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Bishop Paul Sirba: Receiving the teaching of ‘The Joy of Love’

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in a simple note to the bishops of the world, released the Apostolic Exhortation, the Joy of Love. He wrote:

Dear brother: Invoking the care of the Holy Family of Nazareth, I am happy to send you my exhortation Amoris Laetitia for the good of all the families and persons, young and old, entrusted to your pastoral ministry. United in the Lord Jesus, with Mary and Joseph, please do not forget to pray for me. — Franciscus

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
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With what we have come to know as his pastoral joy, his love for all and his challenge to be faithful to the Gospel, the Holy Father also humbly asks for our ongoing prayers.

The coverage in the media leading up to the release of the document had us believing that we would be experiencing a change in teaching based on the enlightenment of contemporary culture. The relative silence after its release has shown that the world didn’t get what it apparently wanted. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” (Hebrews 13:8-9).

Pope Francis asks us for a thoughtful reading of the document. It is long and will take some time to digest. I propose approaching it like you would a book of the Bible in a parish Bible study. Gather a group of friends and read it chapter by chapter over time. Receive it like a personal letter the Holy Father has addressed to you. Ask questions and relate the teaching to your own life.

Pope Francis, having listened to the participants in two Synods, knows that Jesus Christ has once again become a stranger to our world. Our Church’s teaching on marriage and family life is wrongfully perceived as the big “No!” As he wrote in “Joy of the Gospel,” “We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness” (34).

He challenges all of us to accompany our brothers and sisters wherever they are. Accompaniment is a theme of this document. It means to walk alongside people. Renewal happens step-by-step. We have to walk in love with those who may disagree with us. We offer our brothers and sisters encouragement and the greatest prize — coming to know Jesus. We believe not in a set of propositions but in a person, Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. We invite people to encounter Jesus.

I offer my gratitude and thanks to our priests and deacons for their pastoral charity and the ways they have done what the Holy Father is asking all of us to do: To approach the faithful in their parishes with the charity of the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan or the father of the Prodigal Son and to dialogue with everyone, accepting people where they are, and lead them to Jesus.

I commend our married couples who have embraced the Sacrament of Marriage and all that it entails in today’s culture. Thank you for your faithfulness to your spouse in spite of so many challenges, for your openness to life and for the gift of practicing Natural Family Planning. I thank God for your family celebrations and your marriage anniversaries. I have asked our Office of Marriage and Family Life to do all we can to support you in preparing for marriage, to mentor and strengthen you early in marriage, and to help and encourage you through life in the difficulties and challenges you face in your marriages.

Our challenges as a Church are to reach out to you who are separated and divorced, to you who struggle with same-sex attraction and to all the various situations of our human weakness or imperfection and to affirm you in your goodness and surround you with our love and assistance. I invite you to pray for the work of our Marriage Tribunals and advocates in providing the help and assistance needed to reconcile and support our brothers and sisters in need.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope’s concern for all of us in the human family reignites the light of the Gospel of Jesus in our world. The language of mercy brings healing where we are hurting.

Bishop Paul D. Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.