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Amoris Laetitia – Chapter 9

13 July, 2022

Pope Francis’ beautiful exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia, draws to a close in chapter nine with a reflection on the particular spirituality of marriage and family. Just as various religious traditions and walks of life in the church have their own unique spiritual richness, so too does the family itself.

In this closing chapter, Pope Francis begins by reminding us that the family is not just a useful social unit; it is actually a dwelling place of the Holy Trinity. And God makes his dwelling in families not just when everything is going smoothly, but constantly and in the midst of the troubles, struggles, joys and hopes; in other words, the Trinity is right there in the “messiness” of family life. Living in a family, says Pope Francis, makes it difficult to pretend we are someone we are not. In our families we cannot “wear a mask” – our families see us for who we really are, and because of that they are places where truth and authenticity are fostered.

One of the real gems of this chapter is the way Pope Francis emphasises the intimate connection between the Sacrament of marriage and the mystery of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. It’s when a family has Jesus at its centre that he shines a light on the true meaning of family life, even on the difficulties and sufferings that can be a part of it. In fact, it is union with Jesus that turns those hardships into an offering of love; in other words, the family that goes through tough times with Jesus at the centre of their life, actually shares with Jesus in his sacrifice on the cross. So families in this way share with Jesus in the work of salvation.

Pope Francis urges families to find time each today to pray together, saying “it can do immense good for our families.” He reminds us that sharing in the Sunday Eucharist is the high point of the family’s life together, because there, husbands and wives can once again seal the covenant that unites them by sharing in the covenant Jesus made between God and humanity.

The pope also highlights a unique and powerful element of married love: it is the experience of belonging completely to another person. This is a particularly challenging idea especially in our modern western culture, where independence and autonomy are so highly prized. Marriage challenges this notion and presents couples with the profound opportunity to live lives of self-giving faithfulness, realising that each of them belongs to the other and that their lives are meant to be lived for the benefit of the other. In a very real sense, the vocation of each spouse is to pour themselves out for the other and help them reach heaven.

Pope Francis reminds us that married life challenges and teaches spouses to contemplate others with the eyes of God. The demands of married life and the unique opportunities it gives are invitations to see others as Jesus looked at people: meeting their gaze directly and lovingly. In Jesus’ presence, no one feels overlooked and everyone feels seen. This is what we experience in the daily life of the family, when it is living its vocation faithfully.

Pope Francis concludes his teaching by reminding us that a family’s ability to love is always a work in progress. It is a never-ending vocation that requires commitment and trust in God. But it is not something that husbands, wives, and their children create all by themselves. Instead, it is something that is fed by divine sources: the communion of the Trinity itself, the union of Jesus Christ and his Church, the community of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and pure fraternity of the saints in heaven. Each of these sources of unity nourishes the unity of married couples and their families, so that they can truly be authentic schools of the gospel.

Fr Andrew Chase