"The Joy of Love" - Chapter Five
Dominum et Vivicantem. Lord and Giver of Life. This title, from the Nicene Creed, affirms that it is part of God’s very nature as Love to give life. God, revealed as Trinity, is perfect Gift, the perfect welcoming of the Gift, and the perfect bond of love that unites Giver and Gift. That communion of love flows beyond itself in giving being and life to all things. That overflowing gift of life is revealed in a still more profound way on the Cross, where God offers reconciliation and new life to the human race, healing the wounds caused by sin. All this is implied by Pope Francis’ opening line of this chapter: “Love always gives life."
In this chapter of “The Joy of Love,” the Holy Father explores ways in which the love experienced in families is fruitful and gives life abundantly. For him, families cooperate with God’s creative gift of life and become, in a real sense, God’s interpreters. In families, the love of God is enfleshed once again. Everything that Pope Francis says in this chapter on how family members are called to love is rooted in this notion that families are, first and foremost, interpreters of God’s love. It would not be going too far to call a Christian family an icon – however imperfect – of the Holy Trinity itself.
This interpreting of the love of God begins with the conception of a child in its mother’s womb. Whether this new life has been eagerly awaited by his/her parents or comes as an unexpected – even undesired – surprise, every child is to be made welcome beginning in the womb itself. Children are thus loved before they could have done anything to deserve that love. A child is loved because it is. This is a reflection of how God loves each of us and of how God offers us reconciliation and the fullness of life before we could have possibly earned any of it.
This welcome continues after birth. The child is given a personal name. The child is assured, in many ways, by its parents that it is loved and welcomed and accepted. This loving, welcoming embrace is best done by two parents – a father and a mother. Each parent teaches the child different lessons about life. By the loving, reconciling interaction of father and mother, the child learns how to deal with differences among people and how to engage in a fruitful give-and-take. If only one parent is actually present to raise the child, a way needs to be found to compensate for the loss of that other parent. Couples who adopt give eloquent witness to the supreme dignity and value of every child before God.
This welcome extends beyond parent and child. In a society that cannot remember its past and has little room for the elderly, Christian families welcome their elder members and honor them. Grandparents often play an important role in passing on the faith to their grandchildren. They remind younger family members that the world did not begin with them. Rather, they are connected with generations who have walked the way of Christ. They know well that a tree that rejects its own roots destroys itself.
The connections run still further. Extended families – uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws – offer love and a sense of community to all family members. Neighbors, friends, and networks of families offer this welcome to those who are far from their immediate families or who have no family connections. Families help domesticate society by how they reach out to the poor, the disabled, those who are alone or abandoned or are treated with injustice.
This welcoming, overflowing love is fed by the reception of the Eucharist and the ensuing ability to “discern the Body,” as St. Paul says – not only the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Sacrament itself but, also, the fact that all, whether rich or poor, members of this or that racial or ethnic background, are equally members of the Body of Christ. Therefore, families cannot consent to various forms of division, contempt, and inequality. Rather, by their welcoming attitude to all (an extension of the way they welcomed their own children) they become a means for God to evangelize and heal many.
In a world where so many feel isolated, abandoned, and cut off from their past, the Christian family as envisioned in this chapter has much to offer. The family is indeed a domestic Church, offering welcome, support, and life to its own members and everyone who encounters it. Pope Francis offers our families a great challenge, but also great encouragement in this chapter.