On Love and Joy: a Reflection

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Voici la traduction anglaise d'un texte que j'ai écrit sur Amoris Laetitia, publié dans Humanitas, qui compte une version anglaise et une version hispanique, celle-ci publiée à Santiago de Chile. Je recommande chaudement cette revue, dont j'ai l'honneur d'être membre. Vous pouvez la recommander à vos amis anglophones et hispanophones. 

 

 

ON LOVE AND JOY: A REFLECTION

 

Taking a distance without rushing into its application to particular cases

 

Starting by chapter 8, the most controversial one of the apostolic exhortation, dealing with the situations of the crisis in couples, is not the best way to approach it. This would be as if looking at a landscape by the wrong end of the binoculars.

 

The Pope is realistically aware -once again- of the likely narrow interpretations the text may be given and foresees the difficult reception it may have. However, he is not prejudiced against those who might not welcome his views in the matter. Probably some will fail to grasp his insights or appreciate the direction this new impulse he is giving to the Church. Thus he remarks, “I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion” (n. 308). Yet, he requests Catholics to trust him follow him in his views.

 

Being a Catholic is somehow like flying on a plane

 

You have to trust the pilot, in this case the Pope. We are not bound to believe him infallible at all times, in fact most of the time we must believe otherwise. However, if you believe that Christ does not cease to lead His Church, never stops pouring forth His Holy Spirit and that He will never leave Her to its own fate, then you must trust, respect and thank Her for her teachings and guidance, even when you may find them difficult to take in. We should rejoice in such difficulties, which are but signals of a favorable personal crisis which will serve for our own growth.

 

Unless we do so, we run the risk of getting tangled in the controversy. We need to take a step back so as to look at this remarkable text with some perspective, which deserves a heartfelt attention and a sincere high-mindedness.

 

 

A Thomistic text

 

From the point of view of the practical philosophy (where my training, competence and perspective lie), I clearly note an Aristotelian or Thomistic orientation in this text, as in the overall thought of the Holy Father. The name of Thomas Aquinas is repeated five times throughout the document and no less than 10 texts by him are referred to, along with a book about love by Father Sertillanges, O.P., a Thomist theologian, which is also quoted (note 139).

 

In times when Thomism (what the mass media would call ‘conservative’) is making a significant return, Francisco’s magisterium has been denounced -by some more papist than the Pope himself- and equated to the progressives’ attainments after Vatican II. Undoubtedly the situation is complex and paradoxical since the preconceived notions are not enough to understand what Francis wants to say. We just need to follow a concrete intuition which does not stick to the current categories.

 

The concept of happiness (e.g. n. 149), focused on joy, and the virtue of prudence (especially in ch.8) pervade his moral thought. These two virtues stand along with the notion of friendship that underlies the definition of love (n. 120) and of conjugal love (n. 123). These fundamental notions of practical wisdom are reexamined here with a renewed perspective of the faith.

 

The reference to St. Thomas then, is neither casual nor tactical, but genuine and substantial since his definition of happiness ‘the enlargement of the heart’ (n. 126) is adopted in the exhortation. Naturally, the notion of law is also present -though subordinated. The conscience is not regarded here in its relationship with the law as a universal principle, but in connection with prudence (or lack of it) in one’s actions. The natural law, as referred to here (n. 305), hinges on the “heart” as conveyed in the Epistle to the Romans, 2, 15 (n. 222). This law is not a purely rational legislation which sets obligations a priori (as opposed to the rationalistic and Kantian or Jansenist conception of the law), but “a source of objective inspiration” for Man as a decision maker.

 

 

A moral of joy and a spirituality of cheerfulness - Both natural and supernatural

 

Francisco’s thought on matters of moral theology pertain to what I would call a very natural supernatural eudaemonism (from Greek eudaimonia = happiness). Joy is viewed as happiness. The term “joy” is repeated over 55 times along the text, so a good way to understand this exhortation would be by identifying the diverse senses and coherence in the use of this word. Basically, it refers to the joy of loving, which for the largest majority of humans is first experienced in the family. Disgrace, conversely, results from emotional disappointments and difficulties within the family, either in the couple or between parents and children.

 

This eudaemonism is supernatural as we all know from our personal experience how difficult it is to love, especially in the family, and therefore to be happy. Such difficulty has got deep roots and entails a sort of illness, worse than physical or mental ailment; this disease is called original sin (cf. The name of God is mercy). The path to happiness is not an easy one; it often gets mixed up with the therapeutic (salvation) or liberation  (redemption) ones in search for the cure of this disease. Christ is the doctor. The Church is the field hospital (n. 291). The remedy is called cross. The cure is called resurrection.

 

This eudemonism is also quite natural, it is about bringing joy to everyday life and to those around us. Evangelization is nothing but this effort to make joy alive so as to live accordingly in this time and later on in eternity. Christ’s religion brings joy, even in the midst of sorrow and hardships, what makes it a religion authentic and alive, hence we call it the good news; “evangelium” in Greek.  

 

The joy of loving within the family is the prolongation of the joy of the Gospel. The essence of Christian life and its goal are identical: the joy of loving. This is the sign of the life in the Spirit hence the evangelization is nothing but to make others aspiring to the fullness of Christ’s joy.

 

The Pope's insistence on mercy is then easily understood: without mercy, we turn dry, hard and sad. It is only by his mercy that we may take up the cross fully -without which Christianity is not such- without traumatizing or making us flee from pain.

 

 

All this exemplified in a especially enlightening quote

 

Number 317 may be seen as the culmination of the text: “If a family is centred on Christ, he will unify and illumine its entire life. Moments of pain and difficulty will be experienced in union with the Lord’s cross, and his closeness will make it possible to surmount them. In the darkest hours of a family’s life, union with Jesus in his abandonment can help avoid a breakup. Gradually, «with the grace of the Holy Spirit, [the spouses] grow in holiness through married life, also by sharing in the mystery of Christ’s cross, which transforms difficulties and sufferings into an offering of love”. Moreover, moments of joy, relaxation, celebration, and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection. Married couples shape with different daily gestures a “God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord.”

 

 

     HENRI HUDE 

                                                                 Member of the HUMANITAS Board

 


DESTAQUES.

 

1.      If you believe that Christ does not cease to lead His Church, never stops pouring forth His Holy Spirit and that He will never leave Her to its own fate.

 

2.      I clearly note an Aristotelian or Thomistic orientation in this text… The name of Thomas Aquinas is repeated five times throughout the document and no less than 10 texts by him are referred to.

 

3.      The Pope's insistence on mercy is easily understood: without mercy, we turn dry, hard and sad. It is only by his mercy that we may take up the cross fully without traumatizing or making us flee from pain.

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