Be gentle with and kind to each other. At the risk of sounding banal and reductive, I would argue this simple bit of advice is at the heart of what Pope Francis strives to tell us in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
This papal document, released April 8 as the official response to last fall’s Synod of Bishops on the Family, is much more than simply grandfatherly counsel. It is truly an exhortation — a deeply inspiring reflection that encourages us to have courage and see hope in the fate of the family. As such, it proposes a relationship between the Church and families everywhere based on mercy and compassion and joy in the gift of faith in Jesus Christ.
There are a few things it is not:
- It is not simply a reiteration of Church teaching (though it indeed explains and defends Catholic doctrines);
- Nor is it a decree that all must simply obey Church teachings, no matter what the circumstances;
- Nor does it change Church teaching in any way.
Instead, it reviews the many challenges facing the modern family, recognizes the heart-wrenching problems these can cause and reminds us that God is not a disinterested bystander.
Francis takes great pains to remind us that the pastoral response of the Church to those who approach her with familial problems must be leavened with sensitivity and common sense. He uses the terms “guiding, discerning and integrating” as helpful paths for pastors and counselors to help families navigate their way through many complex difficulties.
In a way, Francis is merely reinforcing a longstanding practice among our clergy to respond “pastorally” to situations where married couples, for one reason or another, do not conform to the precise definition of the ideal marriage. In a sense, the term “pastoral” has become a kind of code in which the pastor strives to reconcile the traditions and beliefs of the church with reality on the ground so that these are tools in his hand for reconciliation and forgiveness rather than punishment.
The Holy Father also reminds us all of the importance of proper preparation for married life. No other vocation may be so important to the future of society, yet no other vocation requires so little training or education.
This is especially apparent to us at Novalis. Since the 1960s, we have been deeply engaged in marriage preparation. Our various programs have been translated in more than 25 languages over the decades. And our most recent program, What God Has Joined, draws on Church tradition right up to the present while recognizing the many ways modern society conspires to challenge married life.
Nevertheless, we remain bullish on the family and how Catholic faith and teaching can help enrich family life and prepare spouses, parents, children and all members of the extended family to build lives together that are meaningful and loving.
To that end, we welcome this papal reflection with great joy. It should be read in chanceries, rectories and seminaries around the world. But it shouldn’t stop there. This is no sterile teaching manual. Its simple and inspiring language should be read everywhere. In particular, chapter 4, is a must read for any couple either preparing for marriage, or striving to deepen their own.
As Francis reminds us, the family, often called the “domestic Church”, remains a foundational part of society. Its health and vibrancy are vital for the health and vibrancy of the planet. Our Catholic teachings and traditions, if properly administered, can nourish the family and help it to be ready for whatever it faces.
– Joseph Sinasac, Publishing Director
Click here, to view our marriage preparation program What God has Joined, an interactive and accessible marriage preparation program to help couples grow in understanding of each other and the Church’s teaching.