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Don't overreact about papal changes that aren't really there

When Pope Francis released his much-anticipated exhortation "Amoris Laetitia," there was a great uproar across the internet. Conservatives accused the pope of threatening the foundation of the church, while liberals complained of betrayal. Quotes and misquotes were quickly spread, and writers focused more on their own views than those of the Catholic Church.

Some media outlets even got it so very wrong. NBC Nightly News ran with a story claiming the pope's work was "signaling a change," and other outlets claimed that the writing contained great reforms in Catholic thinking.

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The only problem with that claim is that "Amoris Laetitia" alters nothing. Not only does a papal exhortation not have the authority to override the Catholic Church's Canon Law or Catechism, at no point does Pope Francis attempt to push for such reforms. Instead, the 260-page document summarizes current Church teaching with substantial justification from the Bible.

Pope Francis is not a politician, nor does he preach politics. In the U.S., we are so obsessed with whether something is "conservative" or "liberal" that we forget that the Catholic Church is "catholic," i.e. universal. It appeals to all people in all situations because it preaches a message of love. It doesn't matter who you are, or who you were — you are called to abandon your old life and turn to a new one in Christ.

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Pope Francis stresses the need for love in all actions when he writes, "Freedom of choice makes it possible to plan our lives and to make the most of ourselves. Yet if this freedom lacks noble goals or personal discipline, it degenerates into an inability to give oneself generously to others."

This statement has been ignored, but it is fundamental to his whole view. It doesn't matter where we stand on the political side of things if we are unwilling to serve Christ. Material and political prosperity are not the same as righteousness.

The need for us to serve God, not politics, becomes more clear when he adds, "We can also point to a praiseworthy concern for justice; but if misunderstood, this can turn citizens into clients interested solely in the provision of services."

When the pope opposes abortion, gay marriage and fluid gender identity, he is not making a political statement, but one of faith. It is the Catholic belief that such views are the corruption of the material world, where a natural call to God and a virtuous life are twisted by an egotistical worship of the self.

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The abandonment of God's plan is the product of moral relativity and a society in which virtue no longer has a place in our lives: "Ultimately, it is easy nowadays to confuse genuine freedom with the idea that each individual can act arbitrarily, as if there were no truths, values and principles to provide guidance, and everything were possible and permissible."

In our clickbait- and ego-driven culture, it is easy for truth to be lost as writers clamor for attention. Regardless of spin, "Amoris Laetitia" is a Catholic document on love — no more and no less. It is well worth reading for yourself.

Jeffrey Peters, a graduate student at Catholic University, attends St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester. Reach him at 17peters@cardinalmail.cua.edu.

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