Pope Francis’s long-awaited apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia,” “The Joy of Love,” released last week, has lots in common with his blockbuster 2015 encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si.’ ” While many are pouring through “Amoris Laetitia” to find some disavowal of Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality — while others are rightly stressing that there is no such disavowal — largely unnoticed in all this is how “Amoris Laetitia” and “Laudato Si’ ” share some basic teachings, and what that ultimately means for you, me, and the people that we love.
The two texts convey the frank admission that a good many of our eco-problems and our social and personal ones are of our own making — and that they are rooted in the same basic human weaknesses. The good news is that the ways beyond all these struggles are united, too.
Here, from “Amoris Laetitia,” is a rather important and somewhat overlooked passage:
“We treat affective relationships the way we treat material objects and the environment: everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop. Then, goodbye. Narcissism makes people incapable of looking beyond themselves, beyond their own desires and needs. Yet sooner or later, those who use others end up being used themselves, manipulated and discarded by that same mindset. It is also worth noting that breakups often occur among older adults who seek a kind of ‘independence’ and reject the ideal of growing old together, looking after and supporting one another.” (AL § 39)
And here is a parallel passage from “Laudato Si’ ”:
“In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same ‘use and throw away’ logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary.” (LS § 123)
The common threads between these texts tell us quite a bit.
One lesson is a reminder that documents like these are not standalone texts that one should read without an awareness or appreciation of what came before them. Too often today we get news of the Church filtered through media outlets with unhelpful agendas and an attention span of about 27 seconds. Thus when Rome releases a document like “Amoris Laetitia,” you’d think it replaced all that has come before it.
Then there’s the common language of a throwaway culture — which Pope Francis has used from the start of his papacy. The term links and challenges those holding firm to either end of contemporary ideological spectrums. Whether we’re speaking of the unborn, the elderly, or our relationships, or if we’re speaking of ecosystems, natural resources, or individual species, we simply cannot use and discard the things created by God — especially life — simply because they satisfy momentary pleasures, or because their destruction will ease some inconvenience. We are called to be better than that.
There’s much that we can learn from reading “Amoris Laetitia” and “Laudato Si’ ” together and in context with all that Holy Mother Church teaches and affirms.
The bottom line in all this is that the messages of both texts must continually be offered to a world that so desperately needs the integrated Gospel messages of temperance, prudence, mercy, justice and, as always, the cross of sacrificial self-restraint that brings us to the Easter joys of authentic love and the common good.