CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — British Jesuit academic and author Fr. Michael Kirwan SJ PhD imparted three thematic points on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) during his lecture titled “A Lampstand on Mercy: Pope Francis on the Family as the Joy of Love” at the XU Little Theater on Tuesday, August 2.
Amoris Laetitia encompasses a wide range of topics related to marriage and family life, emphasizing the family’s vocation and mission of love. The apostolic exhortation also cites contemporary challenges faced by families throughout the world.
Kirwan, who is also the director of Heythrop Institute for Religion and Society (HIRS) of the Heythrop College, University of London, began his discussion with Psalm 128 which Pope Francis used in The Joy of Love.
The exhortation’s first chapter says “The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.” Pope Francis writes, “Every home is a lampstand,” quoting Argentina’s famous writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges.
“Every home is a lampstand for Pope Francis,” Kirwan reiterated.
His first reflection point on Amoris Laetitia centered on time being greater than space.
He explained: “Most of us want to change everything. We want to change things right away without deep reflection. On the other hand, some of us want a simple, mechanical application of the general rules. Time is greater than space; there are issues that require time. Some issues need time for deeper reflection and discernment.”
To elaborate, he related the two kinds of storyteller, “the traveler and the person who stays at home.”
“Two kinds of tales: the wisdom of the ages (time), the wisdom brought about by travels (space). We need both, but Pope Francis is particularly interested in the wisdom that comes through time. Pope Francis uses this line repeatedly, ‘The church is a field hospital.’ … This means that the treatment you give to the wounded soldiers in the field is different from the treatment when they are recuperating later down the line. Time makes the difference.”
Amoris Laetitia encourages the church to consider the complexities of people’s lives and to respect people’s reasons behind their moral decisions. The pontiff says the aim of the church is to “accompany, discern, and integrate” the people who fell short of the Christian ideals.
Kirwan’s second reflection point talked on how families can be the “seeds of the Word.”
“Pope Francis considers the family as a place of growth and potential, where God’s words could take roots. He speaks about the family where the seeds of the Word could take roots and bear fruits,” Kirwan said.
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reminds married couples that a good marriage is a dynamic process: “Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it.”
Lastly, Kirwan underscored patience in the church’s pastoral care and ministry to families. Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation asks the church to help families make good decisions in life with due consideration of their own struggles and issues.
“‘Gradualness in pastoral care’ is related to the time being greater than space. It is about taking the time, giving something the time it needs. Pope Francis wants us to be gradual about our pastoral care and not looking for instant results.”
The exhortation asks married couples, families, and pastoral ministers to accompany and care for those in need of the Lord’s mercy and healing.
Released in April this year, Amoris Laetitia has also drawn criticisms from various groups.
In July, conservative and liberal prelates and scholars in the Catholic Church sent an appeal to the College of Cardinals asking Pope Francis to “repudiate erroneous propositions” contained in Amoris Laetitia.
Kirwan also posed his own questions and suggestions “to push the apostolic exhortation further forward.”
“What about the negative aspects of family in Jesus’ teaching: ‘hate father and mother,’ ‘the sword which divides,’ and others? For some theologians, the essence of Christian discipleship is the decoupling from family, tribal and national identities,” he said.
Kirwan also opined that Amoris Laetitia could have at least discussed the child sexual abuse cases, including those committed by priests and nuns in various parts of the world.
“Something powerful could have been said here about the child sex abuse scandal, as a global phenomenon, which takes place largely in the family,” he said.
Amoris Laetitia is the result of Pope Francis’ prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of two synods of bishops held in Rome — Extraordinary Synod in 2014 and Ordinary Synod in 2015 — both on the topic of marriage and family.
After Kirwan’s talk, reactors Lolita Bacarrisas, volunteer staff of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro Christian Family Life Apostolate, and Adlai Valledor, faculty member of XU Religious Studies department also shared their insights on the apostolic exhortation. Organized by Xavier University through the Office of Mission and Ministry, Kirwan’s talk on Amoris Laetitia was attended by campus ministers, lay people, married couples, and students. ∎ (By Stephen Pedroza)