Pope: The family, "joy of love", a place of growth, the very expression of mercy
by Franco Pisano

Pope Francis’  Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia "about love in the family" is published. The family is founded on marriage, it is central to the life of the Church and every society, which should support it, rather than hold it hostage; the family has rights such as education, which cannot be violated; the family should not be confused with other forms of union. "Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it."


Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The Christian family is based on marriage, "an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures" (n. 126). It is central to the life of the Church and of every society, which should support it, rather than hold it hostage; the family has rights such as education, which cannot be violated; the family should not be confused with other forms of union. But it is not an "ideal", as a concrete reality that presents different facets according to cultural, economic, social influences. A reality that must be acculturated and that the Church must look upon with the love and mercy of Jesus, thus trying to "welcome" even the "irregular" situations.

These are the principal themes of " Amoris laetitia " ( "The joy of love"), the post-synodal apostolic exhortation "on love in the family" by Pope Francis, which was made public today.

Significantly dated March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, it ends with a prayer to the Holy Family of Nazareth, asking that it help make our families "places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches".

The lengthy document - 263 pages in the English edition - has a fundamental thread of being concrete in the face of different situations,  with the result that for some issues "each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs"and that if" of course "unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it” (n. 3).
This also applies to the question that has been the focus of media attention on the two Synods on the family, in 2014 and in 2015, that of the divorced and remarried, and in general those who are in "irregular" situations. In fact, if one takes into account the innumerable variety of concrete situations "

this Exhortation could be expected to provide a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases. What is possible is simply a renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases, one which would recognize that, since “the degree of responsibility is not equal in all cases”,335 the consequences or ef­fects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same"(n. 300). "It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial com­munity" (n. 297), the "need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal" (n . 299).

Apart from this issue, this document shows that already in the Bible "the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering"(n. 22). And "neither today’s society nor that to which we are progressing allow an uncritical survival of older forms and models”.  It is also evident that “the principal tendencies in anthropological-cultural changes” are leading “individuals, in personal and family life, to re­ceive less and less support from social structures than in the past" (n. 32). Then there are the "challenges" ranging from the migration phenomenon that "traumatizes people and destabilizes the family" (n. 46), gender theory, for which " human identity be­comes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time"(n. 56), the anti-birth mentality and impact of biotechnology in the field of procreation, homelessness and unemployment, to pornography and abuse of minors. The Pope also notes "the growing danger repre­sented by an extreme individualism which weak­ens family bonds and ends up considering each member of the family as an isolated unit, leading in some cases to the idea that one’s personality is shaped by his or her desires, which are con­sidered absolute"(n. 33).

If this is the reality, its opposite is a"far too abstract and al­most artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and prac­tical possibilities of real families" (n. 36).  Instead one the Church must follow the example of Jesus who proposed a demanding ideal but "yet never failed to show com­passion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery" (n. 38). The Church is called in short "to form consciences, not claim to replace them" (n. 37). Formation, however, is a need for this in many ways, given that " Today, more important than the pastoral care of failures is the pastoral effort to strengthen marriages and thus to prevent their breakdown" (n. 307). Education, then, starting from marriage preparation " There are a number of legiti­mate ways to structure programmes of marriage preparation, and each local Church will discern how best to provide a suitable formation without distancing young people from the sacrament". "It affects the quality and quantity" (n. 207). Education is also needed in the accompaniment of spouses in the first years of married life (including the theme of responsible parenthood) and “seminarians should receive a more exten­sive interdisciplinary, and not merely doctrinal, formation in the areas of engagement and mar­riage”( n. 203). “The pastoral care of engaged and married cou­ples should be centred on the marriage bond, assisting couples not only to deepen their love but also to overcome problems and difficulties" (N. 211).

The foundation of marriage, in fact, is love. "The Christian ideal, and especially in the family, in spite of everything is love" (n. 119) and "marriage is a precious sign of this”, because ““when a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is, as it were, ‘mirrored’ in them; he impresses in them his own features and the in­delible character of his love. Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us "(121). A love that in matrimony is also eros, the Pope recalled, because “although there have been exaggerations and deviant forms of asceticism in Christianity, the Church’s official teaching, in fidelity to the Scriptures, did not reject “eros as such, but rather declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of eros… actually strips it of divine dignity and dehumanizes it"(n. 147).
Love, however, "always gives life. For this, conjugal love does not end with the couple "(n. 165). This is the affirmation with which the fifth of the ten chapters of the Exhortation begins, entitled "The love which becomes fruitful." It speaks of accepting a new life, the expectation of pregnancy, the love of mother and father. " It is important for that child to feel wanted. He or she is not an accessory or a solution to some personal need. A child is a human being of immense worth and may never be used for one’s own benefit. So it matters little whether this new life is convenient for you, whether it has features that please you, or whether it fits into your plans and aspirations. For “children are a gift. Each one is unique and irreplaceable…"(n.170). And "every child has the right to receive the love of a mother and a father, both necessary for its integrated and harmonious maturation " (n. 172). The child also has the right to be educated by his parents. "The State offers educational programmes in a subsidiary way, sup­porting the parents in their indeclinable role; par­ents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education – accessible and of good quality – which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions. Schools do not replace parents, but complement them. This is a basic principle "(n. 84).

But the family in the document is not the mononuclear, it extends to uncles, cousins, relatives of relatives, friends and elders. "Our elderly are men and women, fathers and mothers, who came before us on our own road, in our own house, in our daily battle for a worthy life”.212 Indeed, “how I would like a Church that challenges the throw-away culture by the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young and old! "(N. 191). A family that includes adoption, acceptance, promoting a "culture of encounter".

A particular task of the family is education. In fact, "the family is the first school of human values, where you learn the proper use of freedom" (n. 274). And "In the family we can also learn to be critical about certain messages sent by the various media. Sad to say, some television programmes or forms of advertising often nega­tively influence and undercut the values inculcated in family life."(n. 274).

This education comes primarily from their parents' behavior and affects growth of the child. "If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges"(n. 261).
Formation also falls within sex education, to which "yes" the Pope devotes a chapter. "the information has to come at a proper time and in a way suited to their age. It is not helpful to over­whelm them with data without also helping them to develop a critical sense in dealing with the on­slaught of new ideas and suggestions, the flood of pornography and the overload of stimuli that

can deform sexuality. Young people need to re­alize that they are bombarded by messages that are not beneficial for their growth towards ma­turity. They should be helped to recognize and to seek out positive influences, while shunning the things that cripple their capacity for love”(n. 281). It must instead be "within the framework of an education to love, a reciprocal gift" (n. 280). Frequently, then, "sex education deals primarily with “protection” through the practice of “safe sex”. Such expressions convey a negative atti­tude towards the natural procreative finality of sexuality, as if an eventual child were an enemy to be protected against. This way of thinking promotes narcissism and aggressivity in place of acceptance. It is always irresponsible to invite adolescents to toy with their bodies and their desires, as if they possessed the maturity, values, mutual commitment and goals proper to mar­riage. They end up being blithely encouraged to use other persons as an means of fulfilling their needs or limitations. "(n. 283).

Finally, bringing up children, “calls for an orderly pro­cess of handing on the faith. This is made diffi­cult by current lifestyles, work schedules and the complexity of today’s world, where many people keep up a frenetic pace just to survive.306 Even so, the home must continue to be the place where we learn to appreciate the meaning and beauty of the faith, to pray and to serve our neighbour". (287). "Parents desirous of nurturing the faith of their children are sensitive to their patterns of growth, for they know that spiritual experience is not imposed but freely proposed.

It is essential that children actually see that, for their parents, prayer is something truly impor­tant. Hence moments of family prayer and acts of devotion can be more powerful for evangeli­zation than any catechism class or sermon"(n. 288).