1 March 2021
Explaining the joy of love
It is a long document (nine chapters and 166 pages) and it is important at the outset to state clearly what kind of document it is. From time to time the Church publishes documents which are legal or to do with the celebration of the sacraments, or about doctrinal or scriptural matters.
The Joy of Love is very much a pastoral document: an exhortation on Christian family life intended to inspire and direct Christians in their family life; it is a document which offers guidance on how to live ‘the gospel of the family’ and how to manage difficulties which can arise.
Right from the start Pope Francis makes it clear that a central plank of his papacy is dialogue. He sees his exhortation as a contribution to a creative dialogue in faith about matters of supreme importance in lives of all Christians. In the third paragraph, he says, “I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by intervention of the magisterium.”
By this bold statement the pope is saying local churches have something to contribute to how our faith is to be lived: “Each country or region can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs.”
We do not always have to wait for the teaching authority of the Church to pronounce on some topic. Of course, the pope also echoes the tradition of the Church: “Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church” but that does not rule out particular interpretations, applications and local circumstances. The first chapter of The Joy of the Gospel sets the tone for the whole document.
The pope begins with a biblical vision of family life. The leading insight here is that God is a family: Father, Son and Spirit and that a Christian family is meant to be a living icon of God. Of course, the pope is very aware of the family also as ‘A path of suffering and blood’.
Family difficulties cannot be completely avoided – even in the Holy Family of Nazareth. We get the clearest sign of Pope Francis’ approach to the mystery of the family when he reminds us of the background of Christian love: love of God and Neighbour. Against this background, he highlights the virtue of tenderness as one of the treasures of family life. Such a notion of tenderness is a beautiful way to begin an exhortation on family life!
Footnote: The Majellan will include articles about family and the Joy of Love in each issue until the Year of the Family concludes in June 2022.