Post-synodal exhor-what?

Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love") should be out (or nearly) by the time you read this.

If you are still reading this column, props to you. Because for the most part our "Culture of the Big Me" doesn't do - or understand - "exhortation." We don't want to "exhort," much less "be exhorted."

From the Latin for "urge" and "encourage," exhortation has gone out of style. The archaism seems to drag along some judgmental baggage. Is your "encouragement" an underhanded criticism of me? Don't "exhort" me, don't tell me what to do: In fact, mind your own business.

Yet as a husband and dad cognizant of how often I fall smack on my face in the scrum of family life, I'll take every hortatory moment I can get. I'm looking forward to reading what my pope has to say on marriage and the family.

"Seriously?" you ask, wondering where you'd find the time to read what could be a lengthy papal reflection.

But tell me this: If you were proud to work for a company whose CEO assessed the competition and adverse external forces and decided to hold emergency meetings at all levels of the company for two years straight, would you disregard the long-awaited unveiling of his or her findings and required next steps to keep the organization and your job alive?

I doubt we'd be content with relying on a stranger's soundbite. As representatives of that company in our communities, we'd need to know what's going on so that we can keep our job and the work we love. We'd want to put our best foot forward - not be left out and left behind.

And yet the church, the mystical Body of Christ, is infinitely more than a corporation. Our Bishop of Rome is not a CEO, but the Holy Father, the symbol of unity, the successor of Peter "presiding in charity," the servant of the servants of God.

If I was a betting man, I'd wager that "Amoris Laetitia" will brim with expressions of Pope Francis' desire to serve the church - including our families, with our joys and warts and all - in probing questions, memorable phrases and practical asides. This is a man who tells it like it is, pulling no punches as he looks at the dissolution of the family around the world.

"The family in the modern world," writes the pope in his exhortation to the family, "as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture."

Amen. Except that those are words from 1981, when St. John Paul II penned his exhortation to the family, "Familiaris Consortio" (on the role of the Christian family in the modern world).

And while "beset" may have accurately described the family's challenges in 1981, I wonder if today a better verb might be "assaulted," "battered" or even "decimated." 1981, after all, was pre-Internet pornography and just the beginning of a tsunami of divorce. We could go on. Suffice it to say, 35 years later, we owe our families and our wounded culture some careful reflection.

Yet reading "Amoris Laetitia" is only one step. We need to bring it - and other works on the family like "Familiaris Consortio" - into our living conversation with God, in prayer and as an aide for an examination of conscience on family life. How is my family? Are we generous and forgiving? Is Jesus at the center? Do we invite neighbors and relatives over? If not, why? Where is our country going in supporting families?

We need to ask these questions if we are to be more ready for those daily opportunities to give ourselves more selflessly to our families; for that beer with a neighbor; coffee with a friend; or office lunch when suddenly the Catholic Church comes up. Eyes will turn to us, quite possibly the only known Catholic at the table. But why wait passively for such moments?

Let's be known as men, women, teens and children who take the first step. The father of the prodigal son saw his son coming from far off, and broke into a run to meet him.

"He didn't just wait for him," Pope Francis said in a 2013 interview, "he went out to meet him. That's mercy."

If we get up from our couches and step off our porches and break into a run to greet (and exhort) the prodigals in our lives, our neighbors and colleagues may smirk or think less of us.

But isn't this what the joy of love looks like?

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's delegate for evangelization and media.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016