Nichole Flores is an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. Much of her writing focuses on the importance of families, and what using families as a metaphor can tell us about God, faith, and justice. Her theology stems out of her own experiences, growing up within a Latino/a community, surrounded by her own large extended family. And it’s also grounded in Catholic teachings on family, from the writings of Pope John Paul II in the early 1980s, to Pope Francis’ more recent teachings.
This week, U.S. Catholic staff sat down with Flores to talk about how her academic work translates to the faith lives of Catholics around the country and their own experiences of living in families. Given that her area of expertise is family relationships, we asked her to reflect on the pope’s very recent exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
(Read the entire interview in the July 206 issue of U.S. Catholic.)
The day Amoris Laetitia came out, a lot of my friends were live Tweeting passages. My newsfeed was glowing with all of these beautiful quotations about the beauty of marriage and family.
That’s one aspect of Pope Francis’ thinking that I would like to think more about: the role of beauty and the beauty of daily practice that makes it into all of his writings, whether about family or about the environment.
I really appreciate the way he highlights tenderness and the beauty of daily practice, of doing little things for spouses and being patient with each other—how those small acts, those small changes can really contribute to a loving relationship.
It’s difficult for someone who has never been married to give prescriptions to people who are living the day-in, day-out challenges of marriage. And yet I found these passages to be really insightful and lovely, coming from the perspective of lived marriage.
There’s one section in The Joy of Love where Pope Francis says, “Young married couples should be encouraged to develop a routine. . . .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.” What we need as humans is to recognize the movement of the Spirit through the beauty of small, daily actions.
What we need as humans is to recognize the movement of the Spirit through the beauty of small, daily actions.
This really comes to light in some of the ministries that are happening around recovery of people who have been victimized by domestic violence, by human trafficking, or by forced labor. This is the recovery of the perceptions of beauty and the ability to create beauty and put it back out into the world.
This is one of my hopes for both The Joy of Love, but also the entire corpus of teaching that has emerged from Pope Francis: that this subtle theme of beauty will be lifted up and help encourage us in our daily practices. That it will encourage us to perceive beauty in our daily lives and small activities, whether within our family, among friends, within the workplace, or out in the world.
That beauty is really the movement of the Spirit. It’s what forms us for love, for justice, and for those things that our world needs in such great measure. I have a lot of hope for Pope Francis and his teachings: that they will continue to help us live flourishing lives and to bring that flourishing to others.
Pope Francis earned a lot of leeway, in my mind, when he began his papacy with, “Pray for me,” and reiterated time and time again that he’s a sinner and he makes mistakes. He’s always willing, first of all, to be challenged and, second of all, to own up when he hasn’t spoken as precisely as he needed to.
The first step for our pastors is that posture of humility. Theological consultation—whether it’s by the USCCB, the Vatican, or what have you—should bring that spirit of humility to the task of theology.
Pastoral humility is really, really important. But so is theological humility and saying, “You know what? Maybe what we’re saying here is incomplete in terms of dynamics within families, and not really enacting this vision for church and for domestic church of equality.”
The synod and the teachings are the beginning of the conversation, or continuation of the conversation with exciting, new possibilities rather than the end of it. The work is not done.