by Ursula van Nierop

I was asked to write about my reflections on chapter 5, “Love made Fruitful,” in Amoris Laetitia (AL) – Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation on the Synod of the Family. As a lay person, I have had a keen interest in the Synod and I am excited about what has come out of it.

As I started reading the chapter I was struck by the first words “Love always gives life” (AL 165). I have been married for 25 years and when we got married, we were taught that the marriage act is for “life” and “love”. As Pope Paul VI writes in Humanae Vitae: “the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” (Humanae Vitae 12).

What struck me is what Pope Francis writes: love and life are not separate entities. Pope Francis says that life flows from love. Wow! That is a very powerful message.

In the first part of chapter 5 of AL we are reminded of the need to accept a new life as a gift from God. “The family is the setting in which new life is not only born, but also welcomed as a gift from God” (AL 166). Pope Francis encourages mothers to experience and treasure the joys and hopes of pregnancy: “With great affection, I urge all future mothers to let nothing rob you of the interior joy of motherhood. Your child deserves your happiness” (AL 171).

“Love always give life” (AL 165)

The love of a father and mother is critical, according to Pope Francis. It is manifested in their love for the child as well as their love for each other. He speaks of the important role of a mother, and thanks mothers for “what you are in your family and for what you give the church and the world” (AL 174). Pope Francis also stresses the importance of fathers, especially “a father who is always present” (AL 177)

“Love always gives life” (AL 165)

At this point of my reading of AL, I began to feel complacent. God has gifted us with five beautiful children, who we love dearly. Our children have been blessed with parents who love each other, and who are both actively involved in their lives. We’ve done our bit. We’ve been “fruitful”.

However, I am probably only about a third of the way through Chapter 5, and as I read on, I start to squirm in my seat. Pope Francis challenges us to expand our fruitfulness.

For those who whatever reason are unable to have children of their own, Pope Francis says that “adoption is a very generous way to become parents… Adopting a child is an act of love, offering the gift of a family to someone who has none” (AL 179).

“Love always gives life” (AL 165)

Pope Francis then raises the bar and goes further: “A married couple who experiences the power of love is called to bind the wounds of the outcast, to foster a culture of encounter and to fight for justice” (AL 183). We are being asked, as “members of the one body of the Church” (AL 186), to care for the underprivileged, the poor and suffering, those ostracised from society and living on the fringes. How do we, as a family “expand our fruitfulness and in countless ways making God’s love present in society” (AL 184)?

“Love always gives life” (AL 165)

The final section of Chapter 5 looks at life in the wider family. “The nuclear family needs to interact with the wider family made up of parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and even neighbours” (AL 187). The busyness of our lives isolates us. We become caught up in daily stresses, we often take for granted the fact that we are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, in-laws, mothers and fathers. We forget that the elderly have a great deal to offer our families. They have a wisdom that is only achieved with age. We forget that the elderly are not as strong as they used to be and may need assistance in a variety of ways. We forget that we need to be assisting our wider family with their difficulties, just as they will be there when we need them.

Pope Francis challenges the wider family and community: “This larger family should provide love and support to teenage mothers, children without parents, single mothers left to raise children, persons with disabilities needing particular affection and closeness, young people struggling with addiction, the unmarried, separated or widowed who are alone, and the elderly and infirm who lack the support of their children. It should also embrace “even those who have made a shipwreck of their lives” (AL 197).

So how do we ensure that “Love always gives life”? I don’t presume to have any answers. I am heartened by Pope Francis’ call to ensure that “Love always gives life”. In AL he offers us a number of different ways that we can become “love that always gives life” – ways perhaps, we had not thought about before. The future is filled with hope, hope that families will experience the joy of love, and hope that this will spread to the Church and to society.