Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis released an important document on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), reflecting the discussion that occurred at the 2014 and 2015 synods of bishops on the family. The pope convened those gatherings because he believes strongly that healthy families are essential to the life of society and the church. For that reason, he wanted to discuss the complex challenges facing marriage and family life today and how the church can best respond pastorally to her people.
The document, called an “apostolic exhortation,” received a great deal of media attention even before its release because of what people anticipated it might say regarding Communion for persons who are divorced and civilly remarried. While the Holy Father does not change any church teaching on this matter, he wants bishops, pastors and the entire church to make greater strides in meeting families where they are at, accompanying and strengthening them on their journey of faith, and inviting them into the life of the church to the fullest extent possible.
Pope Francis has asked that people read this document slowly and carefully. Your pastors and I will be doing this in the coming weeks, taking time to reflect on what it means for the way we minister to families in our parishes and our diocese as a whole.
“The Joy of Love,” however, isn’t limited to a single issue. In fact, the pope addresses many topics, including what Scripture says about marriage and family life, and the many challenges facing today’s families, including the impact of a culture that too often lacks respect for human life at all stages, promotes violence and unhealthy ideas about sex, and lacks compassion for families challenged by poverty, migration and other global realities.
He writes about the gift of the sacrament of marriage and offers a beautiful reflection for married couples on a Scripture reading often proclaimed at weddings — 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (“Love is patient, love is kind …”). He also talks about how love changes, but doesn’t lessen, over a lifetime with one’s spouse. And he repeats some advice he’s offered previously to families: the importance of using three “essential words” every day — “please,” “thank you” and “sorry.”
The pope emphasizes the importance of welcoming new life into families and devotes an entire chapter to the education of children. There also is a chapter offering pastoral recommendations related to marriage, such as having more training for seminarians and for lay leaders who assist in the pastoral care of families. The Holy Father addresses the importance of marriage preparation as being the role of the whole church community, and he notes the importance of ongoing support to newly married couples.
Much of what the pope recommends is already being done by our diocesan Office of Marriage and Family, which also is reflecting on the document and what it means for its work.
“The Joy of Love” is essential reading for anyone involved in family ministry. But engaged and married couples would benefit from reading certain chapters: “Love in Marriage” (chapter 4), “Love Made Fruitful” (chapter 5) and “Towards a Better Education of Children” (chapter 7).
Our Holy Father has given us much to reflect on. But it is an important reflection for us to do. As he states, “The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church.
Let us walk the journey of faith together.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Donald J. Kettler