My few thoughts are based on one reading and, of necessity, insufficient reflection. However, I enjoyed reading Amoris Laetitia: The Joy of Love and I heartily recommend it, particularly to those who have the time to read-and-reflect in instalments.
While some were always going to be disappointed, there is much to be joyful about in this apostolic exhortation.
Would we have thought of an elderly, celibate Jesuit reflecting on what it means for parents to lose a child? (n254). Suggesting that engaged couples not only pray together, but pray individually for each other and for their marriage? (n227) Espousing the need for sex education for young people that “helps them to prepare seriously for a great and generous love?” (n284) Affirming mothers to the skies? (n174). Suggesting that married couples share the ritual of an early morning kiss and household chores? (n226)
These few examples give a sense of the breadth and depth of the exhortation. While Pope Francis’ background and experiences of ministry are very different from ours, he has real wisdom to offer in terms of the issues that affect life – particularly family life – in our society. No doubt this is the outcome of the two Family Synod sessions held in Rome in 2014 and 2015, and in fact Pope Francis writes: “The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in today’s world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family. The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions.” (n2)
Pope Francis has much to say about the importance of effective marriage preparation, in fact, “For every couple, marriage preparation begins at birth.” (n208). While acknowledging that “Nothing is more volatile, precarious and unpredictable than desire” (n209), Pope Francis reminds his audience that “Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope. Hope is the leaven that, in those first years of engagement and marriage, makes it possible to look beyond arguments, conflicts and problems and to see things in a broader perspective.” (n219).
He acknowledges the frantic pace at which many families live – not with condemnation, but with understanding. In fact, he is disarmingly honest: “Nowadays, pastoral care for families has to be fundamentally missionary, going out to where people are. We can no longer be like a factory, churning out courses that for the most part are poorly attended.” (n230)
Balancing this intense practicality, Pope Francis writes, “For nine months, every mother and father dreams about their child….You can’t have a family without dreams. Once a family loses the ability to dream, children do not grow, love does not grow, life shrivels up and dies.” (n169).
Any reservations? As someone who was a member of a diocesan standing committee on gender issues many years ago, I am disappointed, but not surprised, that gender exclusive language persists – in a document about the family! We live in hope…
There is so much more to be re-read, reconsidered and reflected upon – as Pope Francis writes, “Take time, quality time.” (n137).
So finally, what does Pope Francis believe is the secret to a happy family? You’ll have to read Amoris Laetitia to find out, but here’s a hint; begin with chapter 5.