After the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in October 2014, Pope Francis introduced us to his Apostolic Exhortation called Amoris Laetitia (AL): “Joy of Love” in 2016. The heart of this exhortation proclaims his deep pastoral concern, weaved in many spiritual elements for us to embrace and even for the non-Catholics to think about. He elaborates on the marriage sacrament, conversing as a Father to his children. “The sacrament of marriage is not a social convention, an empty ritual or merely the outward sign of a commitment.” Rather it is “the sacrament is a sign given for the sanctification and salvation of the spouses” (AL, n. 72) forming and establishing a permanent relationship as is the case with Christ and His Church. Although a social reality, the marriage is elevated to the dignity of sacrament by Christ because of the sacrament of baptism and so, it is a sacred union of man and of woman. It is in this marital relational bond that they mutually give each other fully, love the other, grow together and sacrifice for the growth of the other spouse. This sacramental reality has been with us for centuries. By the very fact that Jesus was present at the wedding at Cana in Galilee gives rise to the belief that he is gracefully present in every marriage that takes place in the Church, changing the water into wine.
Pope Francis also goes on to say that “Marriage is a vocation, inasmuch as it is a response to a specific call to experience conjugal love as an imperfect sign of the love between Christ and the Church” (AL, n. 72). That “sign” indicates how much Christ loves His Church. Though we compare our marriage to the marriage of Christ and the Church which is a perfect bond, but ours is still an imperfect union. We should not be discouraged by this as we can respond to God’s grace through participation in the sacramental life of the Church and perfecting our marital covenant through prayer and by frequenting the Holy Eucharist. “Consequently, the decision to marry and to have a family ought to be the fruit of a process of vocation discernment” (AL, n. 72). In an imperfect society, the “process of vocation of discernment” is important as it is a growth producing, ongoing and a lifelong journey for couples, whether they live in challenging times or good times, to be able to reflect on their life. This does not mean, there is no joy of love in marriage which is to be an intimate partnership of life, because it is a good given by God, who made marriage a good. We know, the joy of love is plentiful, otherwise not many people, young or old, would have been attracted to marriage and develop a family with one or many children whose spiritual and physical wellbeing are responsibly carried out by their loving parents. Our Holy Father states that “the family is the sanctuary of life, the place where life is conceived and cared for” (AL, n. 83). And it is in this sanctuary, the sanctification also takes place.
To experience the Joy of Love in marriage, the couples have to meditate upon the enriching letter of St. Paul: “Love is patient, love is kind… Love never fails… So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (ICor.13:4-13). This letter of over 2000 years is still relevant today as it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. He also admonishes us: “Do not use harmful words in talking. Use only helpful words … No more insults … Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you in Christ” (Eph. 4: 29-32). The Joy of Love is not out there in a vacuum. It is residing within you. Remember: love is sacrifice. So, continue your efforts to perfect your matrimonial relation in the Church through Jesus Christ, the author of this Great Sacrament, we call Marriage.