Married Love is Total Self-Giving, Says Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia

beach-famPope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love) should be required reading in pre-Cana classes, say commentators, because the Pope explains Catholic teaching on marriage so wisely and elegantly to the current generation. Throughout the papal exhortation, you can find the themes of the four marks or “keys” of married love: faithfulness, freedom, fruitfulness, and a total gift of self. The idea of a total gift of self was a cornerstone of Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. 

In embracing and beautifully restating this idea of John Paul II’s, Pope Francis turns to the Old Testament’s Song of Songs:

as the woman of the Song of Solomon will sing in a magnificent profession of love and mutual self-bestowal: “My beloved is mine and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (2:16; 6:3).(12)

Because married love is total, it alone can “symbolize the union of the human heart with God” (142). Married love is pleasurable, passionate, and “all-encompassing,” he says. It “is also exclusive, faithful and open to new life. It shares everything in constant mutual respect” (125).

Married love transcends the present moment and encompasses “a totality that includes the future,” says Pope Francis (214). It is a living contradiction of today’s “culture of the ephemeral,” which “fails to promote love or self-giving” (39). Ultimately, marriage reveals divine love, “a love manifested in the total self-gift of Jesus Christ, who even now lives in our midst and enables us to face together the storms of life at every stage” (290).

The Pope wisely reminds us that a total gift of self is not the same as a total loss of self:

The ideal of marriage cannot be seen purely as generous donation and self-sacrifice, where each spouse renounces all personal needs and seeks only the other’s good without concern for personal satisfaction. We need to remember that authentic love also needs to be able to receive the other, to accept one’s own vulnerability and needs…. (157)

A call to marriage is not a call to martyrdom! It’s a call for each spouse to become the person God wants them to be with the help of the other. According to Pope Francis:

As love matures, it also learns to “negotiate”. Far from anything selfish or calculating, such negotiation is an exercise of mutual love, an interplay of give and take, for the good of the family. At each new stage of married life, there is a need to sit down and renegotiate agreements, so that there will be no winners and losers, but rather two winners. (220)

The total, self-giving love of spouses is meant to be shared with their children. Parents who continue to love “when children prove troublesome and ungrateful” are “a sign of the free and selfless love of Jesus” (162). But selfless love can show itself every day, not only in times of crisis, Pope Francis says.

We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else. Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly (cf. Mk 10:21). No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mk 10:51). This is what we experience in the daily life of the family. We are constantly reminded that each of those who live with us merits complete attention, since he or she possesses infinite dignity as an object of the Father’s immense love (323).


This fourth and last in a series of posts on Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia looks at how love is a total gift of self. Earlier posts focused on the Pope’s praise of the faithful, free, and fruitful aspects of married love.

Originally published at Can We Cana.

Karee Santos is the founder of the Can We Cana? blog and also has written for Catholic Match Institute, Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and CatholicMom.com. Together with her husband Manuel Santos, M.D., she co-authored The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime (Ave Maria Press, 2016). The Santos’s designed and taught a pre-Cana marriage preparation course, and they write a monthly marriage advice column on CatholicMom.com called “Marriage Rx.” They also contribute to FAITH magazine's “Your Marriage Matters” advice column. The couple live in Long Island, New York, with their six children.