Monday, September 19, 2016

Looking to Jesus: The Vocation of the Family (AL, Ch. 3)

Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on Marriage and Family

How many times does the Holy Father use the word "tenderness" throughout chapter three of The Joy of Love?  Enough to focus our attention on the interpretive lens he wants us to use when thinking about Christian teaching on marriage and the family:

"The mystery of the Christian family
can be fully understood only in light of
the Father's infinite love revealed in Christ,
who gave himself up for our sake
and who continues to dwell in our midst."
(AL, n. 59)

This Trinitarian tenderness stands at the heart of the Church's vision for marriage.  The gift of the Son continues to flow through the outpouring of the Spirit in the spousal covenant of marriage, now redeemed and restored by Jesus (nn. 62-63).

The Trinitarian roots of marriage and family also shines forth in Pope Francis' reminder that "The family is the image of God, who is a communion of persons" (n. 71). Thus, the Sacrament of Marriage draws husband and wife into communion not only with each other, but also with the Lord: 

"In accepting each other, and with Christ's grace,
the engaged couple promise each other total self-giving,
faithfulness and openness to new life...
The sacrament is not a 'thing' or a 'power,'
for in it Christ himself 'now encounters Christian spouses...
He dwells with them, gives them the strength
to take up their crosses and so follow him,
to rise after they have fallen,
to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens'."

(n. 73)

Needless to say, Pope Francis is not some out-of touch idealist. He is painfully aware of the "imperfection" and "complexity of various situations." He responds, therefore, in the most really-real way possible--that is, by emphasizing the always-greater reality of God's grace: "Seeing things with the eyes of Christ inspires the Church's pastoral care for the faithful who are living together, or are only married civilly, or are divorced and remarried. Following this divine pedagogy, the Church...seeks the grace of conversion for them; the encourages them to do good, to take loving care of each other and to serve the community in which they live and work" (n. 78). 

For those who might be hoping that Church teachings will change to reflect the widespread use of contraception or the encouragement of same-sex unions, Pope Francis clearly reiterates the vision of marriage which comes from Jesus himself, reaffirmed by Vatican II and all of our recent popes. Indeed, he speaks to the fact that conjugal union is ordered to procreation "by its very nature." As the Holy Father puts it, "The child who is born 'does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment'" (n. 80).

Finally, given that the family is the sanctuary of life, Pope Francis expresses outrage about attacks on human life from within the family itself: "it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed."  He also reminds us all of the true value of properly formed consciences on this matter when he adds that, "those who work in heath care facilities are reminded of the moral duty of conscientious objection" (n. 83).

Let's continue praying for an authentic renewal of a Christian vision of marriage and the family which takes into account the splendor of life and love: As Pope Francis reminds us again and again, with tenderness: "The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church" (n. 87)!