One of the highlights of this year for me was the publication of Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) by Pope Francis.
In this letter of
encouragement he reflects on the practical challenges of family life
against the background of the hope that God keeps in his heart for every
person and every family.
Pope Francis invites us “to look to the
reality of the family today in all its complexity, with both its lights
and shadows” so that we can, as Christians, respond positively to the
challenge of supporting marriage and family life in our own parish
communities and in our society.
He seems to understand, however, that in
the ordinary routine of every day, as we look at our own lives, the
struggles of family life may sometimes seem to obscure the joy. For that
reason, it seems, Pope Francis has a whole chapter in which he invites
us to look at ourselves and our families, our hopes, our successes, our
failures and our disappointments, as God sees them, with the tender love
of a Father.
Francis reminds us that Jesus himself was born into
a modest family and, very soon after his birth, he became a refugee
child. We sometimes idealise the Holy Family. We forget that the whole
point of the Nativity was that Jesus was born into the real world, to be
God With Us. Hundreds of artists down through the centuries have
painted that scene of Mary tending to Jesus in a cow-shed, with Joseph
by her side.
Modern advertising presents the ideal family in the
ideal home, with the best of furniture and the best of food. There is a
certain pressure to have everything perfect from the very beginning. It
is good to have targets but sometimes high expectations lead to
It’s like when Santa Claus doesn’t bring exactly what we
wanted. Joseph and Mary didn’t have it all sorted, but what makes the
story of Christmas for me is that they were there together. They loved
and respected each other and they were able, out of their love for one
another, to welcome the child who was God’s gift to the world.
The Christmas crib is a symbol of the God who loves us in the smallness
of our humanity. It is also an invitation to all of us to get our
priorities right. Putting Christ at the heart of Christmas is about
saying that the most important gift of all is the gift of ourselves that
we give to one another, not just once a year, but every day.
reflect before the crib this Christmas, either at home or in the parish
Church, we might bring into our prayer the needs and concerns of every
family in our diocese, and especially those for whom the joy is not so
The coming months will present us with many
opportunities to reflect on the vocation and mission of the family, as
we prepare to welcome Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families in
May Jesus, who is Emmanuel, God-with-Us, be with each family this
Christmas and through the coming year, just as truly as he is with Mary