Cardinal Blase J. Cupich

The vision of Pope Francis on marriage and family life

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Once again, our own Father Louis J. Cameli has used his considerable skills and scholarship to produce a very readable book titled “A New Vision of Family Life.” His aim is to provide a guide for studying Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”). And I do mean “study,” since the Holy Father cautioned that it would be important to take one’s time in going through the various chapters and absorbing their meaning.

At the outset, Father Cameli insightfully points out that this document marks a new moment in the way the pope is addressing issues related to marriage and family life. Over the past couple of centuries, he explains, popes have focused more narrowly on canonical issues of validity and consent, or theological questions dealing with morality and the sacramentality of marriage. 

With “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis breaks new ground by presenting marriage and family life as an expression of the journey of faith and transformative life which all disciples are called to embrace. In a word, according to Father Cameli, the pope has written a formation guide, and is acting as a formation director for married couples. 

While there is no change in doctrine here, the pope is offering a new and even revolutionary pastoral direction. And yet, it is one that is faithful to the bishops’ discussions and the proposals they adopted during the synods in 2014 and 2015. During those month-long meetings, many bishops spoke of the need for a new pastoral approach to families and married couples, so that the church’s ministry actually meets people where they live (encountering them), walks with them (accompanying them) and works toward more fully including them in the life of the church (integrating them). 

Father Cameli was not a spectator looking in from outside the synod or after the fact, for indeed he had a front-row seat during some of these discussions, as he accompanied me to the ordinary synod in 2015, serving as my theological adviser. 

Father Cameli carefully and comprehensively unpacks this new pastoral approach, deftly using research from the social sciences and history to explain the complexities both inside and outside the church as we take up this kind of formation. We live in a very secular age and in a time when materialism has so gripped the imagination of people that our understanding of the human person and the values of family and community have become distorted. 

Similarly, within church life we suffer from the scars of a dark understanding of human nature found in Jansenism and a legalistic approach to the moral life. Identifying these fault lines is also part of formation, and Father Cameli draws on the lessons of his lifelong experience and career as a spiritual director and theologian to fully highlight the unique opportunity this papal document is offering the church in our day. 

As the author cogently demonstrates, Pope Francis in “Amoris” marshals the rich treasures in our theological tradition to offer this fresh approach in dealing with these internal and external challenges, thereby providing an invaluable resource for those ministering to families and married couples. Father Cameli makes clear that a proper and full understanding of what the church actually teaches is demanded if we are really to be faithful to our heritage. 

I especially appreciate his comments in this area, for I have often believed that the many treasures in our tradition are overlooked, misinterpreted or misunderstood, to the point that we have impoverished the meaning of the Gospel. Father Cameli’s work serves as a needed corrective to those attempts that often fall short in addressing some very sensitive and complex topics, such as conscience and discernment. 

Some of this is due in no little way to an ahistorical approach to theology, or the failure on the part of these writers to enter the conversations on these topics that are happening worldwide, simply because they lack the necessary foreign-language skills and rely solely on English-language sources. As a result, we are left with a very narrow and incomplete understanding of our tradition and one that is not in tune with what is happening in the rest of the theological world. 

Thankfully, Father Cameli is unquestionably conversant with those writing in other languages and relies on the works of scholars abroad, making their theological contributions available to us in ways that broaden our understanding. 

It is worthwhile highlighting the seventh chapter of Father Cameli’s work, which makes a compelling case that the formation of families must be community-based. This formation is not limited to marriage preparation, but the accompaniment of couples as they raise their children and the integration that should be the work of the church in ministering to those couples that have special needs. 

Our present effort of Renew My Church could benefit from a fuller discussion of this topic as we assist our parishes to be formation communities, understanding the parish as a family of families. Father Cameli’s questions at the end of this chapter provoke much thought. 

Time and again, we see how the gifts of many of our talented priests make us all proud. Father Cameli’s work is now the latest in a long history of that happy legacy. His very clear writing style makes his book very accessible to people of all backgrounds. It comes complete with discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which makes it very suitable for adult-education sessions or study seminars for parish staffs and committees. 

I highly recommend this masterful work and feel it deserves a wide readership by laypeople, theologians, pastors and all involved in pastoral ministry to married couples and families. It truly is “A New Vision of Family Life.” 

Please visit the Liturgical Training Publications website,, to order Father Cameli’s book.


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