Amoris Laetitia – the Joy of Love is the Pope’s panegyric to the Christian faith. It doesn’t change the teaching of the Church, but it draws together and presents - in language that is more readily available to many - the ideal that the Church has failed to present, in the face of a modern society that seems to be running away from that ideal. It is a vision of love that many would admire, but it is a choice to love that many will find too difficult, and many refuse. Perhaps more than anything else it is a challenge, but then real love is always a challenge, and that is something that our modern culture in many ways seems to want to forget.
This teaching of Pope Francis isn’t really anything drastically new. The last few Popes have spoken of the need of a personal relationship with God, if faith is to survive in the modern world. The future for the Church now requires a greater depth of spirituality for everyone, and not just for those nuns and monks who live enclosed behind walls having responded to that particular vocation. St Teresa of Avila said, ‘It would be a bad business for us if we could not seek God until we were dead to the world. Neither the Magdalene, nor the woman of Samaria, nor the Canaanite woman was dead to the world when she found him'. We are called to find God in our day-to-day activity, and to live his vision of what love is in our day-to-day activity, because that is the truth of love and it is a truth our existence may depend on – without trying to be a scaremonger. The real problem however is for us to grasp how love and the truths of the faith are not at odds with one another because that is exactly what the modern world cannot understand. It eulogises love but it’s notion of love is too selfish and individualistic, it is too broken and limited and does not know the true measure of humanity let alone the face of God. How do we bring that vision of love to our world? We must not forget that God chose to take on human flesh to help us know the true beauty of our humanity and the goodness that is in us so that we might know the goodness of God. He chose to walk with us in the midst of our weakness and suffering, he chose to bring his mercy down to us so that we might open our eyes to God’s love and truth. He chose the cross, and the way of the cross is certainly the way of love, just as the way of love is the way of the cross. Are we mature enough to handle this direction the Pope is pushing us towards. Probably not. But then the disciples never really understood anything till the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost. If we think we can understand what God’s is about or live without that Spirit we would be deceiving ourselves anyway. Now we have to be even more dependant on that Spirit. Is all of this new to the Church? There are some who would see chapter 21 of John’s Gospel as a meeting point between the beloved disciple’s community gathered around love, and the the more hierarchical community of Peter and the other apostles. The Holy Spirit has always guided the Church to the truth and it always will.