OPINION

Opinion: Pope Francis teaches us 'The Joy of Love' resides in a committed marriage

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22:  Pope Francis is greeted by a group of Catholic school children after being welcomed by U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters and other political and Catholic church leaders after arriving from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as pope.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Pope Francis is greeted by a group of Catholic school children after being welcomed by U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, their daughters and other political and Catholic church leaders after arriving from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)  (2015 Getty Images)

This month Pope Francis released his eagerly-awaited apostolic exhortation on marriage and family: Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). If you just read the heated commentary, you would be forgiven for thinking that the entire document is devoted to the plight of the divorced and civilly remarried, and their access to communion. 

The truth is that the long and rich exhortation is a spirited and inspiring reaffirmation of the beauty and dignity of marriage, and the unparalleled source of nurture and stability that is the family.

The Church also needs to find ways to strengthen families, affirming and celebrating the love and commitment that binds them. For the families and marriages that are in trouble, the Church must be there to bind their wounds and walk with them as they struggle on the path toward healing and forgiveness.

- Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie

Perhaps Latinos are especially disposed to hear and profit from this message. Whether in our home countries, buffeted by endemic corruption and dictatorship, or here in the U.S., suffering the dislocation of exile and migration, we rely on our families as the only certainty in an uncertain world. In our experience, grandparents don’t retire and move away, but remain integral parts of the family, sharing their wisdom and comforting us when their strength for other help runs out. 

We can always count on a sibling for assistance, and our cousins enrich our lives no matter how removed. We know that sometimes our children may not have much in the way of material goods, but if they have their mother and father, joined in love and working hard together to keep them safe and protected, then they have everything that matters.

Yet for all the ways that family is central and sacred to us, Latinos are finding it increasingly hard to successfully apply the Church’s teaching on life and family. Our young people are more and more likely to put off marriage itself and live together instead, succumbing to a general culture that discounts commitment and values individualism and self-realization above all. Legislation that strives to change the classic meaning of marriage has the effect of making the exclusivity, permanence and openness to life of Christian marriage start to seem outdated and old fashioned. 

We are becoming accustomed to abandon our vows and promises, when marriage no longer “satisfies” us, thinking that divorce will wipe the slate clean so we can start again, no harm done.

The pope in his exhortation proposes that the Church needs to find the right arguments and language to reach “the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love, and even heroism,” so that they can take up the challenge of marriage and family. This is not only a path to lasting happiness for the couple that embarks on a great adventure sustained by faith and hope, but also a boon to all of society, family being the safest place for the vulnerable and a firm foundation for a healthy culture. 

The Church also needs to find ways to strengthen families, affirming and celebrating the love and commitment that binds them. For the families and marriages that are in trouble, the Church must be there to bind their wounds and walk with them as they struggle on the path toward healing and forgiveness.

To this end the document is lyrical on the magnificent act of love and mutual self-bestowal that is Christian marriage. So magnificent, in fact, that the Church holds conjugal love up as an icon of God’s love for each of his creatures: sacrificial, everlasting, and faithful. The passion that unites the couple becomes a “pure, unadulterated affirmation revealing the marvels of which the human heart is capable.” 

Each spouse looks on the other with a “tender gaze” that appreciates the other’s innate beauty and sacredness, seeing always that self that first won our hearts, no matter how outward appearances change. And of course, love strives to give life, the husband and wife joining with God to bring forth this miracle. Parental love “begins with acceptance, continues with lifelong protection and has as its final goal the joy of eternal life.”

The pope gives wonderful advice in Amoris Laeitia for spouses and family members on how to treat each other in ways that promote unity and peace. He enjoins priests and parishes to find ways to strengthen families, affirming and celebrating the love and commitment that binds them. He asks that real marriage preparation be offered to young couples which prepares them to understand their union as a vocation, fully supported by the grace of God. For the families and marriages that are in trouble, the Church must be there to walk with them as they struggle on the path toward healing and forgiveness.

Amoris Laetitia is long, and some sections are complicated theologically. But in essence, the document is a ringing reaffirmation of the truths that we all knew not so long ago: that there is no more beautiful and dignified vocation than that of marriage. That the indissolubility and exclusiveness of Christian marriage frees us to love deeply and courageously, bestowing ourselves anew each day, without reservation, seeking the good of our beloved. 

The families that we form, despite challenges and difficulties, keep us safe and accompanied in a hard world. Our unions produce and welcome new life, transmit the faith that sustains, and form homes that care tenderly for the elderly and vulnerable. These are truths that all of us, Latino or not, will benefit from remembering.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie specializes in radiology in the Miami area and serves on the advisory board for The Catholic Association.

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