So what exactly is Francis teaching us about love, or more specifically, about love as it is present in the family?
A key to understanding both this document and love as Francis presents it is that love is anything but static or passive. Love is an action. Love is a decision, which we are called to affirm and continually recommit to.
For those called to marriage, this means choosing to let their love continue to grow and develop as they age and progress through life. As Pope Francis writes, “The love [that the couple] pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling, or state of mind, although it may include all of these. It is a deeper love, a lifelong decision of the heart. Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one another, to share their lives and to continue loving and forgiving.” 
Francis emphasizes that this way of loving should be active at all points in the couple’s relationship. “The primary objective [of marriage preparation] is to help each to learn how to love this very real person with whom he or she plans to share his or her whole life.”  He goes on to say that pastoral care of engaged and married couples “should be centered on the marriage bond, assisting couple not only to deepen their love but also to overcome problems and difficulties.” 
Francis repeatedly calls attention to the centrality of decisions in a marriage relationship. This begins with the wedding, which should be more about helping the couple to “embark upon marriage as a lifelong calling based on a firm and realistic decision to face all trials and difficult moments together” than the energy- and joy-draining trappings (invitations, clothes, guests, reception, etc.). [211-212]
So what are some practical decisions that Francis offers to families to help love flourish within them? Here are a few highlights:
- Dialogue with each other: “This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say…Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams.” 
- Develop a shared routine that incorporates intentional acts of love: “These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together, and sharing household chores.”  These examples might seem ordinary or boring, but represent repeated decisions to commit oneself to another.
- Face crises together: “At these times, it becomes all the more important to create opportunities for speaking heart to heart.”  Rather than retreating into silence, Francis invites family members to name the challenges they face so that they can face them together.
- Forgive each other: “[Forgiveness] is rooted in a positive attitude that seeks to understand other people’s weaknesses and to excuse them.”  No one is perfect, which means that if we want to keep loving each other, we’ll have to keep forgiving each other.
Throughout the many (and I mean “many” – this thing is 263 pages long!) beautiful and moving passages of this exhortation, Francis continually emphasizes the way in which love goes well beyond a feeling of attraction or passing impulse. Similarly, the decision to love cannot be fully exhausted by any single moment.
As he discusses the myriad ways in which family life can manifest the great gift of love that God offers us, Francis draws our attention again and again to what love really means. Love means making a decision to love and to keep loving, day-in and day-out, moment by moment.
For more of The Jesuit Post’s coverage on Amoris Laetitia:
You can also check out the coverage from our friends at America Magazine here.
Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user Jonathan Camuzo, found here.