love not bound by “perfect” family model

love is patient 2

Love is patient, love is kind…

Raise your hand if you included St. Paul’s famous canticle of love (1 Corinthians 13) at your wedding ceremony. Hubby and I did. The lyrical verses have become synonymous with marriage. In Chapter 4 of Amoris Laetitia, titled “Love in Marriage”, Pope Francis presents a line by line reflection on the scriptural passage.

In this chapter Pope Francis puts aside documents and synod reports and speaks as a pastor. What does on old, celibate man know about marriage? Apparently, quite a bit. Francis gleans insights from astutely observing the daily struggles of family life. It is also important to remember that Francis was a Jesuit who lived in community. Community and family life share many of the same gifts and challenges.

These paragraphs have the earthiness of his homilies. There is no need to crack open up a theological dictionary to understand his message. There is also a sense that Francis is speaking to a larger audience. After all, love is central to the Christian vocation. If love was central to all human activity, our world would be a much different place.

Many commentators have said that this chapter should be used to re-write marriage preparation manuals, and it certainly provides good reflection material. (I was more than a bit liberal with the highlighter!) Francis uses the scripture passage to reflect on family life in general and as a preparation to discuss conjugal love between husband and wife. (AL, 120) But, maybe its time to read this exultation of love with a more inclusive mind and heart.

What if we, personally and as a church, acknowledged that these soaring scriptural images of love can, and do, apply to many families who do not fit into the “official” model of family as promoted in church documents, homilies, and cultural warrior battles?

What if we admitted than many families whom we have judged and marginalized actually “do” family life better than those who fit into the correct Catholic model?

What if we focused more on the love that is lived within a faithful, committed family relationship than on the perceived sinfulness of those doing the loving?


5 thoughts on “love not bound by “perfect” family model

  1. I suspect most hands were raised in response to your opening question. Who has not felt a twinge of emotion as I Cor. 13 is/was intoned whenever? I find that it is so difficult to live up to. It is so much easier to snap out, to vilify, to “roll my eyes”, to add the disdainful adjective, to not stand up, fail to do, fail to give. I Cor. 13 is such a monumental challenge that, in large measure I have made and idol of it so that I can point to it while I fail to live it. Paul really “got” Jesus.
    What is amazing to me is that Paul explains Jesus but he also virtually rephrased Aristotle’s words of 500 words earlier. Jesus through Paul, clarifies the best of human thought, and makes it an existential challenge.
    “When will we ever learn/When will we ever learn”.

  2. “What if we stood in awe of what the many families have to carry, instead of in judgement of how they carry it?”

    1. Exactly, Ray! I do think that Francis has this awe. After all, he pastored in the poorest neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. I think his love and respect for families who carry such great burdens shows through in Amoris Laetitia.

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