The joy of love to vaccinate us against a COVID hangover
By Ben Smith, Director of the Office of Life, Marriage and Family
In the last few days of 2020, Pope Francis announced that the Church will be celebrating a year of reflection (from March 19, 2021 to June 26, 2022) centred on a document he wrote in 2016 called Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). The timing of the year is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic which has highlighted the central role of the family as the domestic church, and the importance of community ties between families. In a time of great need, “Every family, despite its weaknesses, can become a light in the darkness of the world.” (Amoris Laetitia, 66)
A key goal of the year is to proclaim the sacrament of marriage as a gift that contains in itself the transforming power of human love. The transformation of conjugal love is highlighted in the core of Amoris Laetitia (Chapter Four). Chapter Four begins with a reflection on St Paul’s hymn to love contained in 1 Corinthians 13 that begins with “Love is patient, Love is kind, …” He applies this famous text to situations that may arise in daily married life. He then goes on to examine growing in conjugal love, that “can only occur if we respond to God’s grace through constant acts of love, acts of kindness that become ever more frequent, intense, generous, tender and cheerful.” (AL 134) This growth is also fostered when spouses take time to communicate deeply, show empathy, grow in mutual forgiveness and display signs of affection. The sacrament of marriage also helps conjugal love grow as “the Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ loves us.” (AL 120)
The growth in conjugal love helps couples and their families become “a joy-filled witness as domestic churches,” (AL 200) that can play a critical role in accompanying engaged couples, the newly married, couples in crisis and families that have experienced a relationship breakdown. Consequently, these missionary families become active agents of the family apostolate. When they enrich other families, such ties make the Church an authentic “family of families” (AL 87).
As the world begins to recover from the pandemic, the joy of love in the family can have a transforming impact on the Church and society and Pope Francis is seeking to harness the power of conjugal love to help shape the post-COVID landscape.