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The Joy of Family Love

James H. Kroeger, M.M.
“Year of Eucharist and Family” Reflections


Fr. James H. KroegerEarlier this year Pope Francis gave an extraordinary gift to the Church; on March 19, 2016, the Feast of Saint Joseph, he issued Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love. The document focuses on the family and love. Known as a “post-synodal apostolic exhortation,” it draws heavily on the material of the 2014 and 2015 world-wide Synods on the Family. Of course, Pope Francis enriches the discussion with his own pastoral insights.

The English text runs to over 250 pages; it contains an introduction and nine chapters. Quotations are drawn from a wide variety of sources: earlier popes, Vatican II documents, various episcopal conferences, a variety of saints; it even cites Martin Luther King, the American civil rights leader, and the film, Babette’s Feast.

Over the coming months, key insights from Amoris Laetitia (AL) will be presented. Friends, consider reading the text slowly and carefully. As Pope Francis himself says: “The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully” (AL 7).

The Treasures of Amoris Laetitia. Although Pope Francis’ exhortation on Love in the Family is very lengthy, it would be a tragedy to miss its profound insights. The pastoral wisdom it offers is truly a precious treasure.

Pope Francis himself provides an overview of the document (AL 6). “I will begin with an opening chapter inspired by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone” [chapter 1]. “I will then examine the actual situation of families, in order to keep firmly grounded in reality” [chapter 2]. “I will go on to recall some essential aspects of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family” [chapter 3], “thus paving the way for two central chapters dedicated to love” [chapter 4: “Love in Marriage” and chapter 5: “Love Made Fruitful”].

Continuing his overview, Francis says: “I will then highlight some pastoral approaches” [chapter 6]. Next comes “Towards a Better Education of Children” [chapter 7]. “Finally, I will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral discernment of those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us” [chapter 8]. Francis says that he “will conclude with a brief discussion of family spirituality” [chapter 9]. One must make an investment of time and effort to discover the treasures of The Joy of Love!

Pastoral Tone of Amoris Laetitia. Pope Francis’ letter “On Love in the Family” sets an important pastoral agenda for the entire Church. He does not change any Church teaching, but he clearly expresses his pastoral wisdom in a “changed tone”; he emphasizes mercy and understanding. He also recognizes the complexity of human experience; he looks compassionately on family situations that “fall short of what the Lord demands of us” (6).

Francis calls for sensitivity in viewing family and marriage realities. “To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies diminishing the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being” (307).

“I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, ‘always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street’” (308). Thus, “in the variety of situations affecting families, ‘the Church is commissioned to proclaim the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel’” (309).

As the “Year of Mercy” draws to a close on the Feast of Christ the King, we cannot forget Pope Francis’ message of God’s merciful tenderness—especially in the context of family life!

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