This is the third in a series of posts showing how Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia explores the themes of faithful, free, fruitful and total love (or The Four Keys to Everlasting Love, as we call them in our recently released book). The first two posts examined how sacramental married love is faithful and forgiving and respects personal freedom, according to Pope Francis. This post focuses on the theme of fruitfulness in Amoris Laetitia.
The night before Pope Francis officially released Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), I was chatting about it with Fr. Dave Dwyer on the Busted Halo radio show. Revealing that he had been able to get his hands on an advance copy, Fr. Dave told me, "You're going to love it. He says a lot about fruitfulness."
And Fr. Dave was right. Amoris Laetitia includes an entire chapter entitled "Love Made Fruitful," which praises both sexuality and fertility as gifts from God. The Washington Post trumpeted: "It is, perhaps, a strange lesson from a pope: Even the erotic can be divine." Never mind that popes, most notably St. John Paul II, have taught this lesson since the late 1970s. And although one blogger "derisively dubbed" Pope Francis' exhortation "The Joy of Sex," it could just as easily bear the name "The Joy of Fruitfulness."
Stressing the generous cooperation of parents in God's plan for creation, Pope Francis states:
Pope Francis sees a strong connection between the themes of faithfulness and fruitfulness. The "joys and sacrifices" of faithfulness "bear fruit as the years go by and the couple rejoices to see their children’s children," says the pope (231). For that reason, the Church is "grateful" for "the witness of marriages that have not only proved lasting, but also fruitful and loving" (38).The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life (cf. Gen 1:28; 9:7; 17:2-5, 16; 28:3; 35:11; 48:3-4). .... Seen this way, the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love (11).
Perhaps in penance for his earlier off-the-cuff comment that Catholics don't have to breed like rabbits, Pope Francis emphasizes that "large families are a joy for the Church" because "they are an expression of the fruitfulness of love" (167). He also reaffirms Catholic teaching against the practice of abortion and contraception.
But Pope Francis also goes beyond the concept of physical fertility by talking about "an expanding fruitfulness" (178-184). He encourages both adoption and foster care, saying that they "express a particular kind of fruitfulness in the marriage experience, and not only in cases of infertility. ....They make people aware that children, whether natural, adoptive or taken in foster care, are persons in their own right who need to be accepted, loved and cared for, and not just brought into this world" (180).
The pope pointedly remarks: "We also do well to remember that procreation and adoption are not the only ways of experiencing the fruitfulness of love" (181). He gives examples of what our book calls "emotional" or "spiritual" fertility:
Pope Francis cautions that "no family" -- even one with many children -- "can be fruitful if it sees itself as overly different or 'set apart'" (182). All families are "called to make their mark on society, finding other expressions of fruitfulness that in some way prolong the love that sustains them" (181). By arousing a desire for God, reflecting the beauty of the Gospel, and serving the poor, a family's "fruitfulness expands and in countless ways makes God’s love present in society," he says (184).Each of us is a “fisher of men” (Lk 5:10) who in Jesus’ name “casts the nets” (cf. Lk 5:5) to others, or a farmer who tills the fresh soil of those whom he or she loves, seeking to bring out the best in them. Marital fruitfulness involves helping others, for “to love anybody is to expect from him something which can neither be defined nor foreseen; it is at the same time in some way to make it possible for him to fulfill this expectation” (322).