Reflecting on the Fourth Chapter of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family
“Love and marriage, love and marriage, they go together like a horse and carriage!”
So crooned Francis Albert “Frank” Sinatra in the 1950s. Sixty years later, another Francis is repeating the same lyrics, albeit with a slightly more magisterial melody.
In the fourth chapter of his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia
, on Love in the Family, Pope Francis sets out to “speak of love” between husband and wife in a chapter entitled “Love in Marriage” (Amoris Laetitia
89). Beginning with profound and practical meditations on the verses of Saint Paul’s renowned Hymn to Love in 1 Corinthians 13, Pope Francis outlines all the various dimensions and manifestations of love in order to provide concrete advice for loving in daily life.
“Love is patient,
love is kind;
love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way,
It is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things
endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7)
The pope reflects poignantly on each of these “features of true love” (90), spending at least two paragraphs on each (91-119). These enriching reflections on the daily demands of human love truly deserve to be read in their entirety.
Particularly powerful are the pope’s words about love’s avoidance of jealousy and arrogance. “Love has no room for discomfiture at another person’s good fortune. Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity; it shows we are not concerned for the happiness of others but only with our own well-being. Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat… it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs” (95). “Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focused on others; they do not need to be the centre of attention.” This means that “we do not become ‘puffed up’ before others.” Those who are arrogant have “an obsession with showing off and a loss of the sense of reality. Such people think that, because they are more ‘spiritual’ or ‘wise,’ they are more important than they really are.” Here the pope uses Saint Paul’s adage that, “Knowledge puffs up,” whereas “love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1). “What really makes us important,” according to Pope Francis, “is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak.” This is “the real ‘power’ of the Spirit” (97).
Here Pope Francis offers very practical advice for Catholics with family members who are “less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions.” How important it is “for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members” in these situations. “At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers within the family become unbearably arrogant. Love, on the other hand, is 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). If we are called to witness to God, who is love, what a poor witness we offer by proclaiming Love in a way that does not show love.
In calling us to strive to love with self-giving generosity, Pope Francis employs the help of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In a way that echoes the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Angelic Doctor explains in the Summa Theologiae
that “it is more proper to charity to desire to love than to desire to be loved.” Indeed, “mothers, who are those who love the most, seek to love more than to be loved.” The pope thus directs our attention to the fact that “love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, ‘expecting nothing in return’ (Lk 6:35), and the greatest of loves can lead to ‘laying down one’s life’ for another (cf. Jn 15:13). Can such generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully, really be possible? Yes, because it is demanded by the Gospel: ‘You received without pay, give without pay’ (Mt 10:8)” (102).
Pope Francis once again offers practical advice in proclaiming a love that forgives
. In forgiving others, we must first “have had the experience of being forgiven by God… If we accept that God’s love is unconditional, that the Father’s love cannot be bought or sold, then we will become capable of showing boundless love and forgiving others even if they have wronged us” (108). “My advice,” says the pope, “is never to let the day end without making peace in the family. ‘And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony with your family will be restored’” (104). Pope Francis goes on to outline his “three essential words” that “daily protect and nurture love” in the family: “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Sorry” (133).
Following his masterful meditations on Saint Paul’s Hymn to Love, Pope Francis delves into the mystery and reality of married love. “Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us… Starting with the simple ordinary things of life [spouses] can make visible the love with which Christ loves his Church and continues to give her life for her” (121). Marriage is thus the “greatest form of friendship” other than God’s love for us (123), in which human love is “infused by the Holy Spirit” so that men and women become “capable of loving one another as Christ loved us” (120).
To nurture this friendship across the years and decades requires a love that perceives the beauty in the other person and gives them space to be the person God has created them to be. Pope Francis says that love can be deeply expressed as a “gaze” which sees that the great worth of the other deserves our unconditional love. This gaze of love gives space for the crucial dialogue
that enables relationships, among spouses especially, to continue to deepen and flourish. Here the pope’s advice is simple: “Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say… Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space… Develop the habit of giving real importance to the other person” (137-138).
In speaking of married love, Pope Francis offers us a blueprint for loving concretely and sincerely amidst the clamour of daily life. He calls us to love authentically and to realize that this love is most often expressed in very small ways, not only in great gestures. Being humble, saying please, asking for forgiveness, letting the other person speak – all are small things that express extraordinary love in ordinary ways. Beyond the lyrics of Frank Sinatra, perhaps the most eloquent summary of this fourth chapter of Amoris Laetitia
comes to us from Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”