Family Joys and Challenges
Pope Francis devotes the entire fifth chapter of The Joy of Love to a reflection on love’s “fruitfulness” in the family; this certainly involves much more than questions of fertility. Fruitfulness includes welcoming new life, manifesting love as father and mother, appreciating the extended family, fostering relationships between youth and the elderly, and maturing in social love and respectful relationships. Genuine fruitfulness will also involve addressing challenges, problems, and uncertainties.
For example, the pope’s words to pregnant “fruitful” mothers are poignant and tender! “Expectant mothers need to ask God for the wisdom fully to know their children and to accept them as they are…. For children are a gift. Each one is unique and irreplaceable” (170).
“With great affection I urge all future mothers: keep happy and let nothing rob you of the interior joy of motherhood. Your child deserves your happiness. Don’t let fears, worries, other people’s comments or problems lessen your joy at being God’s means of bringing a new life to the world…. Try to experience this serene excitement amid all your many concerns, and ask the Lord to preserve your joy, so that you can pass it on to your child” (171).
Sensitivity in All Marital Situations. As a man of mercy and compassion, the pope notes that “special discernment is indispensable … [and] respect needs to be shown especially for the sufferings of those who have unjustly endured separation, divorce or abandonment, or those who have been forced by maltreatment from a husband or a wife to interrupt their life together” (242).
“Family breakdown becomes even more traumatic and painful in the case of the poor, since they have far fewer resources at hand for starting a new life. A poor person, once removed from a secure family environment, is doubly vulnerable to abandonment and possible harm” (242).
The pope’s sensitivity to various difficult situations is evident; for example, he emphatically states: “It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church. ‘They are not excommunicated’ and they should not be treated as such, since they remain part of the ecclesial community.” In fact, the Church’s care for these persons “is a particular expression of its charity” (243). Truly, this is insightful pastoral wisdom!
Additional Challenging Marital Realities.In today’s complex and mobile world, some Catholics freely choose to enter marriage with a person of another culture, race, or religion. Again, in Pope Francis’ view in The Joy of Love, all these family and marital realities call for discernment and compassion. Some examples follow.
“Marriages between Catholics and other baptized persons have their own particular nature, but they contain numerous elements that could well be made good use of and developed, both for their intrinsic value and for the contribution that they can make to the ecumenical movement” (247).
Marriages involving a Catholic and a person of another religion (e.g. Muslim, Hindu, etc.) can “represent a privileged place for interreligious dialogue in everyday life…. [The Church reiterates] that the religious freedom of all be respected” (248).
Numerous other situations exist [single-parent families, widowhood, family members with same-sex attraction, absentee parents, etc.]. Indeed, in all these unique situations, “special discernment is indispensable” (242) so that the Church can provide adequate pastoral care. Pope Francis insists:mercy and compassion must always prevail!