Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of Love – A reflection – Part I
2016 – Cycle C
Acts 14: 21-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13: 31-33, 34-35
Throughout elementary and high school I’d often get up around midnight or so to find my mother, head down on the kitchen table asleep. The TV was on. Usually the remnants of Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show. Dad hadn’t returned home as yet from working the 2nd shift. I’d turn the TV off and shake mom and tell her to go to bed.
Pope Francis recently wrote: “parents come home exhausted, not wanting to talk, and many families no longer even share a meal together. Distractions abound,….” [AL #50] Mom had worked all day, came home and got supper prepared, helped with homework, prepared her clothes for work and got us off to bed (which was not always so easy) and be disciplinarian to boot! Dad got the morning shift. Getting my brother and I up (no easy matter either), often driving me to church to serve an early Mass, back home for breakfast, and then back to school to pick us up at 3 o’clock before he went to work at 3:30.
Parents are exhausted. Parents taking care of their children and their parents, the sandwich generation, are exhausted. Spouses taking care of their spouses with infirmities and often debilitating diseases are exhausted.
Francis questions, “…who is making an effort to strengthen marriages, to help married couples overcome their problems, to assist them in the work of raising children and, in general, to encourage the stability of the marriage bond? [AL #52] He muses, “Many people feel that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals…” [AL #38]
Do you agree with his observation?
Francis states: “families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.” [AL #7] An opportunity “to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience; to be a sign of mercy and closeness…” [AL #7]
These observations of Francis are from his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love. Pope Francis convened two synods or assemblies of bishops. One in October 2014 and again in October 2015. The bishops were to examine the challenges facing modern families. Francis told the bishops he wanted them to speak their minds without holding back. And they did.
The Synod raised a flurry of expectations on the issue of divorced Catholics who are remarried civilly. What is their place in the Catholic Church? Should the discipline be lifted in regard to the non-reception of Holy Communion and the sacramental life of the Church? How might the Church respond to the issue of same-sex marriage, which despite the Supreme Court’s decision still is a matter of great debate in our country along with all LGBT issues?
An Apostolic Exhortation is a reflection in response to the deliberations at the Synod of Bishops. It does not define church teaching but seeks to encourage all the people of the Church in a particular activity, to offer insights, to chart a course through the complexities of modern life, to respond pastorally balancing the demanding teachings of Jesus and the realities of life. Thus an apostolic exhortation is not a final say on any matter but is an extension of the dialogue, argumentation, and insights, of the church’s bishops. It is a manner in which the bishop of Rome summarizes and “weighs in” as head of the college of bishops; trying to bring balance to a universal debate.
Beginning today and in the next weeks, I would like to highlight aspects of the exhortation for us and encourage you to purchase a copy, obtain it on line, or on your Kindle and begin reading it yourselves. We all are a member of a family. Many of the insights that Francis proposes and teaches are also apropos for the family of the Church, the parish.
Joy is a particular virtue and emotion that Francis returns to over and over again. Last Lent we read and discussed his first Apostolic Exhortation entitled The Joy of the Gospel; now he offers us The Joy of Love. Note neither is called The Job of the Gospel or The Duty of Love, or the Unbearable Burden of the Gospel and Love. Love is to be a joy; life is to be joyful. Though there is a place in the Christian life for asceticism and self-denial, even these are to be lived out in joy. The Prefaces of Lent proclaim: “For by your gracious gift each year your people await the sacred paschal feasts with joy…” and “For you will that our self-denial should give you thanks…” In other words, Lent, the Christian life is to be marked by thanksgiving and joy. Joy and thanksgiving are what God desires for his children. Do you desire less for your children, grandchildren, adopted and foster children?
Francis sounds a very different note when he declares that “we believe that God loves the enjoyment felt by human beings: he created us and “richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy”” [1 Timothy 6:17] He quotes the words from the Book of Sirach which I offer in full: “My son, [my daughter,] if you have the means, treat yourself well, and enjoy life as best you can. Remember that death does not delay, and you have not been told the grave’s appointed time. Before you die, be good to your friends; give them a share in what you possess. Do not deprive yourself of good things now or let a choice portion escape you.” [Sirach 14:11-14] [AL #149]
Some people may argue that this view can lead to hedonism, greed, and selfishness – and they are correct. But though the Christian is called to enjoy life, note, we are to do so within our means, to be good to our friends and share the abundance we have and therefore the joy we possess. The “within our means” and the act of sharing give us balance.
So, what brings you joy and fulfillment in life?
Is your joy a person? Is your joy an activity? Do you regularly foster and nurture your joy?
Remember, joy is the desire of God for you. Who or whatever gives you joy is a gift from God for you that you may be complete. [See John 15:9-12]