The post where I review the Pope’s book–and risk excommunication

Ok, so Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) may not be your average new release: But I did buy it on Amazon, and the day I checked it out, there was only one 5-star review.  I felt sorry for the Pope, and decided I would buy it and try to leave an honest review, in an effort to bump up his sales.

The edition I bought—released just days after the official pronouncement—is very oddly formatted. It looks exactly like one of those do-it-yourself projects: There is no publisher listed, and  I can’t figure out what the hell is the deal with those super-wide margins. Are they intentional, to allow readers to make notes, or did someone forget to hit the margin tab?  But I can’t blame His Holiness, because I’m pretty sure Francis did not log onto Createspace and try to format his own book. I also see a number of small issues, like weird punctuation and space gaps, things which are not important, but which the evil empire Amazon is known to come down hard on with lesser known self-published writers, sometimes even pulling their books from sale. Somehow I don’t think they’re going to give the Pope a hard time on this one. But I’d only give it two stars for formatting.

I really should not make light of this work, because on the whole, I think it is a marvelous, even miraculous bit of work, coming from a sage old churchman, yet touchingly written and completely in step with the modern world. OK, maybe not with the idea of contraception and same-sex marriage and the role of women in the church, but at least with the concept of human sexual love and its realities. For example, this quote, which should prove dismaying to romance writers: “It is not helpful to dream of an idyllic and perfect love…a celestial notion of earthly love forgets that the best is yet to come, that a fine wine matures with age.” This book is certainly pastoral in tone, down-to-earth in places and is like attending the best pre-Cana session ever (When my husband and I had ours, so many years ago, old Monsignor Hague mostly told jokes about nervous bridegrooms. And he counseled me, privately, about the rewards and perils of marrying into a large Italian-Sicilian family. The Monsignor was a lovely man, but it’s hard to imagine him being frank about the earthier or more intimate aspects of marriage).

I think a crucial thing in the Pope’s book is his acceptance and tacit approval of sexual pleasure (in a marriage of course, but he is still the Pope). We Catholics often have the wrongheaded idea that sex is kind of a dirty,  necessary act we have to get through in order to continue the human race. Isn’t Lust one of the Seven Deadly sins after all? I have never understood this attitude, not in all the decades I’ve been alive and Catholic. Think of it: Who created sex, our bodies, our sex organs? Isn’t it a massive sign of disrespect to our Creator, to shun the gift he gives us in pleasure, and consider it something bad or evil? It is the ultimate life-affirming act, in whatever form it takes, and even if it does not directly lead to the creation of a child. Francis is never explicit about it, and the act is often referred to as ‘marital joy,’ which I find quite charming, even if sex is not always a joy. But he does identify  the key to great sex, that it must be firmly twisted into that greatest commandment of all, Love. Which is why one-night-stands and quickies are so profoundly disappointing: You have to have some real feeling for that other body besides yours in bed.

Amoris Laetitia is, of course, not all about sex; its main focus is the family, while acknowledging that very first step toward creating one. It is reassuringly warm and fatherly and the same times shows the Pope to be a true romantic, influenced by his South American upbringing, where love and sex and family are all accepted and essential facts of life (as opposed to the Vatican itself, where all that is an alien life form).  It is amazing to have a pontiff who understands marriage so well, particularly a long marriage (like mine! I’ll be married thirty-five years next month) without having actually taken the plunge himself. This is a very human and accessible encyclical, and at the same time spiritual, and it gives me great hope for Catholicism.

And for those who feel change is not coming quickly enough to the Church, be patient, and recognize this as the essential first steps in what could be a long, but ultimately successful journey in the Church’s recognition and acceptance of the way our lives here on earth are truly lived.

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