Since becoming the bishop of Rome last year, there has been no stronger advocate for families than our beloved Holy Father, Pope Francis. Whether it regards a living wage for working people, the values of a society that places possessions over people or the pressures that cause families to break up, his words always strike a chord with us who strive to follow the example of Jesus. His loving manner and his tender gestures have touched hearts all around the world and are no doubt helping people to see the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching on the importance of married love and family life.
This past October, Pope Francis invited people from all over the world to gather in Rome and discuss the situation of families in the modern world. This gathering, known as a synod, sought, in particular, to address the problems of how to proclaim the good news of marriage to a world that has stopped believing that love can last forever. Like Jesus, Pope Francis always keeps close to his heart those who feel disconnected from the Church. To those who find themselves divorced or abandoned by a spouse, he wanted to show the loving concern that we should have in welcoming every person no matter where they may be along the journey of faith.
To announce this extraordinary gathering at the Vatican, Pope Francis wrote a letter to the families of the world. In it, he directed the following words to us, “This...Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church.”
Unfortunately, much of the reporting about this gathering focused on some controversial statements and alleged infighting among bishops. However, the real focus of the event was the family and its crucial role in society and the Church.
Family is at the heart of every human life. Every person came from a family. It was in our family that we learned to speak, that we learned to relate to other people and that we came to understand ourselves. No matter how old we are, much of our behavior and attitudes still stem from that early formation we received from our parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins. The family is truly the most basic building block of society. Without it, there would be no civilization. And so, the healthier families are, the healthier society and the Church will be.
It goes without saying that it is love that makes a family. Love brings a man and woman together. Love makes them decide to have children. It is love that drives parents to endure difficult work schedules, to go without sleep to take care of sick children and to sacrifice themselves for each other’s good. That type of self-giving love, rooted in blood ties, is what makes a family different from any other group in society. And it is the fact that children come from them that makes it so indispensable to the common good.
But there is another element that is crucial to the success and growth of families - faith. It is only through a deep, abiding trust in God that a man can give himself totally and without conditions to his bride. It is only through belief in the love of God that a woman can forsake all others to cling to her husband. It is only through faith that a man and woman can see their children as gifts of God to be cared for and nurtured. Because we are human, we will often fail in our love for one another. Our human selfishness and fears so often cause us to lash out and to hurt one another. It takes faith to find the power to forgive, to overcome our selfishness and to live in peace with one another.
In his letter to families, Pope Francis writes the following words about today’s gospel reading:
It is a beautiful image; two young parents and two elderly people, brought
together by Jesus. He is the one who brings together and unites generations!
He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion
of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you
share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer,
trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support....Nevertheless, if there
is no love then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph were joined together by God into a loving family to nurture and care for the child, Jesus. It was in this family that Jesus grew to be strong and filled with wisdom, as Saint Luke tells us. What made the Holy Family “holy” was the presence of Jesus. If our families are also to be holy, then we must welcome Jesus into our homes. We do this through prayer as a family, through Sunday Mass, through good works, through our hospitality and through our kindness to one another. From the love of Jesus there flows joy and peace. Forgiveness becomes possible and relationships are healed.
If you feel there is something missing in your family, then turn to Jesus. Welcome Him first into your heart and then into your home. Practice the words of Saint Paul in today’s second reading: “Put on...heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”. Then real change can begin.
So often families suffer because each member waits for the other to change. Parents think that it is only when children become more obedient that the home will be happier. Children think that if only their parents would really listen to them that their relationship would get better. However, none of us has power to change anyone else. If we are waiting for someone else to change, we will be waiting a long time. We can only change ourselves. Let this be the day that we each make a decision to do whatever is necessary to improve our family life, no matter what situation we may find ourselves in. Then we will experience the peace that only Christ can give and that every family yearns for.