Everybody, it seems, is reading the Post Synodal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia of Pope Francis. Although its author recommends against a “rushed reading” many have already made it through the 260 pages of this very inspiring text.
To describe this exhortation as inspiring is not inaccurate. While the pope’s words offer solid guidance and rich encouragement, they also prompt deep reflection. Not by coincidence does the word ‘discernment’ appear so frequently and aptly in this thought provoking treatise. (Nor is it coincidental that the text which resonates with the call for compassion is given to us during this particular year, the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which – significantly – commenced on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council).
Each page of the exhortation is replete with phrases pregnant with the power of poetry, phrases such as: “illuminate the meaning,” “consensual dialogue,” and “gaze of faith.”
In chapter Five, titled “Love Made Fruitful,” Pope Francis writes movingly about Christian families. Each paragraph compels one to read on. One phrase in particular, however, has diverted my progress through the chapters and has launched me on a path of collateral discernment. The pope writes: “By their witness as well as their words, families speak to others of Jesus. They pass on the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of life.”
What does it mean “to arouse a desire for God?” If any reader of this column can help me understand, I would be sincerely grateful. Does it mean to enkindle in one a love for God? If so, what does loving God entail? It must be more than the obligation enjoined on us by Christ’s second great commandment, i.e., to love our neighbors as our selves. Otherwise, there would not be the separate, presumably greater, first commandment: to love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Mt. 22).
Is loving God the avoidance of sin and its harmful effects? The embrace of morality? Is it a consuming passion for justice, an uncompromising commitment to beauty, and insatiable thirst for truth? Is it the overwhelming and sustained impulse to discover and know a personal God and then to surrender completely to the Divine Will? Is it any of these? Is it all of these?
Perhaps the arrival of Pentecost in this Jubilee Year of Mercy will for me “illuminate the meaning.”
Dana Robinson is chair of the board of trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.