If you have not yet had a chance to read the latest exhortation by Pope Francis, I would encourage you to take the time to do so. If you fear it might be overwhelming, at least look online at the official summary.
Amoris Laetitia or The Joy of Love is essentially a love letter to the faithful. It is not, as so many hoped (and as the media would have liked), a change in church teaching. That really is not the Pope’s style. Rather, like he does with so many homilies, writing, and addresses, Pope Francis simply clarifies what the Church has always taught using language and analogies more relatable to today’s world.
The Pope is clear: the Church does not change because people want it to or the media expects it to. The Church is called to reflection but must always be grounded in the Gospel. The Church may be a love story, but it is not the kind of story where the majority gets to write the ending they would like to see.
I appreciate the way Pope Francis talks about family life, its struggles, challenges, and joys. He notes that in this age of idealism and individualism, it is hard for some people to give their lives over to another. Generosity of spirit takes work. Marriage takes work. Parenting takes work. But family is a vocation, a calling, and all families are challenged to live, as St. John Paul wrote, “the Church in miniature.” Families are “the domestic church” and are called to live in the home as we would before the altar. That is a tall order when the eight year old is screaming, the house is a mess, and company is on its way.
If you are married, reach chapter four together. It talks about love in marriage and is simply beautiful.
The Pope also writes about preparing couples for marriage (even hinting at dealing with bridezilla), and how we can educate our young more effectively, and how in this year of mercy, all are called to be merciful. Again, great reading.
For those of us in pastoral ministry, we are treated to a specific challenge: “At times we find it hard to make room for God’s unconditional love in our pastoral activity. We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance. That is the worst way of watering down the Gospel” (AL 311). Like he did in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds those who work for the Church that ministry is never about me and never about you. It is about the Lord working through you and me.
In the end, the Pope reminds us “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed” (AL 325). It takes work. It takes patience. It takes love.
In short, it takes Jesus.
Many of us have the day off of work. Put down the iPad, the rake, or the broom. Put away the mower and take a break from the mulch.