Dear Sisters and Brothers, on Friday, April 8th, Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love.” As with all papal exhortations and encyclicals, the title comes from the first words of the document: “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church” (1). The exhortation is the fruit of much prayer and reflection from the two synods on the family, in October 2014 and 2015. The Pope states that the document comes at an opportune time in this Year of Mercy. It exhorts us to hold in high esteem “the gifts of marriage and the family.” It calls us to be loyal “in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience.” It also calls each of us to “be a sign of mercy and closeness” with troubled families (5).
In this exhortation, the Pope acknowledges that the document is a long one, but that it should be read slowly and prayerfully. He further states, “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 live and cherish family life, for “families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity” (7). He encourages us not to be deterred or dissuaded by the length of the document, but to be open to and to discover the insights and wisdom that make it worth the read.
I have only begun to read the exhortation myself, but I am committed to read it through because I believe that Catholics, all Christians for that matter, need to hear an articulate and clear support for marriage and the family. It is necessary that we be compassionate and sensitive to the reality of difficult family struggles such as divorce, dysfunction, estrangement, and addiction; several challenges among which this document addresses very directly (see numbers 50 – 56, for example). At the same time, we can confidently promote and encourage the blessings of marriage and family. The two synods on marriage and family life are the foundation of this apostolic exhortation which is founded on the gospel message of love – love of God and love within human relationships – as the underpinnings of a healthy family life and of a healthy marriage. I would encourage everyone to take a look at “The Joy of Love” and at least to read prayerfully those chapters that pertain to you.
I pray that as you all continue in your faith journey, whether married or single, divorced or widowed, teenager or adult, you may come to know in a more profound way God’s love for you and the fullness of joy (John 15:11) that comes from knowing God’s love!
– Fr. Jeff