Catholic News Service
“No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love,” Pope Francis writes in his document titled “The Joy of Love.”
Speaking directly to families, the pope encourages them never to allow their “limitations” to cause them to “lose heart.” No “stereotype of the ideal family” exists, he points out, “but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.”
Pope Francis insists from the outset that
families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.”
In this document he enters into a conversation with families, as well as with the church at large and the many pastoral ministers serving couples and families. He clearly hopes families themselves will read at least parts of the document, and he even offers a bit of guidance for reading it.
Pope Francis suggests that “the greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully or if attention is paid to the parts dealing with their specific needs.”
In reading the document he hopes that
all will feel called to love and cherish family life.”
“The Joy of Love” represents the pope’s response to the assemblies of the world Synod of Bishops on the family held in the fall of both 2014 and 2015. These meetings were reported widely in the media.
The synod sessions came to be known by many for their deliberations on certain specific pastoral issues involving the church’s relationship with divorced Catholics who remarry without an annulment of a first marriage, for example, or with unmarried couples who cohabitate and may be raising children.
Not as widely reported was the synod’s attention to couples and families across the board — to the riches of their lives together, but also to the pressures and anxieties they experience due to cultural realities and the sometimes extreme demands today of meeting each family member’s unique needs.
The document, known as an apostolic exhortation, addresses all the concerns mentioned above and many others as well.
Christ “dwells in real and concrete families with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes,” Pope Francis writes in the document’s chapter on the spirituality of marriage and the family.
Moreover, he says, “moments of joy, relaxation, celebration and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection.”
He considers it “a profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them.”
Why would couples and families spend time with “The Joy of Love”? One reason is that it shares countless points of concrete, practical advice for “building sound and fruitful homes.” Furthermore, the pope’s kindness toward families is always apparent here.
If he affirms that a family’s continued growth in love “is a never-ending vocation,” he also cautions against “judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty.”
I imagine many couples will choose to spend time with Chapter 4 in “The Joy of Love.” Titled “Love in Marriage,” this chapter concentrates on ways to keep love alive in a marriage over the course of time.
“We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows,” Pope Francis advises couples. “The other person,” he says, “is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me,” and “love does not have to be perfect for us to value it.”
He recommends developing “the habit of giving real importance to the other person.” Furthermore, he disparages “the logic of domination and competition” related to intelligence or power in families, convinced that this “destroys love” for them.
It is important to communicate well in marriage and family life, the pope comments. Be ready “to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say,” he urges.
“The Joy of Love” devotes careful attention to the education and ethical formation of children; to marriage preparation, the accompaniment of couples during a marriage’s early years and the church’s continuing relationship with its divorced members; and to welcoming children as a reflection of a couple’s love.
In a chapter on Scripture, the pope shares his hope that couples and families will discover that the word of God for them “is not a series of abstract ideas.” Instead, he says, God’s word is “a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering.”
I assume that in some way, at some time and to some degree, that includes just about every couple and family.
With “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis expresses compassion and support for contemporary families.