Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

Families: the privileged place of God’s revelation Reflections on ‘The Joy of Love’

Sunday, July 24, 2016

These summer months will, I hope, provide each of us with some leisure time to read. I know that a lot of children have put together a list of books for summer reading, and that many even approach their reading as a contest with their peers.

Reading opens us up to a conversation with others. It frees us from the tyranny of “what’s happening now,” which too often we allow to invade our lives.

One “book” worth reading is Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of Love,” which he wrote after the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family. In the text itself, Pope Francis urges us to read the exhortation slowly so that we can gradually absorb its many insights. Over the next couple of issues of the Chicago Catholic, I will offer some reflections on this important work, as a way of encouraging everyone to take the time to read it and reflect upon the pope’s beautiful thoughts regarding Christian family life as he intended.

From the outset, the pope notes that the church’s interest in family and married life goes beyond addressing the challenges we face in contemporary life. Most assuredly, as many bishops pointed out during the synod, marriage and family life are faced by unique and difficult challenges in our day. Yet Pope Francis calls our attention to an important truth found in Scripture: the family, married life is the unique and privileged place where God consistently reveals himself and encounters humanity.

In fact, as the pope observes, the entire Bible is framed by this truth, “from its very first page, with the appearance of Adam and Eve’s family … to its very last page, where we behold the wedding feast of the Bride and the Lamb” (Rv 21:2, 9).

Jesus himself witnesses to this truth throughout the Gospels, having been “born into a modest family that soon had to flee to a foreign land. He visits the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law is ill (cf. Mk 1:30-31) and shows sympathy upon hearing of deaths in the homes of Jairus and Lazarus (cf. Mk 5:22-24, 35-43; Jn 11:1-44). He hears the desperate wailing of the widow of Nain for her dead son (cf. Lk 7:11-15) and heeds the plea of the father of an epileptic child in a small country town (cf. Mk 9:17-27). He goes to the homes of tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus (cf. Mt 9:9-13; Lk 19:1-10), and speaks to sinners like the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50).

Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families, and he weaves them into his parables: children who leave home to seek adventure (cf. Lk 15:11-32), or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9). He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1- 10), the failure of guests to come to a banquet (Mt 22:1-10) and the anxiety of a poor family over the loss of a coin (Lk 15:8-10).

This simple truth that God has chosen families as the privileged place to reveal himself and encounter us has enormous implications both for families and how the church relates to families and married couples.

It should first of all encourage families and married couples to treasure the full breadth of their experiences — the joys, the sorrows, the worries and wonderful surprises, the blessings and sufferings — all as opportunities to experience God working in the world. This is why the pope insists that for the church “families are not a problem; they are first and foremost an opportunity.”

He is urging us to see that it is precisely in the limited circumstances and the limited relationships of our lives where God calls and graces us. Believing this may take some doing, but we only need to go back to some of the texts cited above by the pope to appreciate the full weight of that truth. Someone once said that “behind every family is a mess.” How true that is, but the pope seems to add to that by saying that in the midst of that mess God is revealing his saving work and power and that is why we should value our families and marriages.

Likewise, this truth of the privileged place of families for God’s self-revelation should shape the church’s ministry and teaching on marriage and family life. Just as “the word of God is not a series of abstract ideas but rather a source of comfort and companionship for every family that experiences difficulties or suffering,” so too the church must value and learn from the experiences of families and married couples because God is working and revealing himself in those relationships.

All of this is in keeping with the urging of Pope Francis that pastors need to minister in a way that always aims at accompanying people, as a shepherd does his flock.

What does it mean to accompany the flock? In speaking to the Leadership of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America on July 28, 2013, Pope Francis said that a pastor “has to be among his people in three ways: in front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.”

The point is clear. Whenever church leaders fail to walk with families and married couples, whenever they fail to act as a source of comfort and compassion in their people’s daily triumphs and tragedies, heartaches and heroics, they are not only negligent in their duty, but they also risk missing something of God’s revelation and activity in the world. Similarly, by not treasuring and valuing the experiences of families and married couples, the church is denied the benefit of their acquired ability to “sniff out new paths.”

This coming weekend we will hear a similar message from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy: “The word of the Lord cannot be chained,” not by our faults, nor by our strengths.

There are many more nuggets of truth in this exhortation, some of which I will write about over the coming weeks. In the meantime, I encourage you to read this wonder work for yourself at