In this reflection for the April 2016 CatholicCare Sydney staff newsletter, Sandie Cornish reflects on chapters two and six of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia.
Love in Ordinary Families
Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), is a wide-ranging document. Francis encourages readers to pay particular attention to those parts dealing with their specific needs. I would like to highlight two things about the document – its realism, and its encouraging tone – by focusing on chapters two and six.
Sometimes it can seem like church teaching talks only about ideal families, rather than the real lives of actual families. Pope Francis acknowledges that this doesn’t really help – relationships and family life are complex and messy (n 36). Chapter two describes realistically the experiences of families and the challenges that they face, including family violence and the sexual abuse of children (see for example n 45, 51, 54). At CatholicCare we know that acknowledging issues is an important step in working towards more healthy and respectful relationships. The families with whom we work have strengths and potential as well as experiencing difficulties and challenges. We help them best when we meet them where they are with compassion and not judgment. Pope Francis affirms this realistic approach to accompanying families.
Pope Francis says “no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love” (n 325). To struggle to be a school of love is a normal family experience, not something to be stigmatized. Francis wants the Church to encourage and support families, building on whatever is good in their experience, rather than just presenting rules or criticizing shortcomings. Chapter six affirms and stresses the important role that family and relationship services can play. I hope it will encourage pastoral workers to promote our support services, enabling more families to access them.
The full text of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) and related resources can be downloaded here