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What Do We Do About the Amoris Laetitia Debate?

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By Chris Sparks (Apr 6, 2017)
Many Catholics have been watching the discussion surrounding Amoris Laetitia with mounting alarm. Many others believe that the Church's practice when it comes to the divorced and remarried has changed.

No matter where you stand, though, I think there's a certain sense that it's largely a debate amongst the clergy, that it already has had and will have a huge impact on the Church across the world, and that it's all very important ... but what can we laypeople do about it?

If you find yourself focused on the controversy, thinking about it, tracking every back and forth between the cardinals, the Vatican, the bishops' conferences, and whoever else takes a stand, stop, take a deep breath. Then embrace the following truly useful practices.

1) Pray and fast. Everyone involved in this discussion needs prayer, whether they're right or wrong, well-meaning or ill-intentioned. I pass no judgments here; I'm merely making the point that Jesus made it very clear in the Gospels that Christians should be praying for everyone. In fact, we're commanded to pray for our enemies, to do good to those who persecute us, and to shower the good and the bad alike with grace through prayer and fasting (see Mt 5:43-48). Why? Because for a human being to be truly blessed, to truly receive good things, is to love God and neighbor and to serve the truth. If our enemies are blessed by God, they will eventually become our friends, our brothers. Enmity will pass away, for if we are in the wrong, we will be set right, by God's grace, through our prayers; if our enemies are in the wrong, they will be set right, by God's grace, through our prayers. So pray and fast for everyone involved in the controversy, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten all their minds and guide all their hearts.

2) Live. There's a whole lot more to Amoris Laetitia, the synods on the family, and Pope Francis' focus on the family than simply a footnote and Chapter 8 of the apostolic exhortation, after all! The family is in crisis around the world, with record numbers of divorcing couples, neglected older relatives, fundamental confusion about the nature and purpose of marriage, and more plaguing the world. Your second most valuable contribution to this whole discussion, after prayer and fasting, is to love your family. Do the basics: Attend Sunday Mass as a family. Make sure your whole family has the opportunity for regular Confession, religious education, and Christian fellowship. Pray the Rosary as a family. Eat dinner as a family. Love each other. Take care of each other. In your immediate and extended family, heal broken relationships with others where you can, and enfold them in prayer and fasting where you can't. Be merciful to one another, and protect the innocent or the weak from the strong. Ask for help if it's needed from priests or counselors. Do what's necessary to heal, build, and strengthen your family. Attend family reunions, and host them or help out. Perform the works of mercy for family members. If you've drifted away from them, renew those connections. If you're alone, start building a new community through meeting like-minded people, getting involved in your community, and starting new relationships by being generous with your time, talents, and treasure, however much or little you may have. Christ fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (see Mt 14); He can multiply your resources to do the same.

3) Read. Actually read all of Amoris Laetitia prayerfully. After all, it's an apostolic exhortation. Pope Francis is exhorting the Church to live and know these teachings on the nature of the family, drawn from the discussions at the two synods on the family and the Church's perennial teaching. Once you've read Amoris Laetitia, continue your study of the many good books and articles released around the synods about marriage and the family. Study parenting tips, relationship tips, the different ways different personality types communicate, the ways some truly extraordinary families have stayed together through trials, etc. Study the family! Read St. John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio and the theology of the body, or pick up one of the many more accessible summaries of the theology of the body from theologians and teachers like Edward Sri, Jason and Crystalina Evert, Christopher West, or Mary Healy. Form yourself in what we can know about marriage and the family through both Divine Revelation and human reason. Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free — it shall enable you to better live the Church's teaching and thereby pass it on by living it, first, then pass it on by teaching it.

4) Make reparation. We didn't reach this point of controversy without a great many things going wrong in the culture and in families across the world. Looking back at the last century, one can see the legacy of family collapse just by surveying the stories we tell ourselves in movies and musicals, in books and in the news. Make reparation for the harm done in families and to families. Offer up mortifications and sacrifices in reparation for spousal abuse, for child abuse, for substance abuse, for the effects of infidelity, of divorce, and so much more. Draw down grace to those of us living with the effects. You can make reparation through performing the works of mercy for families and individuals scarred by such things, especially through fasting and prayer for them.

We are the Mystical Body of Christ, and so our most powerful works are those that seem insignificant in the eyes of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The temptation is to believe that being loud is important — we must be heard! But Heaven hears us when we whisper, when we think, when we pray, and so we are always heard by those who matter most.

The temptation is to believe that force achieves things, that we must push the Holy Father to respond to the dubia, that we must push the cardinals to do their jobs, that we must force the Church to either change or remain the same, depending on the position we take. But the reality is that the Holy Spirit is truly, actually in charge, that the Church has survived these past 2,000 years in spite of human pushing and worldly force, not because of it.

God spoke with His still, small voice, and everything was created. Jesus went meekly to His death on the Cross, and so defeated sin, death, and hell. The Blessed Virgin Mary lived a relatively quiet life on this earth from a worldly perspective, and will be Queen of Heaven for all eternity. The Christian path is one of paradox in the eyes of the world, of suffering and victory, of silence that shakes the foundations of the earth, of meekness that overcomes all obstacles.

Unless a person has the vocation, the sanctity, and the virtue to be St. John the Baptist or St. Catherine of Siena (and most of us don't!), we shouldn't be publicly condemning cardinals who take a position we oppose. And we profess a faith that forbids worry (see Mt 6:25-34; prudent concern is encouraged; worrying, fretting, or anxiety is not), so nobody has any business worriedly fretting about the orthodoxy of the Holy Father. We should be living our faith, abiding in hope, and growing in love through our intercession for everyone involved in the debate and everyone affected by it. We should be strengthening the family by better loving our own families. We should be renewing our minds by the study of the Church's teaching about the family, the best practices of healthy and holy families, and the truths that human reason can discover about relationships and human nature. And we should be working to heal the harm that has caused a crisis in the family in the first place.

So let us ask the help of Jesus, the Divine Mercy, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Mercy, so that we may do our part in the field hospital of the Church to answer the crisis in the family with grace and mercy.

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Tony M. - Apr 24, 2017

Mr. Sparks, I am grateful to you for the sensible opinions you express concerning "AL". I find my faith and trust in God strengthened by your good words. May you continue to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in giving Good Counsel.

Rod - Apr 7, 2017

I am shocked and deeply saddened that Roman Catholic people are attacking Pope Francis in response to this article.

Dave - Apr 7, 2017

Linda - I agree with you completely. Francis stated he "wanted to make a mess" and sadly he has succeeded. We will survive the folly of Francis.

Linda - Apr 6, 2017

I was born after World War 2. I have seen much come and go in the church.I read the current catechism and trust the writings of John Paul 2 and Benedict the 16. Sadly I cannot say the same for the writings of Francis.

Angela M. - Apr 6, 2017

This is the most sensible thing I've read on AL. Thank you!

Rod - Apr 6, 2017

We should not attack the clergy with who we disagree. Also, the clergy should not attack the laity who disagree with them.

Frank - Apr 6, 2017

I dont know about anyone else but this article has both called me to repent my attitudes and to trust the Holy Spirit more. I will be doing the recommendations mentioned
Powerful article