By Most Reverend Gerald R Barnes
This is a deflective phrase we sometimes use in conversation when we are asked about something we find painful or embarrassing.
Pope Francis seems to use it in a different way as a theme of his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The Holy Father’s letter released last month offers us much to reflect upon in matters of family, marriage and parenthood. It also represents the culmination of more than two years of dialogue in our Universal Church on these subjects that began with the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 2014, and continued last year with the Synod on the Family.
As part of that process, dioceses, including ours, invited priests, deacons religious, and lay Catholics in ministry leadership to share their perspectives about marriage and family by responding to a questionnaire. I again thank all those in our Diocese who took the time to respond because it was important for the Synod fathers, and Pope Francis, to understand the realities that confront families today from an “on the ground” perspective.
In writing Amoris Laetitia the Holy Father emphasizes that the realities facing families around the world are varied and complex. He calls on ministers in the church, both ordained and lay, to enter into these realities and accompany the people in their unique circumstance, not to stand afar and invoke the doctrine of the church in a one-size-fits-all manner. The metaphor of the Church as a field hospital – first used in his previous exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel” – surfaces again here. Pope Francis continues to call us to “go out” and proclaim God’s love to the broken and marginalized. And we know that this brokenness and margination exists within the context of our families.
The call of Pope Francis does not represent a new teaching of the Church, of course, but rather it is a recovery of what is essential in our faith – the person of Christ, and the unconditional mercy of God. Throughout the Gospels Jesus shows the way, how to embrace accompaniment and encounter instead of judgement, how to help the wayward move toward integration with God’s plan for them.
While we continue to read and reflect on this lengthy exhortation, there is already a feeling of excitement in our Diocese because its tone and emphasis affirm what we have been offering in our Diocesan Marriage Initiative for a number of years. At the same time, Amoris Letitia, challenges us to better proclaim and teach the dignity and importance of the family, and to accompany parents in their struggles and questions as they attempt to raise children in this modern culture.
This month and next we will celebrate Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day. I extend my blessings to the mothers and fathers of our Diocese and my prayer that God will strengthen them in this most precious vocation that carries with it the life and hope of the Kingdom.
Please join me also in praying for the families of our Diocese in all of their beauty, their struggle and their unique circumstance.
Yes, it’s complicated. But family is one of God’s greatest gifts to us.