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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

A New Vision of Family Life: A Reflection on Amoris Laetitia

by Louis Cameli

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn-Knight, Ph.D.

Father Cameli, in his new book: “A New Vision of Family Life: A Reflection on Amoris Laetitia”, embraces one of the major concerns of Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich: the need to assist people in developing sound values for family life. As a reviewer and parent/professor in education for over forty years I would concur. Many of the families I work with are devoid of any male influence or models. Basically, they try to figure things out for themselves. The joy and invitation of the Catholic Church to participate in their family story is not accessible to many.

In the Introduction, Cardinal Cupich states: “The goal is always the same—a pastoral approach to families to assist them to discern how God is calling and gracing them with mercy and redemption as they face their challenges and struggles, their joys and blessings, all the while enabling them to enrich the life of the Church in our time”.

In Chapter one Father Cameli maps out for us where we are and what happened to cause this change. “In the nineteenth century, great shifts in family life accompanied the emergence of industrialization, urbanization and state involvement in the social order that could extend even into the intimate circle of family life”. As a result, there was and continues to be great stress on family life with the inclusion of birth control, the globalization of the economy and the development of electronic technology in the twentieth century. In Amoiris Laetiitia, according to Father Cameli, Pope Francis “presumes previous magisterial teaching concerning sacramentality, the social order, rights, canon law and morality” has been sustained. This puts the burden for this presumption on the majority of the laity.

In Chapter two, the outline of each of the chapters of Amoris Laetitia is written with the smoothness and finesse of a piece of Godiva Chocolate. The content is carefully and succinctly put so that it is easy to refer to and gives a complete picture of the document. There is a hint that our culture will continue to change and cause significant changes as it has done recently with the onset of technology.

In Chapter three we see that Amoris Laetitia is written as a formation document, that is, a document that constantly and consistently moves us toward spiritual, moral, emotional and perhaps physical change/growth. “This focus has its roots in the Second Vatican Council’s concern for human experience and for the journey of the pilgrim people of God.” Father Cameli calls this a “formational lens” that has four drivers. “The first driver is for married people and families to claim their experience with all its lights and shadows. The second is to see their experience in light of the Gospel. The third is to hear a call to conversion. Finally, the fourth is to carry that transformed experience to a world deeply in need.” Father Cameli presents this with such caring and challenge. This movement takes a great deal of work on our part to become a transformed individual and continue that transformation throughout our lives and affecting society. This is different from our past rendition of change which was basically to take the law and obey it. If what the Pope and Father Cameli purport occurs it takes constant attention to the Gospel story and to the need for our society to change. This is the spiritual life of every disciple.

In Chapter four Father Cameli presents the challenges to spiritual-moral formation. He refers to Charles Taylor and Christian Smith who provide a foundation for these challenges. The challenges include: residual Jansenism in which the person or people are locked into a conservative rigid belief that leads to a judgmental stance; legalism in which there is a technical application of the rules; idealism in which the person is fixed on the perfect rendition of the Gospel story; an ahistorical mentality in which the person doesn’t realize they are on a journey, different from other journeys and captured by time; a lost sense of the sacramental life in which we live with the sense of the presence of Christ both in the Eucharist and in Confession in a way that is ever present and inclusive; impatience in which the person is quick to judge and forming conclusions; these challenges can be both positive and negative. In our union with Christ and the Holy Spirit we discern how we can use the challenges to add to the Kingdom of God. Father Cameli provides us with examples that show a deep respect for the other person.

In Chapter five, Father Cameli analyzes the concept of ‘love’ as conceived by the Pope in Amoris Laetitia. This is a difficult and yet magnificently beautiful chapter that explores the covenant of love that exists in marriage. The Pope speaks with a deep respect for our daily love, our growth in conjugal love, the beauty of passionate love and how all this moves to a transformative love that leads to changes in our family life and by extension to our society. In concluding the chapter Father Cameli states: “A couple’s movement toward an ever more perfect union with each other brings them to an ever more perfect union with God. Their union with God Substantially moves their union with each other even closer.”

Chapter 6 brings a very powerful and meaningful understanding of the three formational activities of what it means to ‘accompany another’ looks like, what discerning looks like and the importance of integrating weaknesses in our concept of who we are. This is the longest chapter and one that many will struggle with. Because these concepts require the continual development of a conscience, Cameli gives us some food for thought on this. He uses the statements from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and relates to us the fact that conscience is the very core of who we are in God and how He assists us in making the many decisions that are called for in our daily lives. The problem is that from past experiences and erroneous knowledge we sometimes have poorly formed consciences that need to be reformulated. Father Cameli then gives us seven steps in the formation of conscience. The way Father Cameli describes these steps leads to a knowledge of oneself and the Church that will lead us to an eventual self-assessment embedded in Christ and His Church. These 8 pages makes this book pivotal to our own bookshelf for continuous reflection and change. There is no quick fix in this chapter, Father Cameli challenges us to consider the picture that the Church and our relationship with Christ has demanded that we create in light of what we now understand. This means a constant draw into the grace that is needed for our development.

In Chapter seven, Father Cameli describes the formation in community: challenges of implementation for the Church. He points out the need for marriage preparation done in a way that includes the community of the believers. Father Cameli suggests that older couples could share some of their wisdom with the younger couples and add to the growing realization that the Church is growing deeper and wider in including all who believe. One of the catechumens from the RCIA program asked the question: How can we connect to other families? The couple wanted to share their faith with others and grow a community of believers in formation.

From the messages on media, one would think that marriage is one blissfully outrageous party after another. This is of course not true but brings to light the struggle with discouragement, diversion, deception and division and all the ways that these issues entangle our lives. It is imperative that we help each other to become untangled and in tune with what Christ is calling us to do. Father Cameli calls us to name the struggle, proclaim the truth of what we intend to do, discern in a way that we understand God’s action in our life. We wait and watch for what God wants us to be and do. The sense of accompaniment helps us to walk with each other on this precarious journey that is filled with hope and love.

Finally, Amoris Laetitia defines the family as the domestic Church as the practice of word, sacrament and mission THAT takes place on a daily basis. Father Cameli gives us questions to ponder: “How do you see the domestic Church evangelizing in and outside of the family? What resources can the parish provide the domestic church to help it fulfill its mission? How has Amoris Laetitia expanded your perspectives on the domestic Church?”

This is a book that you will refer to over and over as it provides the questions we as an individual, as a Church and as a society need.


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