he family is the setting in which a new life is not only born but also welcomed as a gift of God. Each new life “allows us to appreciate the utterly gratuitous dimension of love, which never ceases to amaze us. It is the beauty of being loved first: children are loved even before they arrive.” Here we see a reflection of the primacy of the love of God, who always takes the initiative, for children “are loved before having done anything to deserve it.” (“Amoris Laetitia,” 166.)
It was my intent all along to write about “Amoris Laetitia” this week. I waited patiently to get my hands on a hard copy, a bound book with generous margins that I could use to think and pray my way through with a fine felt pen at the ready for making notes. And I’ve done just that, underlining and annotating and reading every last footnote. I was not unaware of the stir of controversy whirling in the online world, the choosing of sides, the parsing of words, the handwringing — so much handwringing. [Note: the version I purchased from Amazon in the first days is no longer available and the link is dead, not merely out of stock. I consider myself lucky to have the one I have and I'm looking for a similarly produced copy to recommend now.]
In the past, I’ve loved to dig deeply into a Holy Father’s writings on the family. There, I’ve always found a source of comfort, consolation and encouragement for the very countercultural calling that is mine. I’m raising nine children to be faithful Catholics. Frankly, it’s a daunting task neither celebrated nor supported in today’s mainstream society. I wondered if there would be anything in this new document for mothers like me.
There is. There is absolutely an affirmation of holy, forever-in-love Catholic family life. There is a beautiful exegesis of the letter to the Corinthians on love. There are tips on keeping communication alive and aware. I even found a date night suggestion and encouragement for a weary mom who feels like holidays are just days when there’s way more work to do in the kitchen. I read the exhortation with an open heart, eager to find the good. And I did.
I dearly love the clarity and the poetry of the writings of St. John Paul II. I love the precision of Pope Benedict XVI. I admit that I missed both in this new document, but it has its own charm. This new exhortation feels a bit like sitting on the front porch on a spring day while a beloved uncle rambles about love and marriage and family life. There are a lot of nuggets of wisdom there, gathered in his years of observing and leaning close to families. For the first five chapters, I sat on the porch swing, drinking lemonade and highlighting happily.
The final chapters took more careful reading, at a desk, with reference tools at the ready. To understand his words on divorce, remarriage, Communion and community, one must put them in the context of the settled teaching of the church and understand that that teaching is still very much settled. Pulling the documents referenced in footnotes yields a bigger picture and fuller meaning. This is not a document to change church teaching. It can’t change it.
As so often happens in my writing life, my drafting of a careful outline of a series on “Amoris Laetitia” was interrupted by my children. This time, my day was turned entirely upside down by the birth of Lillian Thérèse Foss, my second grandchild. And that brings me to the quote above. This new baby was born 3,000 miles away. I’ve never held her, never locked eyes with her, never inhaled the glorious newborn smell while I nuzzled a downy head. And still, she is so loved, so completely enveloped in my heart.
The quote above begins with Pope Francis and ends with St. John Paul II. My own mothering grew under the tutelage of Pope John Paul II. I am so grateful for the firm foundation and solid understanding he formed in me. In the springtime of my grandparenting, I can sit in the breeze with Pope Francis and nod in agreement — this life of love in the midst of family is amazing.