Earlier this month, Pope Francis released his long-awaited exhortation on marriage and the family entitled
(“the Joy of love”) The title of the document comes from its opening words: “
The Joy of Love
experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”
The document is an
rather than a dogmatic statement. It is a word of encouragement that is the result of two Synods on Marriage and the Family that took place in Rome in the fall of 2014 and the fall of 2015. These synods were attended by Bishops, Clergy, Lay People, and experts in the area of marriage and the family. Their purpose was to address the issue of family life in the present situation in order to determine how the Church can best proclaim what the gospel says about marriage and family.
Among the “hot button topics” of this synod were the following: the situation of those who are divorced and remarried, the situation of those who live together without the benefit of marriage, the situation of those who are gay and seek a more stable union. These, of course, were not the only issues discussed, but they were the topics that caught the attention of most people.
The document issued by the Pope does not resolve these issues, nor is it intended to. It is a “pastoral” document that seeks to listen and find ways to assist those who find themselves in difficult situations. Most importantly, it seeks to encourage and strengthen all married couples in the exalted vocation of married love today.
This is a lengthy document (274 pages). You will find it on the Vatican Website and our own St. Mary’s Website. Although long, it is readable and accessible, and I encourage you to spend some time with it. If you do not have time to read the whole document, be sure to read Chapter Four in which the Pope presents a beautiful meditation on love that will assist all of us in the spiritual life, whether or not we are married.
The document consists of nine chapters. In the first, the Pope provides us with a reflection of what the Scriptures say about marriage. In the second, he discusses the challenges contemporary families are facing. In the third he turns to the teaching of Jesus who raised matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament. In the fourth the Pope provides a profound meditation on nature of love as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. This is, in many ways, the heart of the document because it shows us how marriage is to be lived out day by day.
In chapter six Pope Francis discusses some pastoral issues such as the need to assist those who are preparing for marriage and the importance of sustaining them in their married life their whole life long. In chapter seven he discusses the importance of the family for educating children. In chapter eight he discusses the “irregular” situations in which many people find themselves and the need for pastoral discernment and pastoral mercy on the part of pastors. Finally, in chapter nine, the Pope provides us with a spirituality of marriage and the family. The Pope describes what he will do in this way.
I will begin with an opening chapter inspired by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone. I will then examine the actual situation of families, in order to keep firmly grounded in reality. I will go on to recall some essential aspects of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, thus paving the way for two central chapters dedicated to love. I will then highlight some pastoral approaches that can guide us in building sound and fruitful homes in accordance with God’s plan, with a full chapter devoted to the raising of children. Finally, I will offer an invitation to mercy and the pastoral discernment of those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us, and conclude with a brief discussion of family spirituality.
In the weeks ahead, I will discuss some aspects of this document in greater detail.