As Pope Francis suggests in the introduction to Amoris Laetitia, the exhortation really reads like a letter, and rewards a slow, contemplative reading. Therefore, I haven’t nearly finished it. The first chapter, reading scripture, is already quite a journey: it is an invitation to travel together through many lands of familial love that are part of our tradition. Having recently finished Austen Ivereigh’s The Great Reformer, I was on the lookout for signs of the emergence of the Latin American source church, and I was not disappointed. Already in paragraph 8 “the poet” (that is, Jorge Luis Borges! the phrase resonates with Thomas Aquinas’s “the philosopher” and “the Apostle”) is cited to connect the lampstands of Revelation with the household of Psalm 128: “every home is a lampstand.”
Paragraph 9 begins a section with an imaginative “threshold-crossing”: “Let us cross the threshold of this tranquil home, with its family sitting around the festive table. At the centre we see the father and mother, a couple with their personal story of love. They embody the primordial divine plan clearly spoken of by Christ himself.” This imaginative invitation inaugurates the reflection on the Genesis texts on marriage, and leads almost immediately to the trinitarian life: “the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection” (Paragraph 11).
I would mostly like to comment on paragraph 15, so I will quote it in full here:
Here too, we can see another aspect of the family. We know that the New Testament speaks of “churches that meet in homes” (cf. 1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:5; Col 4:15; Philem 2). A family’s living space could turn into a domestic church, a setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ seated at its table. We can never forget the image found in the Book of Revelation, where the Lord says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). Here we see a home filled with the presence of God, common prayer and every blessing. This is the meaning of the conclusion of Psalm 128, which we cited above: “Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord. The Lord bless you from Zion!” (Ps 128:4-5).
The threshold of paragraph 9 was still in the back of my mind as I read this passage, which is probably why the image from Revelation shifted completely for me. I grew up with a fairly strong impression that this passage had Jesus knocking at the door of my heart, a highly individualistic reading; I even seem to remember visual and video depictions of this. In Amoris Laetitia, instead, Jesus stands at the door of my house (that is, my family-beloveds: by marriage, blood, or friendship). Every time I labor to get food onto the table, the risen Lord knocks, offering to transform my house, centered on that table, into the domus ecclesia (“house church“) simply by eating with me and my family.
Certainly, it is the presence of the Lord himself that transforms the house from a “theological problem” to a place for rich reflection and contemplation, as here already in chapter 1. Moreover, this theology of the “common table” as the place of transformation makes Francis’s theology of the family equally applicable to the monastic house, the Catholic Worker, or the elementary school.
Pope Francis’s words are remarkable because he writes and speaks without fear. That in itself is already an inspiration to open the door to a deeper “joy of love.”
“Pope Francis’s words are remarkable because he writes and speaks without fear.”
Someone said elsewhere the exact same thing, that “one of the most remarkable things about Pope Francis is that he is a man without fear.”
Fearless Francis, it’s quite something to behold indeed.
Thank you for this reflection. It’s so nice to read such a thoughtful and lovely piece, and especially so after wading through all that predictably typical hysteria from the “Right” and the same ol’ whining from the “Left.”
I’m still on chapter two (though I “cheated” and took a peek through chapter four, which everyone is raving about), and also enjoying it very much. And I hope you (and/or others) write more of these as you move through the chapters!
“A family’s living space could turn into a domestic church, a setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ seated at its table.”
In the years following Vatican II “home masses” were popular. I remember attending many of these both in my own home and in homes of neighbors. My daughters received their first communions at our dining room table surrounded by family and friends.
What happened to “Home Masses?” Was there some law promulgated to forbid them?