Monday, July 11, 2016

"In the Light of the Word" (AL, Ch. 1)

"Given the rich fruits of the two-year Synod process,
this Exhortation will treat, in different ways,
a wide variety of questions.
This explains its inevitable length.
Consequently, I do not recommend a rushed reading of the text.
The greatest benefit, for families themselves
and for those engaged in the family apostolate,
will come if each part is read patiently and carefully..."

+Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia [AL], (n. 7)

Pope Francis longs to speak heart-to-heart with "Phil and Frannie."  Phil and Frannie are regular "family folks"--our neighbors and relatives and old friends.  They are ourselves--men and women who are living and loving as best we can, given the messiness of our post-modern and increasingly post-Christian world.

As the comment above suggests, Holy Father Francis wants all of us regular (and "irregular"!) family folks to ponder his words.  To wrestle with them.  To open our hearts anew to the beauty of God's revelation about life and love.

It has been said that, as the family goes, so goes society.  We all come into being through a family, and these families serve as the fundamental building blocks of our local communities.  Some families of origin may be deeply flawed from the outset, of course; others may become so over time. Pope Francis knows that these things happen in a fallen world, and yet he wants Phils and Frannies around the world to hear the good news about marriage and family life...

This brief reflection will begin with some of Pope Francis' insights from Chapter 1 of Amoris Laetitia, entitled "In the Light of the Word." Let's reflect together in the way that Papa Francesco would like us to do so--that is, "patiently and carefully":
  • Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus reaffirmed the primordial plan revealed in Genesis, namely, that God created the human person in his very image--as a couple.  "Male and female": The difference makes all the difference; the complementarity makes the image complete.  The fruitfulness of the love between a man and a woman, which alone begets life, is "a true and living icon" of God's very being (AL, n. 11). 
  • Following St. John Paul II's lead, Pope Francis reiterates that "Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love.  That love, in the divine family is the Holy Spirit" (AL, n. 11). The family thus provides a living reflection of the mystery of the Trinity: difference embraced in unity; otherness accepted in communion.
  • The pope's meditation on Psalm 128 paints another portrait of the family, "where husband and wife are seated at table, children appear at their side 'like olive shoots'" (AL, n. 14). Parents provide a foundation so their children can become the "living stones" of new families; in this way, "succeeding generations can raise their song to the Lord" (AL, n. 16).
  • Pope Francis is not naive about the disintegrating impact of sin. He reassures us that "Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables" (AL, n. 21). Suffering and violence run throughout the stories of the scriptures, and the Holy Father reminds us that "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" (AL, n. 22).  The Word of God reveals the goal of our journey: the fullness of Life, which conquers all suffering and death itself. 
Phil and Frannie may not know iconography, but they understand that a work of art reflects the genius of the artist.  They may not know what an olive plant looks like, but they understand that they are the fruit of parents, grandparents and generations of ancestors through whom the gift of love has flown. They may not be able to offer a philosophical critique of the culture's isolated individualism, but they know that real relationships are the stuff of life--and that these relationships overflow with new life.

Phil and Frannie don't need Ph.D.s to understand that marriage and family must be rooted in "the law of love and the gift of self for others" (AL, n. 27).  Indeed, they understand that Christian love is about laying down one's life for one's friends. Their personal experience has shown that love is a matter of mercy and forgiveness and--to use a favorite Pope Francis term--tenderness (AL, n. 28)!

God continues to communicate through families, and the families of so many Phils and Frannies provide images and reflections of the divine Trinity.  Imperfect and flawed though they may still be, family folks everywhere are "called to join in prayer, to read the word of God and to share in Eucharistic communion, and thus to grow in love and become ever more fully a temple which the Spirit dwells" (AL, n. 29).

In the weeks ahead, take some time to check out Chapter 1, and we will continue our journey into this magisterial teaching next month :)


P.S. Starting 8.1.16, we will be sharing Amoris Laetitiae one-paragraph-per-day through the following blog:  If you would like to subscribe to read this document in bite-sized chunks, just go to the "follow by email" tab to register (if you have previously subscribed to read Laudato Si' and Evangelii Gaudium, no need to re-subscribe--you are all set!).