James H. Kroeger, M.M.
Pope Francis, as Filipinos witnessed during his 2015 pastoral visit, could rightfully be called “the pope of tenderness, mercy and joy.” This same message is revealed in his The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia) where Francis notes that “tenderness … is a sign of a love free from selfish possessiveness…. Loving another person involves the joy of contemplating and appreciating their innate beauty and sacredness, which is greater than my needs” (127).
In a world that often focuses on external appearances, authentic love “contemplates other persons as ends in themselves, even if they are infirm, elderly or physically unattractive…. Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being” (128).
Thus, in the context of daily family life, “the most intense joys in life arise when we are able to elicit joy in others” (129). As an example, Pope Francis cites the generous cook in the film Babette’s Feast whose joy and consolation are found in bringing delight to others, in seeing people enjoy themselves.
This same joy grows “through sorrow and pain” in married life. As a result, “after suffering together, spouses are able to experience that it was all worth it” (130). Such is authentic love and joy, true mercy and compassion!
Growing in True Friendship and Conjugal Love. Pope Francis creatively explores the meaning of marital love in his The Joy of Love. Conjugal love is “the love between husband and wife, a love sanctified, enriched and illuminated by the grace of the sacrament of marriage. It is an ‘affective union,’ spiritual and sacrificial, which combines the warmth of friendship and erotic passion, and endures long after emotions and passion subside” (120).
The Christian vision of marriage with its lofty ideals needs to be concretely integrated within the challenges of daily life. For Francis, “there is no need to lay upon two limited persons the tremendous burden of having to reproduce perfectly the union between Christ and his Church” (122). In reality, marital love needs to be cultivated, grow and mature amidst all kinds of concrete challenges and limitations.
Thus, the Church realistically accepts that “marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another” (126).
True, Committed Love Manifested in Marriage. Pope Francis goes on to address the issue that today some young people fear entering into marriage, due to its many demands and challenges. Francis encourages them, noting that their fulfillment is not jeopardized when their love finds expression in marriage” (131).
“To opt for marriage … expresses a genuine and firm decision to join paths, come what may. Given its seriousness, this public commitment of love cannot be the fruit of a hasty decision, but neither can it be postponed indefinitely. Committing oneself exclusively and definitely to another person always involves a risk and a bold gamble. Unwillingness to make such a commitment is selfish, calculating and petty” (132).
Listen to Francis’ practical wisdom. “In the family, three words need to be used. I want to repeat this! Three words: ‘Please,’ ‘Thank you,’ ‘Sorry.’ Three essential words…. In our families when someone realizes that he or she did something wrong and is able to say ‘Sorry!’ our family experiences peace and joy. Let us not be stingy about using these words, but keep repeating them, day after day” (133).
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