Two days ago, the 256-page, 60,000-word papal exhortation, The Joy of Love, was released to the waiting world. Since then, I have been asked for comments, quotes, opinions, and insight. Here is about all that I can respond: “Thanks for asking, but I haven’t had the chance to read it.” … or think about it, or pray about it, or muse about its content. So, have I read Pope Francis’ exhortation? Not yet.
Of course, the document was much-anticipated, wondering and speculating on what Pope Francis would have to say about divorced and remarried Catholics, Eucharist for people married outside the Church, and a whole list of potential “hot topics” that will provide unending possibilities for commentary, blogs, and pastor’s columns. But I wonder if all of that will overshadow the main focus of his exhortation. The title of the document, in English, is “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia), and in looking at the index of the document, Pope Francis continually comes back to the topic of love and its role in the family and in the Church.
Perhaps one of the most famous verses from Scripture is also one of the most beautiful and often-chosen text for weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7) Pope Francis does an extended reflection on this passage in chapter four of The Joy of Love. In his writing about love that endures all things he quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here is an excerpt:
“This means that love bears every trial with a positive attitude. It stands firm in hostile surroundings. This ‘endurance’ involves not only the ability to tolerate certain aggravations, but something greater: a constant readiness to confront any challenge. It is a love that never gives up, even in the darkest hour. It shows a certain dogged heroism, a power to resist every negative current, an irrepressible commitment to goodness. Here I think of the words of Martin Luther King, who met every kind of trial and tribulation with fraternal love: ‘The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls ‘the image of God’, you begin to love him in spite of [everything]. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off… Another way that you love your enemy is this: when the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it… When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system… Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and so on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.’” [Pope Francis, The Joy of Love, 88-89, citing Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957.]
Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things. Love is meant to be at the center of our lives, so, yes, there are topics addressed that will stir controversy, but I am looking forward to a longer, deeper reflection on the Joy of Love.