“Hey guys, I’ve got this great idea for a family project. We can work on it together this summer!”
“What is it?”
I could easily see their eager, enthusiastic little faces as I imagined how the conversation would go.
“We are going to read and discuss the application of Amoris Laetitia, the 264-page apostolic exhortation on the Joy of Love that was recently released by Pope Francis! Isn’t that exciting!”
That’s about where my fantasy comes crashing down around me. Even in my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine my five boys, ages 19, 17, 15, 13, and 6, being thrilled about this project. In fact, the eager, enthusiastic little faces I picture in my mind’s eye at the mention of any family project probably stopped existing a good 10 years earlier. Very rarely do my boys look at me with joyful expectation when I mention a “family project” now. If I were a betting woman, I’d be far more likely to place my wager on eye rolls and heartfelt groans than eager enthusiasm. That could be partly because “family projects” usually mean we’ll be cleaning out winter clothes or a trying to find the bottom of some overstuffed closet or, horror of horrors, emptying the entire garage!
Only one of my boys is a big reader and even he wouldn’t jump at the chance to read the Pope’s document. I knew if I’d asked my boys to read the exhortation and then share their thoughts I’d have a mutiny on my hands.
A single mom of five boys has to tread lightly in many areas and faith is certainly one of them. I’ve certainly made the mistake often enough of trying to pound faith into them or trying too hard to ensure they don’t follow destructive paths of short-sighted family and friends no matter how loved those family and friends are. I’ve made the mistake of trying to make them believe when they need to be given the freedom to choose for themselves. Again I come to the same realization I did when my husband left. If God won’t usurp my children’s free will, then I certainly have no right to either.
However, given the fact that they have free will and that I need to tread lightly does not mean I ignore opportunities or proceed with a spirit of cowardice. Instead, it means I must find the strength to lead and bite my tongue. Things I do with dismal regularity. It also means I must find creative ways to lead my children to faith, which brings me back to Amoris Laetitia.
Cutting Up Amoris Laetitia
Since the document is 264 pages long, it is a lot of reading on Love even for me, someone interested in the topic and what our Pope had to say on it. It was said, even when the document was first released, that this is not a task to run quickly through. The document is one to read a bit of it, to pray and ponder over, and then to go back to for more. Even scholars are expected to catch insight after reading Amoris Laetitia over the course of many days rather than all at once. To ask my boys to spend their summer reading it would have gotten me nowhere. More importantly, it would have gotten my boys nowhere in their faith and may have even caused a backslide if I pushed too hard.
Fortunately, Amoris Laetitia is divided up into much smaller, much more manageable sections. These sections are short and sweet and full of bite-sized pieces of information. They contain a wealth of wisdom and grace and instruction in how to love as part of God’s plan. Even for teenage boys, the sections are manageable.
Now, don’t get me wrong, getting my boys to read even a small section each day would be a challenge, but we can read a bit in place of our usual dinner time prayer. I don’t intend to tell them the exhortation is 264 pages, and I don’t intend to have them read the document in its entirety either.
Instead, I have printed out the entire document and am cutting out sections for them to read. Each night one child will read a portion and ask for God’s blessing on our family and on those the passage speaks of. A different child will read each night. The older boys can help the youngest if he gets stuck on words or I can practice it with him beforehand, giving up a little bonding time and helping him be a better reader too.
The Joy of Love
By having the boys take turns reading part of Amoris Laetitia, I hope to spark their interest now so that doors of discussion may be opened and faith can grow for all of us and also so that one day they will actually want to find out more about The Joy of Love and to discover for themselves what Joy there is in Love defined by God rather than love defined by sex, selfishness, and society.
I am also hoping this gives them valuable practice in leading a family in prayer. It is my hope that this prayer practice, in our safe and comfortable home, will allow them to be the true prayer warriors, risk takers, and courageous leaders in their own homes, in their places of worship, and in their business practices one day soon.
With all the pulls on our children today in the media, in our schools, and in our own homes, it is vitally important that we never mistake treading lightly with treading fearfully. With the upcoming election and the indoctrination that is so subtle our children, and even we, often fail to see it for what it is, we must find creative ways to teach our children the depth and beauty of the Catholic faith and the message and fulfillment that comes only from fully embracing the Joy of Love that is given through the Trinity.
I’d love to hear what you are doing with Amoris Laetitia and how you are introducing it to your family and friends. What challenges are you facing? Which concepts do you embrace? Which do you find harder to apply? How can you invite more love into your world?