Reflecting on the Fifth Chapter of Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family
“You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit… Thus you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16-18, 20)
Fruitfulness is the focus of the fifth chapter of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris Laetitia
. What kind of fruit does the love of man and woman bear? What are the signs of this fruit in the world? From where is this fruit born? What is its significance for the family, for the Church, and for society? Pope Francis outlines how love overflows from the couple to the family, which they “co-create” together with God. The love of husband and wife not only inhabits the nuclear family but also flows to their extended family. The love that originates in the family spreads to unify the whole human family and bind us together as brothers and sisters.
“Love always gives life,” Pope Francis proclaims (Amoris Laetitia
, 165)! Divine love gives life! Human love gives life! Love is life-giving
! In the family, we see this life most concretely in the birth of children, born of their parents’ love. In this way married love mirrors the love of God – whose love is at the origin of everything that exists. The father and mother participate in the ongoing creative work of God by being His instruments in bringing forth a child that is at once His and theirs.
Their son or daughter is a “reflection of their love” who is to be “welcomed as a gift from God” (165-166). As the life-giving love between spouses mirrors the love of God, so too does parents’ love for their children. Like God’s love, it is a love that “first loves us” (1 John 4:19). Parents love their children “even before they arrive.” Children “are loved before having done anything to deserve it” (166). They are loved just because they are. Though it is often difficult to realize, it is the same with God’s love for each one of us.
Pope Francis contrasts this gratuitous love of parents for their children with the stark reality of many children today. “Rejected, abandoned, robbed of their childhood and their future” – this is the sad situation of too many children across the globe. In the words of Pope Francis: “This is shameful!” Indeed, “when speaking of children who come into the world, no sacrifice made by adults will be considered too costly or too great, if it means the child never has to feel that he or she is a mistake, or worthless or abandoned to the four winds and the arrogance of man” (166).
In a world where “scientific advances” allow us to know a child’s hair colour and potential illnesses even before his or her first breath, how important it is for every child “to feel wanted” and to be received as a gift. “We love our children because they are children, not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams. We love them because they are children. A child is a child. The love of parents is the means by which God our Father shows his own love. He awaits the birth of each child, accepts that child unconditionally, and welcomes him or her freely” (170). The parents’ love bears fruit in the life that they give to their children, but also in the love that children receive from their parents for their entire lives. This is true even when the parents are not genetically related to their children. “Adoption is a very generous way to become parents…and not only in cases of infertility” (179, 180).
Children are a “living reflection” and “permanent sign” of the love between man and woman. Yet the fruitfulness of family love can also be experienced in many other ways. Caring for parents, reaching out to members of the extended family, embracing those in need, contributing to the good of the local community and the wider society – all are means by which the love experienced in the family flows outwards to “humanize” the world and create “human bonds” between the women and men of our day. Pope Francis aptly observes that “the family introduces fraternity into the world. From this initial experience of fraternity, nourished by affection and education at home, the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon the whole of society” (194). This is not only a theological ideal, but an urgent call and opportunity to respond to the real needs of our time – aiding teenage mothers, assisting refugees, visiting the aging, helping young people who suffer from addictions, giving affection to handicapped persons, and reaching out to those afflicted by divorce and separation (197).
The fruitfulness of love not only radiates throughout society; it also warms and illuminates the Church. The family is fertile ground in which the seeds of faith can be sown and bear fruit from generation to generation. In this way the family is, as the Second Vatican Council noted, “a domestic church” (Lumen Gentium
, 11). Families are beacons that radiate the light of Christ’s love to their friends, neighbours, and to society at large. Families are little communities of evangelization because they are places where the Good News can be lived and spread to the world. “By their witness as well as their words, families speak to others of Jesus. They pass on the faith, they arouse a desire for God and they reflect the beauty of the Gospel and its way of life” (184). Here Pope Francis astutely observes that “very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren, and many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents” (192). Saint John Paul II’s words about the future of humanity (Familiaris Consortio
, 86) could likewise be said of the Church: “The future of the Church passes through the family”! As Pope Francis states earlier in Amoris Laetitia
: “The Church is good for the family, and the family is good for the Church,” for the Church is itself a “family of families” (87)!
Thus the fertile love of man and woman bears fruit in the children they bear, in the family members for whom they care, in those in need to whom they reach out, in the human family as a whole, and in the life of the family of families: the Church. The love in families bears fruit, it humanizes, it educates, it spreads goodness and warmth. The love in families gives a home where faith can be learned and lived. The love in families is God’s instrument for the life of each person and the life of the world.