Last week, Pope Francis published Amoris Laetita, a letter to families around the world, encouraging them to experience the “joy of love,” and to live as active, faithful, and generous disciples of Jesus Christ.
In 2013, Pope Francis called for two meetings of bishops from around the world—an Extraordinary and Ordinary Synod—as forums for discussion and discernment about how the Church can call families to conversion and support them in the Christian life. The pope began those conversations with a worldwide consultation. In 2014 He asked every diocese in the world to reach out to lay people—to mothers and fathers, sons and daughters—and ask for their insights, their advice, their concerns, and their hopes. Amoris Laetita is the result of these consultations and Synod. (Free Pdf versions are available on the web : Amoris laetitia: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on love)
In our modern culture, family life is in a particular and urgent kind of crisis. Since the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, the family has been relentlessly assaulted by a pervasive contraceptive mentality, by widespread divorce, by increasingly ubiquitous pornography, and by the radical redefinition of marriage itself. Families face challenges their ancestors rarely did, and they seem to be assaulted by the “culture of death” constantly. Pope Francis’ letter recognizes that many families live without joy. Many families suffer, often in isolation, and often without hope. He reminds us of the basic Christian vocation to proclaim Christ to those without hope, and to “accompany” those who are suffering. Amoris Laetitia encourages the whole Church to support the vocation to family life, especially among families living without joy. Pope Francis writes that, “the Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” He means that joyful families enliven the entire Church, generation after generation, by witnessing to the fidelity of Jesus Christ.
Jesus before his impending death told his disciples: “I give you a new commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” What’s new about Jesus’ call to love at this moment? Jesus knew that he was going to be betrayed and denied by his own friends. Yet, he is not shaken in his love for them. He shares meal with them and exhorts them to love one another as he has loved them. It is a love that is not turned off or restricted even when one is betrayed or let down by those closest. It is a love that is not extinguished under trial when one is treated unjustly. It is a love extended even to the enemies and to those who mistreat others. A love that is ready to sacrifice even one’s life for the sake of others. Jesus tells us that love is the Christian’s name tag. He says “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This commandment of Jesus is new because it is different from what we are used to. Our common tendency is to love those who love us and hate those who do not love us. To love as Jesus loves us and as he commanded we have to immerse ourselves in Jesus, immerse ourselves in Jesus’ mercy. By human efforts alone we cannot have the attitude of Christ in love; it is possible only with the divine grace. Jesus after his resurrection appeared to the disciples, forgave their wrongs and loved them and gave them his power to be the instruments of unconditional love. It is only with the grace of God that we love our neighbor as ourselves in this new way. It is only by living every day with Jesus that we can love our neighbor as ourselves in this new way.
“Many keep the commandments as sick men take medicines, more from fear of dying in a state of damnation, than from love of living according to our Savior’s pleasure….On the contrary, the loving heart loves the commandments; and the harder they are, the more sweet and agreeable it finds them, because it more perfectly pleases the beloved, and gives him more honor. It pours forth and sings hymns of joy when God teaches it his commandments and justifications.” St. Francis de Sales