My plan is to read it slowly and meditatively, consciously opening my heart and mind to its message, as the Holy Father asks. But, while I'm at it, I know I will be struck by particulars along the way. I'm going to note them here, partly as a way of keeping a record of my thoughts as I go, and partly as a way of helping interested others perceive its personalist aspects more readily.
I'm beginning at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday.
Right away, in paragraph 1, I note the focus on joy and "good news". The Pope wants to encourage us. Then this quote: “the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration to the Church”.
Notice that what inspires the Church is something subjective, something inward and personal, viz. the desire to marry and form a family. It's not the outward fact that many people do get married, but the fact that they want to get married. Attention is on interiority.
Paragraph 3 is an important one. It reminds me of John Paul and Benedict's stress on experience as the ground of all knowledge. Our understanding of the mysteries of our faith is still incomplete. And while some aspects of Catholic life are common to all times and places, others are suited to one people and not another. We learn more of the fullness (and how to distinguish the essential from the inessential) by probing experience and listening intently and receptively to one another. No single person has it all. Each individual and culture has something to offer the comprehensive wisdom of the Church as it develops in time. The fullness of faith is arrived at only through communion.
You feel the Pope urging us, again: cultivate an attitude of listening, openness, receptivity. Refrain from rigid or premature judgments. It's a constant theme of his.
Paragraph 6 lays out the plan for the exhortation and makes me want to jump ahead to find the "two central paragraphs dedicated to love," but I'll resist the temptation.
Paragraphs 8-10: This section is scriptural, poetical and imaginative. The Pope is inviting us to prayerful contemplation of the "deepest reality" of family life. Echoes of theology of the body in his emphasis on the "image of God" being found most fully in the union of male and female.
This is from paragraph 11:
The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life (cf. Gen 1:28; 9:7; 17:2-5, 16; 28:3; 35:11; 48:3-4).
What boundless admiration the Church has for marriage! It's no mere "remedy for concupiscence. It's not morally licit "human reproduction", but a symbol and revelation of "God's inner life"!
Francis is imbued with deep theology. I love the emphasis on fruitfulness as essential to love (a point I now think underdeveloped in von Hildebrand's analysis of conjugal love) and essential to the working of redemption in history.
The ability of human couples to beget life is the path along which the history of salvation progresses. Seen this way, the couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love. The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection.