Fostering Life-giving Authentic Love
Fr. James Kroeger, M.M.
In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis meditates on genuine love in a prolonged reflection on Saint Paul’s Hymn to Love (I Cor. 13:4-7). Francis’ inspired and poetic exegesis of the Pauline text extends for twenty pages in Amoris Laetitia (AL 89-119); this type of meditation is unprecedented in any previous papal document.
Some of Pope Francis’ insights follow. Love is more than a passing emotion, it must be “experienced and nurtured in the daily life of couples and their children” (90). “Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person” (92). More than a feeling, love means acting and doing. “As Saint Ignatius of Loyola said, ‘Love is shown more by deeds than by words’” (94).
Love must be “marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase” (98). “In our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another” (100).
Amoris Laetitia overflows with Pope Francis’ great pastoral wisdom.“My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family…. Just a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. But, do not let the day end without making peace in your family” (104).
“The truth is that ‘family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation. There is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion’” (106).
Indeed, family harmony and reconciliation “assumes that we ourselves have had the experience of being forgiven by God, justified by his grace and not by our own merits.” When we have accepted God’s unconditional love, “we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us” (108).
The longest quote employed by Pope Francis in The Joy of Love comes from a unique and unexpected source. Francis uses the insights of Martin Luther King, the African-American Baptist pastor and civil rights leader who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was assassinated in 1968. Francis notes how King “met every kind of trial and tribulation with fraternal love” (118). “When you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God,’ you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there” (118).
In a strongly worded section of The Joy of Love (83), Pope Francis presents his convictions about the sanctity of all human life. “Here I feel it urgent to state that, if the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for, it is a horrendous contradiction when it becomes a place where life is rejected and destroyed” (83).
“So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right to one’s own body can justify a decision to terminate that life, which is an end in itself and which can never be considered the ‘property’ of another human being” (83).
“Similarly, the Church not only feels the urgency to assert the right to a natural death, without aggressive treatment and euthanasia, but likewise firmly rejects the death penalty” (83). Hopefully, Catholics will take these clear words from Pope Francis to heart and act upon them!