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Marriage & Family Life Project Office
Department of Christian Responsibility & Citizenship
Bishops' Conference of England & Wales
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A Message of Thanks

Now that the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia has been published, I am writing to thank you for the time and effort you gave to the consultative process that contributed to this document, which you can read in full here: http://www.cbcew.org.uk/amoris-laetitia-document

There has already been much comment and reflection on Amoris Laetitia. The Bishops of England and Wales have also unanimously welcomed the document in a post-plenary statement: "It offers great help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges. We are inspired by the Pope’s portrayal of God's love present in the daily and often messy realities of family life." (15 April 2016)  I hope you too will be encouraged, as I am, by the realistic tone of the Exhortation and the pastoral emphasis on walking with those of us who feel excluded, letting everyone know that they are loved by God and that that love is a tender, merciful love.

Within the document it is possible to see reflected the responses that were made by the people of England and Wales. Pope Francis himself expresses gratitude for the many contributions that helped him “to appreciate more fully the problems faced by families throughout the world” (#4). Among other things he mentions unemployment (#25), today’s fast pace of life (#33), particular challenges for young people (#44), caring for family members with disabilities (#47), parents coming home exhausted, not wanting to talk (#50), the effect of severe stress on families (#57) and the transformation of love in relationships spanning five or six decades (#163). He affirms the reflections at the Synod which "show us that there is no stereo-type of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems" (#57).

And he also reflects some of the criticisms levelled at the Church in the consultations, adding that “we need a healthy dose of self-criticism. At times we have proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families” (#36). “We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families…We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations” (#37). “Many people feel that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery” (#38).

But Pope Francis is not deterred by any of this and nor should we be. “The situations that concern us are challenges,” he says. “We should not be trapped into wasting our energy in doleful laments, but rather seek new forms of missionary creativity” (#57).

I invite you now to consider with your own family or with others in your parish what this missionary creativity might mean locally. In the weeks ahead we will put together some materials to help you in this. But for now I am happy to tell you that we are currently preparing new Guidelines for Marriage Preparation. Pope Francis has asked us to make much greater efforts on behalf of engaged couples and these Guidelines will help your parish do that. We have also been preparing a handbook for accompanying families, building on the moments when family and Church life naturally intersect, especially at special sacramental celebrations. A little further away on the horizon is a programme of online formation for family ministry. 

I want to conclude now with some words from Pope Francis’ final paragraph (#325) in Amoris Laetitia:

“No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love. This is a never-ending vocation… Our contemplation of the fulfilment which we have yet to attain also allows us to see in proper perspective the historical journey which we make as families, and in this way to stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a consistency which we will only encounter in the Kingdom to come. It also keeps us from judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty. All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater than ourselves and our families, and every family must feel this constant impulse. Let us make this journey as families, let us keep walking together. What we have been promised is greater than we can imagine. May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us."

With my constant prayer for you and all those who are family for you,

Rt Rev Peter Doyle
Chair of the Bishops’ Marriage and Family Life Committee
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