“Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being.” (Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 128)
Many have pre-judged Amoris Laetitia: on Love in the Family simply on the fact that it was written by a pope. What does a celibate man know about family life and love? This celibate man appears to know quite a bit.
There are many priests and bishops, of a more clerical nature, who live in a privileged cocoon, spouting doctrine and wagging their fingers from on high at the great unwashed below. We know what our current pope thinks of those in the hierarchy who seldom step foot out of their ecclesial palaces. Francis has preached repeatedly against clericalism. He has urged the ordained to immerse themselves in the lives of those they are called to serve. A true shepherd, he says, takes on the “smell of the sheep”.
Francis is a true shepherd, who knows his sheep pretty well.
When Francis talks, he often veers from prepared text and speaks from the heart. He does the same in his writing. Amoris Laetitia shines brightest when Francis steps aside from the obligatory referencing of Vatican and Synod documents. There is an honesty to his words when he speaks practically about love in the family. This is the pastor from Buenos Aires who purposely lived among the people, not a silk-clad bishop who reigned from his diocesan enclave. Francis may not be married, but he has observed and pastored to family life in all its joys and struggles.
Take, for example, this excerpt from a section in Amoris Laetitia titled “Joy and Beauty”,
The aesthetic experience of love is expressed in the “gaze” which contemplates other persons as ends in themselves, even if they are infirm, elderly, or physically unattractive. A look of appreciation has enormous importance, and to begrudge it is usually harmful. (AL 128)
The look of love. It empowers and affirms us. Without it, we feel ignored and question if we are truly loved. Francis offers some examples when love’s gaze is missing within the family,
“My husband does not look at me; he acts as if I were invisible”. “Please look at me when I’m talking to you!”. “My wife no longer looks at me, she only has eyes for our children”. “In my own home nobody cares about me, they do not even see me, it is as if I did not exist”. (AL, 128)
Theological or ephemeral musings about love are often hard to grasp when our feet are mired in the mud of reality. Francis, instead, gives easily recognizable examples that nudge our conscience. In this case, he is nudging us to gaze intentionally at those we love. The look of love, after all, is no small thing.
Love opens our eyes and enables us to see, beyond all else, the great worth of a human being. AL 128