On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis released his long-awaited apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, welcomed the exhortation as a “love letter to families . . . inviting all of us . . . to never stop growing in love.”
Amoris Laetitia is an exhortation in the purest sense; Pope Francis passionately urges families to renew their zeal and devotion to building marriages that both experience and reflect the love of Christ, which brings joy to families and joy to the Church.
As my husband and I read this letter, we immediately sensed the Holy Father’s compassion toward all families. Pope Francis writes from his heart and seems to base his comments on real conversations with real married couples, perhaps at the dinner table or in the confessional. These are not pious platitudes. On the contrary, his pastoral concern for married couples is palpable. In this beautiful letter, the Holy Father provides practical wisdom and encourages couples to recognize the beauty of married life and God’s comforting presence in their own imperfect families. . . .
All married couples experience stress at times. Although we know that we ought to seek God’s help especially during those times, many couples find it difficult to pray together. It can feel awkward to know where to begin or what to say. Experiment with how to pray together. You don’t necessarily have to pray the entire reflection together. For example, you might want to use each reflection in this book first in your personal prayer time, journaling answers to the questions provided, and then come together later in the day to talk about your insights and pray the prayer together. Or you can come together after your personal reflection, join hands, and just pray spontaneously about your hopes and dreams for your marriage and family.
I hope that by using Prayers for Catholic Couples, married couples can begin or deepen their experience of family prayer. By spending even ten minutes with your spouse to seek God’s blessing for your family, lives can change, love can grow, and relationships can be transformed by God’s grace. I pray that you and your spouse will be encouraged and full of hope that God is present and working in your family, even in the midst of the very real stresses of family life. —Susan Heuver, editor
Look to the Holy Family
Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Its daily life had its share of burdens and even nightmares, as when they met with Herod’s implacable violence. This last was an experience that, sad to say, continues to afflict the many refugee families who in our day feel rejected and helpless. Like the Magi, our families are invited to contemplate the Child and his Mother, to bow down and worship him (cf. Mt 2:11). Like Mary, they are asked to face their family’s challenges with courage and serenity, in good times and bad, and to keep in their heart the great things which God has done (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). The treasury of Mary’s heart also contains the experiences of every family, which she cherishes. For this reason, she can help us understand the meaning of these experiences and to hear the message God wishes to communicate through the life of our families. —Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 30
What challenge in your family life are you facing right now in which you need more courage and serenity? How can the Holy Family’s example help you?
Father, be with our family as we navigate our challenges. Teach us to trust in your plans and remember your faithfulness. We put our sufferings and fears, our hopes and dreams, into your hands. Be with everyone who suffers, especially those who are alone. Make our family, like the Holy Family, a place of prayer and love—and a refuge for others who suffer. Mary, help us to ponder, as you did, the meaning of our experiences, especially when we don’t fully understand the circumstances in our lives.
God Dwells in Families
The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes. Living in a family makes it hard for us to feign or lie; we cannot hide behind a mask. If that authenticity is inspired by love, then the Lord reigns there, with his joy and his peace. The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures. In that variety of gifts and encounters which deepen communion, God has his dwelling place. —Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, 315
What “gestures”—perhaps a kind look, thoughtful word, or a kiss or hug—deepen communion in your family? What other small actions (perhaps praying the Rosary, grace at meals) could help your family experience more of God’s presence in your home?
Lord, thank you for dwelling in our very own family, with all its daily troubles and joys. Thank you that we can come to you transparently, with our messiness, without hiding behind a mask of false perfection. Please guide us as we seek to make our home your dwelling place. Inspire us with signs of thoughtfulness and kindness so that our family continues to grow in our love for you and one another.
These selections are from Prayers for Catholic Couples (The Word Among Us Press, 2017). Available at wau.org/books