Dear Fellow Pilgrims,
Everyone wanted policy. Sure, they wanted different policies – some wanted a return to orthodox rules, others wanted a transition to progressive tolerance – but all seemed to expect clarity. Will divorced and remarried Catholics be welcome to receive Holy Communion? Will the Church relax the position on birth control? Will the Church open herself to gay marriage? Ever since the second Synod on the Family adjourned last fall, the world (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) has been on an Encyclical Watch waiting for Pope Francis to make a signature statement.
And what a remarkable statement he made! When “Amoris Laetitis” (“The Joy of Love”) was released last Friday, Pope Francis gave us a gift that transcends the simplicity of rules, laws and policies. The document seems to be a 256-page version of Jesus writing in the dirt. You know the story. The Pharisees brought forth the woman caught in adultery and demanded to know Jesus’ policy. Should they stone her according to the Law? Would he stand by his call for mercy and render the law irrelevant? Jesus responded by scribbling in the dirt and then saying, “Whoever is without sin should cast the first stone.” Instead of clarity, contemplation. Instead of definition, discernment.
This is Jesus’ pattern throughout the gospels. When challenged to give a clear and simple answer to a moral dilemma, he calls us to a deeper spirituality. When confronted about violating the Sabbath Laws, he won’t engage in the simplistic yes/no, black/white games playing. Instead, he instructs and often demonstrates that love and compassion must always be the priority. When challenged to name the greatest commandment, he plunges all of us up to our eyeballs in the muddiness of life – love God with all your heart and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
So what does “The Joy of Love” illuminate? Everything and nothing. Everything because it reminds us that all of life is rich and wonderful, that the difficulties and dilemmas of life’s journey are gifts that bring growth when we pray, ponder and discern. There are no easy answers, and that’s what gives life meaning. And yet the document illuminates nothing because it simply echoes what Jesus taught and how he lived.
“The Joy of Love” presents itself as the perfect response to the spiritual-but-not-religious movement. It calls those who are spiritual to step up and mean it, to actually engage in the deep, challenging process of wisdom seeking. If you are spiritual, then seek the truth in prayer, contemplation, discernment and Eucharist. Dare to challenge your own prejudices and beliefs so that you can grow to a richer and more profound understanding. And if you are religious, don’t hide behind the convenience of simple rules, policies and edicts; don’t stand in judgment of others’ life journeys. Instead, grow deeper in your own spirituality by committing your life journey to love, mercy and foot-washing.