Pope Francis is known as a man with a deep compassion for people, especially those who are disadvantaged or suffering. He has constantly sought to be with people who are on the margins. After convoking two synods in consecutive years on the subject of the family, he has now released a document entitled, “The Joy of Love”.
The document is marked by Pope Francis’ awareness that human life has an incompleteness, a brokenness. He sees families more as works in progress than settled realities. He says, “No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love”. He knows well that families are imperfect and that they experience many sufferings as well as many joys.
He understands that family life is rich and complex. He speaks of the many and varied situations of families. He calls the family a “multifaceted gem”. He is aware that families are shaped by diverse cultural situations. There is not just one model for the way families operate.
In the course of the document he touches on a wide range of issues that affect family life: from migration to lack of housing; from lack of respect for elders to the special situation of persons with disability; from pornography to sexual abuse; from violence against women to the impact of biotechnology in the field of procreation.
He addresses the rising tendency for people to choose to cohabit and not to marry. On this he speaks to young people about the value of making a full and complete commitment to the other. He is aware of the individualism of our day, commenting, “The fear of loneliness and the desire for stability and fidelity exist side by side with a growing fear of entrapment in a relationship that could hamper the achievement of one’s personal goals”.
Pope Francis knows the human conditions of our age. His document is positive and encouraging. He wants the Church to be amongst people in the realities of their lives. He wants the Church to reflect Christ who “never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery”.
Pope Francis presents the traditional teaching of the Church on issues about marriage and family. He reaffirms the teaching about the indissolubility of marriage and protecting life in the womb. He affirms the Church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, quoting from the Australian Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, “Don’t Mess with Marriage”. He warns about the dangers of gender ideology. He addresses the situation of divorced Catholics who have entered a second marriage.
In these issues he speaks about the desire of the Church to come close to people and accompany them with “pastoral mercy”. He wants the Church to listen to people and encourage those whose situation is imperfect.
Citing in particular the teaching of St Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians, he strongly re-affirms that love is the sustaining force to family life. Love within the family context takes on many shapes and expressions. Family is, in fact, a “dynamic process”, “one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God”.
He speaks of couples being united in a richly encompassing and lasting union with a “mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures”. Marriage is a life project which he sees as maturing into the human experience intimacy and love.
For all families Pope Francis encourages that they move forward even from their imperfections and woundedness to “discover a path to personal growth”.
The Joy of Love is a reflection on marriage in the contemporary world that will speak to believer and non-believer alike. As our society debates the nature of marriage and struggles with the needs of those who feel isolated from its traditional expression, this document can be a valuable source for a deeper consideration of just what marriage and family really is.