From the Bishop - July 2016

Family: A Mission of Love

Just after Easter this year, Pope Francis released one of the more important documents of his pontificate. Called Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), this apostolic exhortation addresses the beautiful reality of marriage and family life. It contains a particular emphasis on the family’s vocation and mission of love. The letter was published in early April though it was signed on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph.  By so doing, Francis reminds us that we can look for a model of Christian family in the image of the Holy Family at Nazareth with Mary and Joseph caring for the child Jesus entrusted to their care.

With my notes in this issue of Harvest, I hope to steer interest and attention to this document. It is lengthy, but it is not intended to be read at one time.  Pope Francis tells us, “I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text. The greatest benefit, for families themselves and for those engaged in the family apostolate, will come if each part is read patiently and carefully, or if at­tention is paid to the parts dealing with their spe­cific needs” (AL 7). It is a valuable resource for all interested in the future of the family.  It is a very realistic document.  It speaks of the family’s strengths and gifts but also discusses the contemporary challenges.

The document is the result of Pope Francis’ reflection on discussions held at two successive synods of bishops, held in 2014 and 2015. Those important meetings were preceded by extensive discussions throughout the Church, including surveys, to determine the particular challenges to family life. The exhortation we now have before us in The Joy of Love shares with the Church Pope Francis’ teaching and encouragement regarding pastoral ministry to families and what marriage and family are called to at this time in history.

Much has been written about this document.  As such, it seems to me, as I encourage you to read it, that I best focus on a few important elements. In the first place, Pope Francis has not changed any of the teaching of the Church. In fact, he summarizes and deepens our rich teaching regarding marriage and family. “Through His Church, Christ bestows on marriage and family the grace necessary to bear witness to the love of God and to live the life of communion” (AL 64).  The third chapter of the document concisely depicts the vocation of the family according to the Gospel and as it has been affirmed by the Church over time.  It stresses the sacramental nature of marriage, its indissolubility, and the fact that the mutual love of a married couple has, for one of its purposes, the transmission of life and the education of children.

The teaching of the Church, however, has to reflect the world in which it finds itself.  Thus, pastoral attention to marriage has to do the same. In this regard, Francis points out, for example, that it can be difficult for a young person today to commit to marriage in a culture which tends to be very centered on the individual. Such an emphasis can make social relationship, even the commitment of marriage, difficult. Pope Francis notes that such rampant individualism can make it difficult for a person to give oneself generously to another (AL 33). Marriage, with its commitment to exclusivity and stability, is seen as limiting the individual’s choices. And yet, we do not want to be alone.  “The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals” (AL 34).

One essential way in which the beauty of marriage can be taught is through the witness of those living it.  Christian families are the principal agents of a family apostolate, “above all, through their joy-filled witness as domestic churches” (AL 200). Families should not only be evangelized; they should evangelize.  “Pastoral care for families needs to make it clear that the Gospel of the family responds to the deepest expectations of the human person: a response to each one’s dignity and fulfillment in reciprocity, communion, and fruitfulness” (AL 201). Marriage and family fulfill our human needs. When families are seen striving to live generously for each other, the young learn that there is more to life than personal accomplishments and satisfaction.

The Joy of Love also acknowledges that, despite our best efforts, marriages end in separation and divorce. Pope Francis encourages special care for those in that situation.  He has recently provided new guidelines to our tribunals in dealing with these cases and giving declarations of nullity. He reminds those serving in tribunals of the need for God’s mercy and compassion even as the truth of the matter is sought in these difficult situations.  In our diocese, we are blessed with competent and caring professionals in our tribunal who have always done their best to help those who seek the services of that office of justice and mercy.

What I have said here is a small piece of the breadth of this important exhortation of Pope Francis.  I encourage its study so that we can strengthen family life and our society.

Prayer to the Holy Family

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

in you we contemplate

the splendour of true love;

to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,

grant that our families, too,

may be places of communion and prayer,

authentic schools of the Gospel

and small domestic churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,

may families never again experience

violence, rejection and division;

may all who have been hurt or scandalized

find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,

make us once more mindful

of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Graciously hear our prayer.