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Family Challenges and Church Response

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


Fr. James H. KroegerEarly this year 2016 Pope Francis issued Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love, an apostolic exhortation that focuses on the family and love. The pope explores the current situation of families, drawing heavily upon concrete data from both the 2014 and 2015 Bishops’ Synods held in Rome. Francis focuses on “concrete realities” in order to improve the Church’s pastoral response, because he believes “the welfare of the family is decisive for the future of the world and that of the Church” (31).

An honest examination reveals that families face many challenges: from migration to the ideological denial of differences between the sexes; from a “throw-away” culture to the anti-birth mentality and the impact of biotechnology in the field of procreation; from the lack of housing and work to pornography and the abuse of minors; from inattention to persons with disabilities to the lack of respect for the elderly; from legal challenges to family life to violence against women; from drug use to various addictions (cf. 39-56).

In facing all these challenges, Pope Francis asks the Church to review her pastoral approaches and to always “offer a word of truth and hope” (57). The pope anchors his pastoral reflections in Church teaching and the Scriptures. He begins with a meditation on Psalm 128, a reading frequently chosen for both Jewish and Christian wedding liturgies: “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots round your table…. May you see your children’s children”!

Pope Francis sees that Sacred Scripture provides much insight into the family within God’s loving plan for his people. “The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon … capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life” (11).

The New Testament speaks of “churches that meet in homes.” Thus, a family’s living space “could turn into a domestic church, a setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ seated at its table” (15). “The Bible also presents the family as the place where children are brought up in the faith” (16). “Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth” (30).

Francis also notes in The Joy of Love that “the Bible is full of families, births, love stories and family crises” (8). In fact, “Jesus himself was born into a modest family” (21). Jesus is no stranger to family life; there are numerous biblical events that recount his interaction with families.

Jesus “visits the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law was ill … and shows sympathy upon hearing of deaths in the homes of Jairus and Lazarus…. He goes to the homes of tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus … and speaks to sinners like the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee” (21).

“Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables…. He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine at a wedding feast” (21).

Then, turning to Mother Mary, Pope Francis recalls that her heart contains “the experiences of every family”; thus, she can help us understand “the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families” (30). Indeed, for Pope Francis all families have a model to follow in the Holy Family of Nazareth.

Thus, one can conclude that since The Joy of Love begins with this biblical and theological vision of family life, it should NOT be overlooked, since it is the key to reading Pope Francis’ entire text.

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