September 2, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Marriage and family life have a profound, distinctive spirituality

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

This is my final reflection in this summer series on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”). It has been a privilege to read this amazing document with you, and to share with you some of the pope’s ideas about the challenges and the joys of marriage and family life today. I hope you will read (or re-read) “The Joy of Love.” It speaks to the profound spirituality of marriage and family life today, but it does so in very practical, down-to-earth ways.

What does it mean to talk about the spirituality of marriage and family? To answer this question, we need to start by defining what “spirituality” is.

One simple way to define spirituality is to say that it is the way individuals and communities use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to follow Christ and live the Gospel. Of course, we know from the lives of the saints, which are sometimes quite diverse, that there are many different ways to live the Gospel.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta lived the Gospel in a different way than St. Teresa of Ávila did. One followed Christ on the streets ministering to the poorest of the poor. The other followed Christ behind the cloistered walls of her Carmelite monastery. But both were “active” and “contemplative.” Both prayed fervently, loved the Eucharist, and taught by their words and example what it means to be a missionary disciple thoroughly devoted to using the Holy Spirit’s gifts to praise God and serve God’s people.

In the final chapter of “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis tells us that there is a distinctive spirituality of marriage and family life. This doesn’t mean that every married couple or family lives the Gospel the same way. We know from experience that there is a lot of diversity in marriage and family life—especially today.

But the pope tells us that the same fundamental principles that grounded all the saints must be observed by couples and families that truly seek God. These are: prayer; devotion to the Eucharist; care for others; the ability to “let go” of selfishness, petty jealousy and a desire to control our own lives and the lives of others; and the willingness to forgive—out of gratitude for God’s love and mercy—the wrongs committed against us.

Pope Francis says, “When a family is welcoming and reaches out to others, especially the poor and the neglected, it is a symbol, witness and participant in the Church’s motherhood” (“The Joy of Love,” #324). Earlier in “The Joy of Love,” the Holy Father emphasizes that the family is “a school of love.” He also speaks of the Church as a “field hospital,” a place where those who are hurting in any way can find consolation, healing and hope.

In his final chapter, he extends this image to the family as a domestic Church. “Christian couples are, for each other, for their children and for their relatives, cooperators of grace and witnesses of the faith. God calls them to bestow life and to care for life. For this reason, the family has always been the nearest hospital. So let us care for one another, guide one another and encourage one another, and experience this as a part of our family spirituality” (#321).

Pope Francis concludes “The Joy of Love” with a prayer to the Holy Family:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
In you we contemplate
The splendor of true love;
To you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
Grant that our families too
May be places of communion and prayer,
Authentic schools of the Gospel
And small domestic churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth,
May families never again experience
Violence, rejection and division;
May all who have been hurt or scandalized
Find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
Make us once more mindful
Of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
And its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Graciously hear our prayer.

I make this prayer my own—with special care and concern for all families in central and southern Indiana. May the Holy Family of Nazareth be a source of inspiration, healing and hope for all families in our archdiocese. May they find marriage to be a sacred bond, not a burden, and may they experience family life not as a source of violence, tension or division but as a communion of love.

Above all, may all married couples and families truly experience the joy of love in their daily lives. May they find consolation and hope always in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. †

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