his advisers.

The challenge for Pope Francis was to reflect in his Exhortation on The Joy of Love the two opposing movements within today’s Catholic Church. These opposing forces were witnessed during some of the heated discussions among bishops and cardinals at the two consultative meetings in Rome. One movement wants change and development resulting from a fuller and more urgent implementation of both the documents and spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The other wants no change and a return to the security and ‘orthodoxy’, as they see it, of the pre-Vatican 11 Church. In the Exhortation Pope Francis walks successfully the tightrope between those two movements but, no doubt, not to everyone’s satisfaction. He avoids going too deeply into contentious issues, leaving some things unsaid and putting God’s mercy and forgiveness above doctrine, without ignoring the latter.

Another important sub-text of the document is the continuing decentralisation of authority within the Catholic Church. Diocesan bishops are restored to their centuries old traditional role of being in charge of local Churches, while remaining in full communion with the Pope. Part of this return of authority to diocesan bishops is for them to take account of local culture and its traditions in their handling of issues surrounding courtship and marriage and all aspects of human love.

The Joy of Love is not a typical 30 page or so encyclical in small booklet form which one might read from beginning to end in one sitting. It is a manual of 265 pages and 9 chapters;

  • Chapter 1 – In The Light of The Word
  • Chapter 2 – The Experiences And Challenges Of Families
  • Chapter 3 – Looking To Jesus: The Vocation Of The Family
  • Chapter 4 – Love In Marriage
  • Chapter 5 – Love Made Fruitful
  • Chapter 6 – Some Pastoral Perspectives
  • Chapter 7 – Towards A Better Education Of Children
  • Chapter 8 – Accompanying, Discerning And Integrating Weakness
  • Chapter 9 – The Spirituality Of Marriage And The Family

In the introduction Pope Francis advises that it will be best read in small sections at a time, slowly and deeply reflected upon and discussed thoughtfully between spouses and between engaged couples. It is an unusual blend of theology, spirituality and down-to-earth, practical psychology to help engaged and married couples live together in loving and harmonious marriages which continue to deepen the marriage relationship and to uniting the couple to Jesus the Christ. The practical psychology used by Pope Francis is refreshing. It is the type of advice a caring parent would want to give to a son or daughter preparing for marriage or going through a difficult patch in their relationship. Pope Francis has also words of wisdom for married couples in their senior years. In addition, the Exhortation will be a most useful manual for those tasked with preparing couples for marriage and for those adjudicating on Canon Law issues surrounding marriage. Every married and engaged couple should read and reflect deeply on chapter 4 – Love In Marriage.

‘The Joy of Love’ does not change Church doctrine but it has a radically different tone from many previous papal documents. The tone is one we have come to expect from Pope Francis – divine mercy. It seeks to improve the way doctrine is interpreted and applied in particular circumstances. The primacy of each person’s conscience is emphasised, as is the active and transforming presence of God in every person’s life.  Pope Francis emphasises the important, though complex,  moral concepts of  ‘the law of gradualness’ (AL 295; people growing gradually into virtue and into an understanding and appreciation of God’s grace) and ‘the difference between objective and subjective guilt’ (AL 302,303, 305). The Exhortation also emphasises the need for all people to experience the Church as the vehicle of God’s compassionate mercy, acceptance and forgiveness in all situations. Great understanding is shown for the complexities of modern living, the messiness in much of everyday life and the difficulties being faced by many married couples and young people. Life is never perfect. Nobody is to be stigmatised. The document gives great emphasis to the dignity of every human person and the need to bed Christianity into local cultures and their customs. It repeats the ruling on all sexual intercourse being open to creating new life but very importantly qualifies it by adding that the method for limiting one’s family according to a couple’s personal circumstances is totally up to the conscience of each married couple. On the vexed issue of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics being allowed to receive Holy Communion, the Exhortation recommends that the particular circumstances of each civilly remarried person’s situation be taken into account within the Internal Forum (Confession and discernment through an examination of conscience under spiritual guidance), particularly those situations in which a spouse has been physically or psychologically abused or abandoned and/or the care of children is an issue. This whole process is to be overseen and guided by each local bishop. If, however, the divorced and remarried person is living a normal, sexually active married life, other issues arise within current Catholic moral theology which the Exhortation does not address. That may come later or be allowed to develop further.

The Exhortation puts great emphasis on the family and home, the ‘domestic church’ as Pope Francis repeatedly calls it, as the primary vehicles for fostering the faith of the married couple, children and young people. However, it leaves it up to diocesan bishops to address the issue of the necessity for continuing parish programmes of adult faith-formation . These are urgently needed to help ensure that the parents who are supposed to be fostering the faith of their children have themselves an informed, vibrant and Bible-based faith to pass on.

Homosexuality is given a relatively light touch, but an important one none-the-less. The demand for gay marriage is strongly resisted. However nothing is said about the Church’s acceptance, or otherwise, of gay partnerships apart from saying that they do not equate with marriage. Pope Francis makes clear that gay people must not be discriminated against or suffer any form of aggression or violence. The issue is not addressed as to whether or not this applies to gay people who are sexually active or in committed, faithful and loving sexual relationships. In devolving increased authority to local hierarchies, as this Exhortation does, that issue is very important as some Catholic hierarchies (eg Kenyan and Indonesian, to name just two of several) have demanded jail for sexually active gay people in their countries. In giving advice to the parents of children experiencing homosexual orientation the Exhortation talks of such children or young people “receiving the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.” This may be open to interpretation. It can be seen as guidance to help the child or young person accept and cherish who they are, understand the issues that will arise for them and help them feel a full and cherished member of society and of the Catholic Church, “carrying out God’s will in their lives.” On the other hand, it could be interpreted, as has already been done on the PinkNews website, of advocating attempts to counsel and assist gay people into becoming ‘straight’ or ‘non-gay’, a process often controversially advocated and practised by some evangelical groups in America.

Tighter editing perhaps should have removed the Greek words and phrases which only serve to make access to, and understanding of, the document somewhat difficult for the ‘ordinary’ Catholic. Even terms like ‘evangelisation’ and ‘domestic church’ etc need to be explained. Most Catholics will have heard of them but few may be able to say what exactly they mean and particularly what they should mean for them personally. However, this is a minor criticism.

In conclusion, let me say again that this is a papal document like no other; its underlying tone of God’s compassionate mercy for all human failure and its understanding of the realities and messiness of many peoples’ lives are outstanding. “The Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (The Joy of Love) . This Exhortation speaks to all generations. It is very positive and practical. There are many gold nuggets of down-to-earth, practical advice throughout the Exhortation. If Catholic dioceses throughout the world build it into diocesan and parish programmes of marriage preparation and renewal it will help young and old alike to appreciate more deeply God’s vision for The Joy of Love.

Read or Download Amoris-Laetitia

Links to further reading:-
What Some Critics of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ Are Missing  by James Martin SJ  (America Magazine)
Who will bring forth Pope Francis’ vision?  by Robert Mickens (NCR)



to “Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love): Reviewed by Aidan Hart”
  1. Denise Hart says:

    An excellent article by my father. I agree that the tone of this papal document is definitely one of gentleness. I am no lover of the Catholic church having walked away due to it’s stance on homosexuality and other issues. I found it disappointing that the section on homosexuality was really rather vague and therefore, open to interpretation both positive AND negative as Aidan points out. However, I am given hope that one day, not soon I suspect, the tireless work of people like my father, other laity and forward thinking clergy will result in the church modernising and being a truly inclusive institution, regardless of gender, sexuality, marital status etc.

    • Martin Murray says:

      A modern rather than a medieval church is the dream of many of us who are hanging in there. Thank you for your honest engagement. You no doubt represent a wide constituency of opinion.

  2. Noel McCann says:

    Many thanks for your very interesting and helpful summary. Reading the full document – all 265 pages – will be a challenge for many of us given the other demands on our time.
    The decentralisation of decision-making is a central feature of the Pope’s strategy. Here again in this document he devolves responsibility for interpretation and implementation of the new approach to the local bishops.
    Hopefully our bishops will embrace the demanding challenge posed by the Pope’s policy with energy and enthusiasm but most importantly with a real sense of urgency. The lay faithful will surely support them in this mission. After all the issues involved in this instance impact in one way or another on most families. If real leadership is brought to bear locally the Pope’s initiative could herald the start of a new era. While the topics in question are not the only problems facing the church in Ireland in the 21st Century,a new era characterised by mercy and compassion in dealing with complex, human relationships and family matters may offer a real opportunity to embark on a path of church renewal. While we cannot predict the outcome, given the steady decline of the church in Ireland in recent decades, we can hardly fail to grasp the opportunity presented by The Joy of Love- in Aidan’s words “a papal document like no other”.

  3. Kevin Walters says:

    Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) is causing great discord within the Church I believe the remedy to this discord can be found in an honest response to this question
    Is an act of humility too much to ask?
    I have read
    “At this moment in time the church has two sails that are blowing in the opposite direction causing great discord within the Church. On the Right: an extreme conservative wind wanting to blow our boat back to the becalming out-of-date swamp of pre-1962. On the Left: an extreme liberal wind wanting to blow our boat into rapids where faith and morals are thrown overboard”.
    But we can go forward in UNITY OF PURPOSE by hoisting a third sail one of Humility, the true (only) sail that the Holy Spirit blows upon, bringing arrogance to its knees and folly does not have to be appeased.

    Is the true Divine Mercy Image an Image of Broken man?

    Pope Francis says we need be a Church of mercy and so we do, but more importantly we need to be a humble Church, as Gods Mercy received in humility guarantees spiritual growth, which wells up into eternal life.
    I agree with the four cardinals in that this statement from Veritatis Splendor “conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object” as God’s Word (Will) is inviolate. Individual we can only stand before His Divine Mercy in humility as we can never justify sin.

    I all so agree with this statement by Pope Francis “the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”. It’s the sick and supplicant who need the doctor, not the well and the righteous”.
    How can the two statements be reconciled “With God all things are possible” as only God can square the circle.

    Throughout history God has made His Will know to mankind through his Saints, Spiritual leaders and Prophets. And at crucial times His Will has be revealed in a way that that cannot be misunderstood by His people.
    God’s Word (Will) given to Sister Faustina
    “Paint a picture according to the vision you see and with the inscription: “Jesus, I Trust in Thee.”
    The Divine Mercy Image that the Church displays today is an affront to God, instigated by nationalistic pride and those who would pacify the powerful it has nothing to do with Trust.

    As The true Divine Mercy Image is an Image of Broken Man

    “Paint a picture according to the vision you see and with the inscription: “Jesus, I Trust in Thee.” “I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the whole world”

    Sr. Faustina acted immediately in singular (pure) intent; no one else can paint this picture, as no one else can SEE what she saw. The picture she painted, sketched, (no matter how badly) must be venerated and no other, to do so knowing it is not the painting commanded by God (His Word is inviolate) is to commit blasphemy.
    The Church acknowledges that Sr Faustina received a direct visual and verbal request to “paint an Image according to the vision you see” God’s Word is Inviolate this is our most fundamental belief and sits at the base of all the Sacraments. His Word is not open for debate it cannot contradict itself and must not be touched by man, it is impossible for it to be God’s Word (Will) and not His Word (Will) at the same time.
    For clarity the church teaches that divine revelation ended with the apostles.
    The visual and verbal request given by God to Sr. Faustina may not be an additional revelation but it is a communiqué endorsed by the Church that incorporates the direct Word (Will) of God and for that reason it is binding on the Church in that the true image painted by Sr. Faustina (one of Broken Man) must be venerated and no other.
    Sister Faustina was very poorly educated and it is fair to assume that if her superiors had accepted her painting as they should have done (they would have known that Gods Word is inviolate) she would have also. Earthly hands violated Gods Word to fit their own earthly vision of goodness as they could not accept the reality that they were been asked by God to show human weakness.
    Any revelations after the first revelation now must be considered suspect, as from that time onwards earthly hands were distorting the Word (Will) of God.
    Sister Faustina was uneducated coming from a very poor family with only three year’s very basic education. Hers were the humblest tasks in the convent. She was very innocent and trusting we can deduce this because after her first vision she immediately attempted to paint Jesus herself and for this reason I believe her vision was genuine and received in total trust.

    Her diaries reflect a particular culture and type of devotion at a particular time in the Church but are more in keeping with those who would propagate such devotions. We need to look at her spiritual advisor Fr Michal Sopocko who appears to have overseen her diaries and commissioned the first fraudulent image of Divine Mercy, and in doing so violated her trust in God.

    The Church has acknowledged that the Word (Will) of God had been given to her, its actions confirm this, we have a picture in God’s House, with the words “Jesus I trust In thee” But the picture is not the one commanded by God, it is a worldly image of goodness, it pertains to the senses and is made in man’s own image, it has nothing to do with Trust.

    The present Divine Mercy Image is a self-serving IMAGE of Clericalism, definition of CLERICALISM: a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy. Their actions show that they did not trust in His mercy and were only concerned with a worldly image of goodness, the very same problem which has led to the cover up of the on-going child abuse scandal and refusal to acknowledge its historical culture within the Church emanating from Rome.
    The original picture by Sister Faustina in its brokenness relates to spiritual beauty (goodness) as it pertains to humility. The pure (humble) in heart shall see God The True Divine Mercy image calls for the leadership of the Church to give account for themselves, before God and mankind while at the same time healing so many past and on-going injustices.

    To do this the elite within the Church need to act out these instructions given by Jesus Christ to His Church

    “I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world “

    Commencing in Rome by recapturing (Staging) the original ceremony by displaying the present self-serving blasphemous Divine Mercy Image an image of Clericalism, then remove (Destroy) it publicly and re-place it with the true image an Image of Broken Man and in humility venerate it in a symbolic way that cannot be misunderstood by mankind, then re-enact this action with the help of the bishops throughout the whole Church (World).
    If this were to happen a Transfiguration would occur within the Church at this moment in time that would resurrect the true face of Jesus Christ, a face that reflects Truth and humility before all those she is called to serve in love and compassion. From this base one of humility before God the Church can proceed to tackle many of her on-going problems/dilemmas as it would permit the Church to give access to the Sacrament of Holy Communion (Spiritual Food) to all baptised Catholics who for whatever reason apart from the sin against the Holy Spirit, who presently cannot receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation the means to do so.

    As an example; To those in second relationships, permit them to partake in Holy Communion in making a public acknowledgement of their need of God’s Divine Mercy just prior to receiving the Eucharist by venerating the true Image of Divine Mercy an image of Broken Man, saying these words from the heart publicly

    “Jesus I Trust in You”
    Then as the recipient approaches the priest for communion after his /her public confession the priest could say (or words to the effect of) “Welcome to the path/way of salvation/confession/reconciliation receive The body of Christ” in doing so acknowledging the on-going commencement to receiving the full sacrament of Reconciliation, by doing so His outward sign of inward grace His Divine Mercy is manifest at that moment in time as having been given by God Himself to the recipient before His Church (People/Faithful) full absolution has not given by the Church as they dwell in His Divine Mercy as he/she returns to his/her sinful situation (Entanglement with evil) but a journey of HOPE in that spiritual growth has commenced, this must be clearly understood by the laity in regards to the indissolubility of marriage.
    The need for the teaching on birth control in Humanae Vitae can also be strengthened by encouraging the laity who practices it, to acknowledge it openly before the Church in accepting their own human frailty, before partaking of the bread of life in Venerating The True Image of Divine Mercy an image of broken man, a reflection of themselves before God in the Eucharist. In acknowledging their dependence on His Mercy they give glory to our Father in heaven in bearing witness to the Truth, teaching others by their example to serve the Truth and walk in humility before our Creator and in doing so encourage all to confront that which enslaves mankind, our own sinfulness.

    “Paint a picture according to the vision you see and with the inscription. “Jesus I trust in thee”. I desire that this picture be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world “

    This is a missionary call instigated by our Lord to the whole Church to Evangelizing through the action of Humility, a disarming action in its honesty, that embrace all in its simplicity, as we encounter our brothers and sisters who stand and seek direction at the crossroads (Difficulties) of life.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  4. Fr. Leo Sprietsma, OFM says:

    I gather from this article that we don’t even have the ‘image’ Faustina tried to draw or paint – if she ever completed it.
    The idea that Jesus is going to make one particular rather feminized picture more favored than another is the sort of thing that makes me reject ‘visions’ such as Faustina’s.
    Popes before Polish JP2 rejected them. Nothing like a Polish Pope to make a Polish ‘saint’!

    • Aidan says:

      Fr. Leo, forgive me but I don’t see the connection of your comments about ‘image and visions’ with the above summary or with the original document by Pope Francis. Are you referring to one of the above comments? Perhaps you could expand, please.

  5. Kevin Walters says:

    Thank you Pastor Leo for your reply

    I feel that you have missed the essence of what I am saying that is that her attempt to paint Jesus would be very childlike, in effect a distorted/broken reflection of the vision she saw. This reflection is a self-reflection of herself but also a reflection of all of us before God that is one of been flawed and sinful.

    For clarity to my post above I will quote extracts of comments from another participant Michael, on another site.

    Michael said; I agree with this statement of yours. It sounds real and true….

    “We can assume that her attempt to paint the image would be very childlike in
    effect a distorted/broken reflection of the vision she saw. This
    reflection is a self-reflection of herself but also a reflection of all
    of us before God that is one of been flawed and sinful.”

    Michael’s questions

    —Where did you find out about the existence of the distorted/broken image, where can one be located?
    —Is Faustina really a saint in your opinion?
    —Why would the Church try to misrepresent her?
    —All of this undermines the credibility of the Church even further don’t you think?

    My response to Michael;

    -Initially information given to the laity in the late nineties stated
    “At first she tried to paint/sketch it herself, she was no artist and failed after man trials (Attempts), someone was found who could and did paint it”

    As with all insightful information of this nature relating to such occurrences, it is fair to assume that these attempts with many of her personal possessions would be kept by her religious order.

    “Is Faustina really a saint in your opinion?”

    She was uneducated coming from a very poor family with only three year’s very basic education. She was very innocent and trusting we can deduce this because after her first vision she immediately attempted to paint Jesus herself and for this reason I believe her vision was genuine and received in total trust. This simple trust is often seen in many of our saints.

    “Why would the Church try to misrepresent her?”

    Initially Pius XII put her writings on the Index of Prohibited Books also it has been said that her writings would still be gathering dust in a Vatican Archive, where Pope John XXIII sent them, if she were not Polish.
    I can only assume that they knew that God’s Word (Will) is inviolate and that they would have had to accept her original distorted picture in its simplicity and then venerate it throughout the whole church, this creates many problems in relation to how the church perceives herself in relationship to the forgiveness of sin (The Sacrament of absolution) also it includes the self-image of the priesthood, my post in the links (above) given draw attention to this.

    “All of this undermines the credibility of the Church even further don’t you think?”

    Yes and no as the revelation given to Sister Faustina calls for the leadership of the church to give account for themselves before God and mankind, if this were to happen these words by her would be fulfilled

    “The time will come when this work, which God so commands (will be) as though in complete ruin, and suddenly the action of God will come upon the scene with great power which will bear witness to the truth. It will be as a new splendour for the church, though it has been dormant in it from long ago”.

    My Post above, poses this question to the elite within the church (and all of us).

    Is an act of humility too much to as?

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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