There has been a very cool series of movies coming out the last couple of years. It is called Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians are a group made up of a human who wears binoculars, a girl with blue skin, a bald muscly guy, a raccoon, and a kind of talking tree. What makes the guardians such interesting characters is not so much their explosions, but that it is with some surprise that they discover their need for love, and for their need of each other almost as a kind of family.
What is God’s plan for the family? Why is it there at all? Pope Francis spent many pages exploring this in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. And he makes a very key point: that God’s plan for Christian marriage and family is profoundly deeper, more realistic, and more intensely beautiful than any other. Why? Because God himself is like a family. God, in his deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love. That love, in the divine family, is the Holy Spirit (11). So the family is the image of God who is a communion of persons (71).
Marriage, then, is the noble vocation (72) where a man and woman receive the gift of each to the other in a communion defined by total selfgiving, faithfulness and openness to new life (73). In the sacrament Jesus himself “encounters Christian spouses…He dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses… to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens.” (73). The physical communion of the spouses is a nuptial mystery (74) which makes present the love of Christ for his Church on the cross (73). Their marriage vows are critical as they give meaning to the sexual relationship and free it from ambiguity (74). It is this unity of the spouses, says Pope Francis, which is the first good of marriage (80).
But just as the total free gift of the Father to the Son, and the Son to the Father is not without fruit – the eternal third person of the Trinity, who is the Holy Spirit – so too does marital unity reflect this and, in fact, is ordered to procreation, as a child springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment (80). The beauty of this mutual, gratuitous gift, the joy which comes from a life that is born and the loving care of all family members – from toddlers to seniors - are just a few of the fruits which make the response to the vocation of the family unique and irreplaceable”, both for the Church and society as a whole.
That families face difficulties does not mean that the Gospel is too hard to realistically live. But our families are not being helped by what Pope Francis calls an ideology of gender that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of man and woman…only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life” (52). This doesn’t mean that the Church abandons those in difficult situations: because we all have difficult situations. And the Pope spends three whole chapters exploring how we can better accompany families of divorced and remarried, single parents and people who are same sex-attracted, all of whom are loved by God (250), remain part of our community (243), and must receive encouragement and support from other families in the Christian community, and from our parish (252).