Sharing in the Joy and Love of Marriage and Family: A Pastoral Plan to Implement Amoris Laetitia

The executive summary is included below. Click here for the full PDF booklet.

Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, promulgated on March 19, 2016, is the reference point and reason for this “Pastoral Plan to Implement Amoris Laetitia.” Directed to parishes, priests, religious, and laity the Plan is meant to encourage reflection on:

1. The richness of the Church’s perennial teaching on love, marriage, family,
faith and mercy;
2. The essential aspect of pastoral ministry, called accompaniment; and,
3. Several significant themes such as the New Evangelization, the role of conscience, and the privileged place of the parish where we find and experience Christ’s way of living and loving.

The Plan also offers resources to assist all engage in parish life in the pastoral implementation of this teaching.

The Church’s Perennial Teaching
The Plan begins with a summary of the teaching of Amoris Laetitia highlighting how the first half of the exhortation focuses on the centrality of God’s love. The vocation of the human family is revealed in the infinite love of the Lord who was made incarnate in a human family, and who gave
himself for our sake and continues to dwell in our midst. The second half of the exhortation provides some pastoral perspectives. Here the exhortation invites a reflection on the right course of action in ministering to those who struggle to grasp and to live out the teaching. The Church wishes, with humility and compassion, to reach out to the people and families who struggle to live the teaching on marriage, and to help them to overcome obstacles through discernment, dialogue and prayerful support and understanding to overcome obstacles. Some may ask, “Is the teaching always binding?” The answer of course is yes. Yet Amoris Laetitia invites us to adopt a complementary perspective and to look with a parental attitude at those families who find themselves in a position where they struggle to even understand, let alone embrace fully, the teaching because of the concrete
circumstances in which they live.

The Circumstances of Our Day
The Pastoral Plan considers in detail the challenges that families encounter today in receiving the Church’s teaching on marriage because of the highly secularized cultural environment in which they live. Our age is one in which there are many barriers to encountering Christ and appropriating the Church’s teaching, as people live in a world marked by secularism, materialism and individualism, all supporting a prevalent and dominant relativism. Because of this lack of cultural support, the ministry for encountering and accompanying families through a process of discernment and growth in the faith becomes essential to the task of the New Evangelization, as we share Christ’s love and truth in our homes, our communities and our world.

The Ministry of Accompaniment
The ministry of accompaniment takes different forms and shapes depending on the particular pastoral situation. Accompaniment includes fidelity to Church teaching and awareness of how the teaching is being received or even able to be perceived. Such a ministry is a collaborative effort of priests and laity who understand themselves to be missionary disciples, who experience the love of the Lord in their encounter with him and who seek to share it with others. We recognize that each of us is a sinner in need of wholeness and that we all have fallen short of the great plan God has laid out for us. Each of us is in need of this healing and so we journey together as brothers and sisters united in our common need for the love and mercy of God that heals every broken human heart.

At the core of accompanying people on the faith journey and helping them appropriate the Church’s teaching stands the humble recognition that the culpability of any of us does not depend solely on exposure to the teaching. It is not enough simply to hear the teaching. We have to be helped to grasp and accept it. We must have “experiential” and not just “objective” moral knowledge, to use the language of Saint John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). Priests are called to respect the decisions made in conscience by individuals who act in good faith since no one can enter the soul of another and make that judgment for them. As Pope Francis teaches, “We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them” (AL, 37).

The Importance of Parish Life
As Pope Francis notes in Amoris Laetitia, the Church is a family of families, and the home of pastoral accompaniment is the parish. The parish has a central role in making clear the Gospel vision for marriage and family life. For this reason, the Pastoral Plan concludes by offering a wide variety of resources and suggestions on how to implement the ministry of accompaniment at the parish level. Our parishes, as the sites where people most experience the life of the Church, must be places of welcome, where everyone is invited, particularly anyone who might be disillusioned or disaffected by contemporary society or even by our faith community.

Amoris Laetitia is a call to compassionate accompaniment in helping all to experience Christ’s love and mercy. Neither the exhortation nor this Pastoral Plan presents a list of answers to each individual human concern. Rather, both call for a pastoral approach for many people – married, single, and divorced – who are struggling to face issues in life, the teaching of the Church, and their own desire to reconcile all of this. As we carry out our pastoral responsibilities and share the joy of love in marriage and family life, we thank God first of all for the call and then for the guidance we receive from his Holy Church and particularly from our Holy Father, Pope Francis.