Pope affirms Church teaching on family and marriage in ‘The Joy of Love’ exhortation
By Marian Christiana
Family life is holy. It is messy but holy.
Since his installation as pontiff, Pope Francis has helped to bring family life and its complications into sharper focus within the universal Church. During his papacy the pope has spent a significant amount of time assuring families of God’s presence in their lives no matter what their circumstances and where they may be on the journey of family life. God’s presence in families ensures that family life stands on holy ground.
Family life is the work of all of us no matter our vocation. We all belong to a family. We don’t, however, always remember that the work of family life is done on holy ground.
Sometimes when we are busy juggling multiple schedules, raising children, going to work and doing laundry we forget that family life is holy. Sometimes when we are in the middle of a particular struggle we forget that family life is holy. Sometimes when we find ourselves walking the road alone due to the death of a spouse or because of separation or divorce, we forget the work of family life is on holy ground. Sometimes God and our Catholic faith seem very far removed from our particular circumstance.
Pope Francis has shown his dedication to the people of God and the work of family life in two very concrete ways. First, he announced in 2015 an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, saying that he wants to make it evident that the Church’s mission is to be a witness of compassion. He wants us to grow in our understanding of God’s mercy and compassion and to dedicate ourselves to being more merciful to others during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The Year of Mercy calls us to give consolation to every man and woman in our world when it is needed. The pope has mentioned that we experience mercy for the first time in our family of origins. Helping others experience the mercy of God should start at home. Family life is holy ground.
The second way that Pope Francis has shown his dedication to the work of family life was to call synods of bishops to the Vatican in 2014 and 2015 to study, discuss, and pray about family life issues. In response to these two synods, Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love,” on April 6. The May issue of The East Tennessee Catholic printed a special report on “The Joy of Love” that gives a short explanation of the exhortation itself. The East Tennessee Catholic article encourages its readers to study and reflect on how the exhortation can be applied to our daily lives. It is not a list of new rules for the Church. Instead, Pope Francis affirms Church teaching on family life and marriage, but strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment. He asks the Church to meet people where they are and accompany them on their road as they grow in a closer relationship to God.
The exhortation can be downloaded in its entirety on the Vatican website: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia.html.
A hard copy of the exhortation can be purchased through the Paraclete Catholic Book Store in Knoxville. For those of you who are looking for an excellent daily reflection from the exhortation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website foryourmarriage.org also has developed an Amoris Laetitia “bootcamp” from chapter four (Love in Marriage). Every day there is a short post from chapter four. You can find the posts at: http://www.foryourmarriage.org/amoris-laetitia-bootcamp/ or “like” the For Your Marriage page on Facebook.
Personally, as the diocesan coordinator of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment, I have been reflecting on concrete ways of responding to Pope Francis’ call to meet people where they are. I want to constantly remember that family life is holy and my work should help each family member grow in their relationship with God. In light of this challenge, the Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment is kicking off a new initiative to highlight resources that address the joys and struggles of family life throughout the life cycle of marriage.
The initiative will be called “Family Knots” and will have several components. The first component will be monthly parish bulletin briefs under the title of “Family Ties.” Each bulletin brief will address a particular aspect of family life, offering resources, a reflection, or recommended strategies to handle a particular issue.
No new initiative can be successful without being grounded in prayer. Mary, Undoer of Knots, is our patron saint for this endeavor. Pope Francis has a special devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots.
Mary as our patron saint of this initiative is the perfect partnership. Our Blessed Mother will help us all to remember that family life is holy. Mary will help us during every step of our journey grow closer in our relationship to Christ and each other. Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us! ■
Mrs. Christiana is coordinator of the diocesan Marriage Preparation and Enrichment Office.