At an international meeting (4 June 2021), 200 CANA leaders from around the world received training on the Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” during a webinar in French and English. Fr Christophe BLIN encouraged them to welcome the letter as a wonderful encouragement for the CANA mission in the 50 countries that are represented, regardless of the denomination to which they belong. He made the link to what is so important in CANA: fraternity, joy, faith, defence of the most fragile, active hope. Here is a brief summary of the text.

A text for everyone. A new impetus

The Year of the Family Amoris Laetitia is an opportunity to re-read this document, or even to discover it, leaving aside our prejudices. When the Pope speaks about the Church, we can understand our different Christian communities. This document still encounters a lot of resistance, ignorance, critical comments or interpretations (often centred on the openings considered as blows to the Church’s moral doctrine). It is therefore a question of deepening the understanding of the entire message when “each part is read patiently and carefully” (AL § 7) in order to give a new impetus to its pastoral application.

Mercy and tenderness. Spiritual and concrete reference points

Published in April 2016, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, after a long process of synodal consultation at the world level, the exhortation is very much marked by the Pope’s own thinking, of his Ignatian spirituality. It is “…an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience … it seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy.” (AL § 5).

The Pope does not lay down the doctrinal foundations of married life, because they have already been laid down and remain valid, but rather he seeks to give families very concrete spiritual reference points for their lives (dialogue, prayer, intimacy, education of children), and to give pastoral actors – bishops, priests and us, those responsible for CANA – fundamental elements for our work with families.

The Word of God is the guiding thread of his reflection because it is “a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering … for it shows them the goal of their journey” (AL § 22).

Some basic features of this text

Christian marriage, a good news for all

At the heart of the text is a reiteration of the beauty of love within the life of a married couple and within a family as well, the joy and happiness it brings when it is the expression of the gift of self to the other, lived in a definitive, faithful and open way. The Church and families are intimately linked. The joy of the one brings joy to the other. What is lived in the family – fraternity, self-giving love – constitutes a promise that radiates to the whole of society. Marriage is an essential and irreplaceable vocation for the whole of society.

“Christian marriages thus enliven society by their witness of fraternity, their social concern, their outspokenness on behalf of the underprivileged, their luminous faith and their active hope.” (AL § 184).

Take into account the complex reality and fragility

The Pope notes the concrete reality of families in their diversity, marked by the culture and history of each country and also by the hazards of life. He invites us not to limit ourselves to a Christian ideal to which all must conform, a unique and abstract model.

It notes the positive evolution of the living conditions of families, but also the many obstacles they face, insisting on the appearance of numerous fragilities due to modern life which destabilise and endanger the couple and, consequently, the family. The Church must therefore reach out to families in their concrete reality and walk with them without denying their fragilities.

A journey of growth

Families are on a journey of growth and maturity. Love is built throughout life. There is no dead end. Let us accompany this process with patience: “Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine.” (AL § 325)

The Church is also on a journey, called to convert in order to be more and more faithful to the example of Christ in his approach of acceptance and mercy. Conversion takes time, and is rarely instantaneous. For him, time is superior to space. It is better to create processes that allow for long-term work with others than to possess spaces of power in the impatience of expected results.

At CANA, we learn to give couples time to learn to dialogue with each other in truth, to reconcile, to witness to what the Lord has done in their lives.

Accompanying, discerning, integrating: a pastoral conversion following the example of Jesus

The Church’s pastoral care must not remain fixed in conformity to the rule or to the desired ideal. It must accompany all families, whatever their situation, in order to encourage them, to take care of them, and this gradually according to 3 key words: accompany, discern, integrate.

Accompanying. Point out the positive elements that exist in every family situation, even if it does not completely live the Christian ideal. To go forward with the Lord who walks with us and with the people towards the goal, as on the road to Emmaus.

Discern situations on a personal level. Helping people to see where they are at, and, in conscience, to determine their responsibility for what they are experiencing. (AL § 37). Beyond the permitted/disallowed, discern at the pastoral level, the proposals adapted to the concrete situation of the person, of the family in question. While remaining faithful to the truth and to the teaching of the Church which is not called into question. People are placed in a perspective of journey, with hope and mercy.

“It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel!” (AL § 297) Not everything is possible, but there is always a place in the Church. Grace is at work in every situation.

The Pope is aware that this is a real and very demanding conversion for the Church. “… Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street”.” (AL § 308, with citation of Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November 2013), 45.)

At CANA we learn to accompany people and to discern what is good for them. Everyone has a place in the fellowship.

An urgent call. Thank you, sorry, please.

Amoris Laetitia is an urgent call to care for couples and families with love. It establishes that “families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.” (AL § 7, citation of: Address at the Meeting of Families in Santiago de Cuba (22 September 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 24 September 2015, p. 7). Nothing is lost. Look at people as God looks at them in a positive way, with kindness, tenderness and mercy, as Jesus looks at sinners in the Gospel.

Let us encourage families to do the same: spouses with each other, parents with their children, children with their parents, grandchildren with their grandparents. But also, in an openness to others, who are not part of the family circle.

For this, family prayer is a powerful help because it is an opening to God, the All-Other. The Pope speaks of the prayer of covenant with the three words we know well at CANA: Thank you, Pardon, Please. This spirituality allows the family to be “at one and the same time a domestic church and a vital cell for transforming the world.” (AL § 324)

Marriage is prophetic for our humanity, not outdated, as contemporary man may sometimes be tempted to think.

At CANA, let us be proud of our call to serve the family!

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