June 10, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Bible is full of love stories, family crises

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Pope Francis begins his apostolic exhortation , “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), with a reflection on images of love, marriage and family life in the Bible. No modern family crisis is without precedence in sacred Scripture. The biblical experiences of the Jewish people and the early Christians fully anticipates the crises we experience today—not in their particular details, of course, but in the emotional and psychological impacts they have on individuals, families and communities.

From the very beginning, the Bible tells us, families have experienced the joys of love and the sorrows of violence. But in the end, love, marriage and the family will endure—as witnessed by the prophetic last page of the New Testament where “We behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb” (Rev 21:2, 9).

“The majestic early chapters of Genesis present the human couple in its deepest reality,” the pope writes. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (“The Joy of Love,” #10; Gen 1:27).

Human sexuality is an image, a visible sign, of God’s creative love. It is not to be trivialized or turned into an idol (a false god) but honored as “a true, living icon … capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life” (“The Joy of Love,” #10-11).

The loving union of Adam, a man, and Eve, a woman, begins the story of humanity. Their joys, and the sorrows caused by their own sinfulness, set the stage for the drama that unfolds throughout history. The sin of our first parents, and the sins of their descendants, tarnish but do not erase the image of God that all human beings reflect. Love is weakened by sin, but it endures through the power of God’s grace.

Pope Francis writes that “the idyllic picture” presented in the Bible “is not at odds with the bitter truth found throughout sacred Scripture, that is, the presence of pain, evil and violence that breaks up families and their communion of life and love” (“The Joy of Love,” #19). God’s word does not minimize the crises faced by married couples and families during the course of human history.

“This thread of suffering and violence runs through numerous pages of the Bible,” the pope tells us (“The Joy of Love,” #20). Even the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) encountered the violence of King Herod which caused them to flee to Egypt where they experienced the plight of homeless refugees. “Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families, and he weaves them into his parables: children who leave home to seek adventure (Lk 15:11-32) or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9).”

Jesus is not a naïve romantic or optimist. He is the Divine Realist, the one who knows our troubles and is ready, willing and able to help us overcome whatever troubles we may face as individuals, couples or families.

“The word of God is not a series of abstract ideas,” Pope Francis says, “but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering” (“The Joy of Love,” #22).

In the end, love endures. The death of Jesus on the cross was the ultimate source of pain and distress for his sorrowing mother, but it was not the last word.

Jesus forgave his enemies—in spite of their horrendous sins against him—and his Father raised him up victorious. Jesus overcame the horrors of sin and death, and he assures us that we, too, can rise with him on the last day if only we can unburden our hearts and follow him on the way of life.

This is the ultimate goal of every human life—and of every marriage and family—to be united with Christ at the end of our life’s journey when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more” (Rev 21:4).

“Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth,” Pope Francis reminds us. “Its daily life had its share of burdens and even nightmares” (“The Joy of Love,” #30). When we have marriage or family troubles, let’s look to the Bible. There we can find comfort, inspiration and hope for the future.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, sustain all married couples and their families as they seek to be united in love. Help them to forgive all hurts—real or imagined—and give them the strength to endure now and always! †

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