by Bishop Michael G. Duca
The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.â€ťÂ With these words Pope Francis begins his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, released on April 8, 2016.Â An apostolic exhortation is a particular kind of papal teaching that communicates the mind of the pope on a certain topic. This new exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (AL), shares the conclusions of the Holy Father from the two synods of bishops and his reflection and teaching on love, marriage and family.
There has been, in some circles of the Church, a fear that in this document Pope Francis would change the teachings of the Church on marriage and family.Â A thoughtful reading of the text shows that the Holy Father is presenting a clear reaffirmation of our understanding of marriage and family. This document also shows a keen understanding of the world today. In an insightful statement Pope Francis notes: â€śThe fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of oneâ€™s personal goalsâ€ť (AL 34).Â Also, spread throughout the text are beautiful descriptions of marriage that affirm the Catholic understanding of marriage. For example:
â€śAfter the love that unites us to God, conjugal love is the â€śgreatest form of friendship.â€ť It is a union possessing all the traits of a good friendship: concern for the good of the other, reciprocity, intimacy, warmth, stability and the resemblance born of a shared life. Marriage joins to all this an indissoluble exclusivity expressed in the stable commitment to share and shape together the whole of life.. Those who marry do not expect their excitement to fadeâ€¦(they) trust that it will pass the test of time. Children not only want their parents to love one another, but also to be faithful and remain together. …it is in the very nature of conjugal love to be definitive… For believers, it is also a covenant before God…â€ť
AND â€śNonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation â€śby its very nature.â€ťÂ The child who is born â€śdoes not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillmentâ€ť. …From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itselfâ€ť (AL 80).
Yet while the Holy Father states clearly the ideal, he makes a clear point that there are many challenges in the world to marriage and family life. We need to consider the concrete realities facing marriage today.
Pope Francis draws heavily on the final reports of the two synods naming some of the many worldwide challenges to the family. He speaks of the concrete challenges of migration, the ideological denial of differences between the sexes (â€śideology of genderâ€ť), the anti-birth mentality, the lack of housing and work, pornography and abuse of minors, inattention to persons with disabilities, lack of respect for the elderly, the legal dismantling of the family and violence against women.
By taking a realistic look at families while holding up its ideal, he wants to stress a very important point. The ideals of marriage are not to be held up as a dividing line where we have perfect families on one side and broken families on the other. NO. He stresses that, â€śNo family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love…Â All of us are called to keep striving towards something greater… May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.â€ť (AL 325)
He urges us not to harshly judge or push struggling families to the periphery. Rather, Pope Francis invites us to treasure all families in all their realities including extended family as well. He encourages us to affirm the goodness and the sacredness of their vocation, accompany them in meeting the challenges they face and include them in parish life so they can draw strength from the life of the Church.
There is so much richness in this new exhortation. Everyone will benefit from a prayerful reading, especially married couples or those preparing for marriage. As always, DO NOT LET THE SECULAR MEDIA BE YOUR GUIDE TO THIS TEACHING.Â Listen to your pastors, Catholic publications and visit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishopsâ€™ website, USCCB.org, for other resources.
Prayer to the Holy Family
Jesus, Mary and Joseph,â€¨in you we contemplateâ€¨the splendor of true love; to you we turn with trust. Holy Family of Nazareth,â€¨grant that our families tooâ€¨may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospelâ€¨and small domestic churches. Holy Family of Nazareth,â€¨may families never again experience violence, rejection and division;â€¨may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing. Holy Family of Nazareth,â€¨make us once more mindfulâ€¨of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in Godâ€™s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Graciously hear our prayer.Â Amen.