In 1970, married couples with children constituted 40 percent of American households. By 2012, that figure had fallen to less than 20 percent. Thus it is timely and fitting that His Holiness Pope Francis has issued his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on Love in the Family bearing the Latin title, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The title is taken from the document’s opening line, “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.”
Following the two Synods of Bishops in Rome in October 2014 and October 2015, Pope Francis writes that he “thought it appropriate to prepare a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to gather the contributions of the two recent synods on the family, while adding other considerations as an aid to reflection, dialogue and pastoral practice, and as a help and encouragement to families in their daily commitments and challenges” (n. 4).
The Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation begins with an opening chapter inspired by the Scriptures, to set a proper tone. He then examines the actual situation of families, in order to keep firmly grounded in reality. He goes 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. The Holy Father highlights 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, the pope offers an invitation to mercy and the pastoral discernment of those situations that fall short of what the Lord demands of us, and concludes with a brief discussion of family spirituality.
There are no changes to canon law or church doctrine introduced in this document, as Pope Francis explains, “If we consider the immense variety of concrete situations such as those I have mentioned, it is understandable that neither the Synod nor this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases” (n. 300). Rather, the Holy Father says, “In order to avoid all misunderstanding, I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur” (n. 307).
Pope Francis himself notes that it is a lengthy document. “Consequently,” the Holy Father writes, “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. It is likely, for example, that married couples will be more concerned with Chapters Four and Five, and pastoral ministers with Chapter Six, while everyone should feel challenged by Chapter Eight. It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life, for ‘families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity’” (n. 7).
Following the Holy Father’s request, I encourage Catholics and all people interested in strengthening marriage and family life to read the entire apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis “patiently and carefully.” As Pope Francis so frequently requests, please pray for him and for all those called to the vocation of marriage and family life as well as those who minister to them.