“Real Families”

by | Mar 20, 2024 | Formation, Reflections

I think that in my eighties I can be called a “retired” marriage and family therapist. In my active years of helping families, I often heard two seemingly contradictory thoughts about parents in “real families.”

On the one hand …

  • “As my father (mother) always said”… is completed by something we learned and treasure to this day.

On the other hand…

  • I can’t believe it! I swore I would never … fill in the blanks for what mother (father) did. Yet here I am doing exactly the same thing.” Such  comments show that we have not yet learned to “take the best and leave the rest.”

Of course, I can also admit to hearing these two sets of voices in my head about the very real and human family I grew up in.

I suspect each of you can recall your own variations on these themes.

The reality is that our families include saints and sinners… even if some are closer to one edge of the spectrum.

Pope Francis – concern about “real families”

March 19, 2024, marks the eighth anniversary of Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia).

Unfortunately, in our polarized age, Some focused on one footnote which encouraged them. Others rejected the same

in reality, it is an inspiring document describing and addressed to the real family of today.

“Following the example of Christ, who looked with love and tenderness on those he met, we begin by looking not at what is lacking in order to follow the Christian ideal of marriage, but first at what is good in people’s lives, even in imperfect situations, because these positive elements are, precisely, signs of the grace of God already at work”

This is the law of gradualness, which John Paul II introduced in his 1981 apostolic exhortation, Familiaris consortio.


Amoris Laetitia is now the Church’s “roadmap” on family issues

Throughout his lengthy reflection on the family today he is at great pains to address the complex reality of marriage and family relations as well as a wider range of relationships.

Amoris Laetitia has a double and complementary aim.

On the one hand, it seeks to promote the Christian ideal of marriage, the beauty of which the text never ceases to emphasize.
On the other hand, it aims at encouraging mercy. This is the keyword of the exhortation, especially regarding the accompaniment and integration of diverse family situations.

Francis wants the Church to take into account the new context and great diversity of today’s families. The exhortation encourages ways to reach families where they are, including in their difficulties, their sufferings, and trials.

The pope is trying to address “real families,” He wants to keep them”firmly grounded in reality” (AL 6), and avoid proposing a”far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage.”

But this does not mean selling out the demands of the Gospel, nor does it mean to “desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur” (AL 307).

Francis reminds us that marriage is above all a journey of human and spiritual growth, and that is never fully completed.

The text of his major reflection, “Amoris Laetitia” is available as downloadable PDF text

To assist further understanding the Vatican offers ten videos exploring key themes.


  • Take a long loving look at the real family you grew up in and the paradoxes you will undoubtedly find.
  • Recognize that your own families of origin were imperfect and your current families are still on a journey.
  • Explore the above videos

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk