Pope Francis' eagerly awaited apostolic exhortation, fruit of the two Vatican synods on marriage and family, has arrived. It is titled "Amoris Laetitia," or the "Joy of Love." The title, as is the custom with major papal documents, is taken from the text's first line: "The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church." (This sentence is reminiscent of the first line of Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World ("Gaudium et Spes") which reads "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age ... these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ."
While the Holy Father does not avoid the difficulties and challenges experienced in family life - in fact he address them candidly and straight on - "The Joy of Love" is from beginning to end a celebration of the gift of marriage and family to the Church and, indeed, to the world.
This is a long text at 260 pages. Most media attention has focused on Chapter 8 - "Accompanying, Discerning and Integrating Weakness" - where the sensitive and often neuralgic issues of divorce and remarriage are treated. However, the great part of this monumental exhortation is devoted to lifting up the profound meaning, radiant beauty and irreplaceable role of marriage and family for all to behold. Chapter 8 does leave the reader with a number of questions that will need further reflection, for example, what does "internal forum" really mean, and not mean, in practice?
Regarding the document in its entirety, consider a few of the chapter headings:
The Experiences and Challenges of Families
Looking to Jesus: The Vocation of the Family
Love in Marriage
Towards A Better Education of Children
The Spirituality of Marriage and the Family
As you can see, this is very rich, real, evocative, challenging stuff.
"Amoris Laetitia" is a long read, but well worth the effort. Pope Francis urges us all to read and ponder his teaching slowly and carefully: "I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text." Anyone expecting dramatic changes in doctrine will be sorely disappointed. Examples: Marriage is and will always be exclusively the union of one man and one woman. Artificial contraception is contrary to the moral law. (The pope encourages Natural Family Planning.) At the same time, the pope is very strong in his admonition that no one is ever to be excluded from the Church's embrace. The theme of accompaniment of all, whatever their life situation may be, is a golden thread woven throughout the text. God's abundant mercy requires of us no less.
The bottom line is expressed in these words of the Holy Father: "It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for 'families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.'"
We will be developing ways by which the beautiful teaching of "The Joy of Love" can be made accessible to all in our diocese. This is a document that must not become another dust collector on a shelf.
Holy Family of Nazareth, make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God's plan. Amen.