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It has something for everyone

Pope Francis has produced a basic pastoral document in his reflection on the two-part Synod on Marriage and Family Life that took place during 2014 and 2015.

It is not one that belabours doctrine or particularly addresses the problems of broken or dysfunctional families, but contents itself with a description of family life within the context of love.

Although criticised in some quarters for presenting a dichotomy between the application of strict doctrine and its vision of appropriate pastoral response, the pope is more interested in promoting growth in the life of families than pointing out errors.

The pope knows that life is not black and white and that discipleship is not just about following rules. Indeed, the bottom line of the pastoral commitment of the Church is to encourage fidelity in human ties, especially in marital and family relationships, and to do this it is essential to encourage growth.

The pope devotes one whole chapter (number four) to a description of the love that sustains family life and the development of that love that binds people together.

Predicated on the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, “Love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful…,” he has produced a text that can easily be used for reflection in parish groups, at the family table or in any discussion forum.

Although in this document the pope speaks only of marriage between a man and a woman, he is aware that the makeup of families is varied and there is no one size shoe that fits all.

But irrespective of how they came together, people’s lives under one roof are still bound by love and this chapter speaks directly to that human act, its expression and experience, without being gender or role specific.

It can equally talk to friendship or any human relationship, but family life is its particular context.

Pope Francis gives a profound exposé of the underlying meaning of the lyrical words St. Paul uses in his instruction to the people from the rough and tumble port city of Corinth, who were anything but refined.

Simple in its construct and language, a little bit of guidance and rephrasing from an adult could even make it a useful text for children.

The pope sometimes goes back to the original Greek words used by St. Paul, which are often more nuanced than their English equivalents, and teases out their meaning with simple explanations adding understanding and, consequently, offering insight.

The document is suitable for family discussion. One paragraph at a time can be taken up over weeks or months. In other places, the pope simply takes a phrase and explains it more fully.

One simple example: “Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity; it shows that we are not concerned for the happiness of others, but only with our own well-being. Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves.”

This is not the type of language that we have become accustomed to from popes, but it is Pope Francis’ way of sharing widely a reflection that is essentially for the benefit of everyone, irrespective of their situation. JiM