VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Simple gestures such as a kind look or a morning kiss and family prayer can strengthen couples in living out their vocation to marriage, Pope Francis said in his apostolic exhortation.
Released April 8, “‘Amoris Laetitia’ (The Joy of Love), on Love in the Family,” not only addresses major themes discussed during the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops, but also delves deeper into the church’s teachings on true love and the family. (See a pdf of the full document here.)
It also highlights the importance of sexuality and passion as a manifestation of true love as a gift. Sex, Pope Francis said, should not be seen as just “a source of fruitfulness and procreation” or “a burden to be tolerated.”
The pope reflected on the essence of St. Paul’s definition of true love from the First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, and its relevance “to the concrete situation of every family.”
Simple gestures — a kind look, a morning kiss or an evening blessing — can counter a negative attitude that focuses solely on the other’s shortcomings and allows couples to “to be patient and to cooperate with others despite our differences.”
“We need these moments of cherishing God’s gifts and renewing our zest for life. As long as we can celebrate, we are able to rekindle our love, to free it from monotony and to color our daily routine with hope,” the pope wrote.
For married couples, he continued, daily gestures and “moments of joy, relaxation, celebration and even sexuality can be experienced as a sharing in the full life of the resurrection.”
St. John Paul II’s catechesis on the theology of the body, the pope explained, places sexuality in its proper context. Sexuality in married life is not only “‘a source of fruitfulness and pro-creation,’ but also possesses ‘the capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the human person becomes a gift.”
Sex in married life cannot be looked at as “a permissible evil” but rather as “a gift from God that enriches the relationship of the spouses,” he wrote. That passion, channeled by a love that is respectful of the other’s dignity, reveals “the marvels of which the human heart is capable.”
“In this way, even momentarily, we can feel that ‘life has turned out good and happy,'” the pope wrote.
However, the danger lies when reciprocal belonging turns into domination that ultimately makes spouses use “sex as form of escapism and renounce the beauty of conjugal union.”
“We need to remember that authentic love also needs to be able to receive the other, to accept one’s own vulnerability and needs, and to welcome with sincere and joyful gratitude the physical expressions of love found in a caress, an embrace, a kiss and sexual union,” he wrote.
Moreover, the pope stressed the importance of the spirituality of the family which “is made up of small but real gestures” that manifest God’s presence in “real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.”
Family life doesn’t detract from spiritual life, he explained, but is rather a path that leads married couples and families “to lead them to the heights of mystical union.”
“The fraternal and communal demands of family life are an incentive to growth in openness of heart and thus to an ever fuller encounter with the Lord,” he wrote.
Family prayer, the pope wrote, is a way of strengthening “the hidden presence of the risen Lord” by taking a few minutes of each day to pray or give thanks and “to come together before the living God.”
“With a few simple words, this moment of prayer can do immense good for our families,” he wrote.
Pope Francis also emphasized the importance of the Eucharist, the sacrament of the new covenant, that offers “spouses the strength and incentive needed to live the marriage covenant each day as a ‘domestic church.'”
Spirituality in family life can help married couples and families rediscover the meaning of their mission in “transforming the world” as a domestic church and “strive towards something greater than ourselves” with all of life’s ups and downs.
“No family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love,” he wrote. “May we never lose heart because of our limitations, or ever stop seeking that fullness of love and communion which God holds out before us.”