Over the weekend, Pope Francis addressed families gathered in Rome for the Pontifical Council for the Family’s plenary assembly. Earlier in the week the Holy Father spoke to council members on the sacrament of matrimony and harmonious family life, encouraging parents to “waste time” with their children, reminding them, “The free gift of a parent’s time is so important.”
On Saturday evening and again during his homily for Sunday Mass, Pope Francis spoke about the unique and irreplaceable role of the family in the life of the Church.
Saturday evening’s event in St. Peter’s Square included music and acrobatic performances, as well as questions and stories for the Pope from children and visiting families. Then the Holy Father addressed the crowd, inviting Christian families throughout the world to “live the joy which comes from faith.”
Life is often wearisome. Work is tiring; looking for work is exhausting. But what is most burdensome in life is a lack of love. It weighs upon us never to receive a smile, not to be welcomed. Certain silences are oppressive, even at times within families, between husbands and wives, between parents and children, among siblings. Without love, the burden becomes even heavier. I think of elderly people living alone, and families who receive no help in caring for someone at home with special needs. “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden”, Jesus says. … He said this to the apostles and today he says it to us. Here, then, is the first thing I would like to share with you this evening, and it is a saying of Jesus: Come to me, families from around the world, and I will give you rest, so that your joy may be complete.
Pope Francis highlighted a line from the Rite of Marriage, in which spouses promise to be true to each other “in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.”
At that moment, the couple does not know what joys and pains await them. They are setting out, like Abraham, on a journey together. That is what marriage is! Setting out and walking together, hand in hand, putting yourselves in the Lord’s powerful hands.
With trust in God’s faithfulness, everything can be faced responsibly and without fear. Christian spouses are not naïve; they know life’s problems and temptations. But they are not afraid to be responsible before God and before society. They do not run away, they do not hide, they do not shirk the mission of forming a family and bringing children into the world. But today, Father, it is difficult… Of course it is difficult! That is why we need the grace of the sacrament! The sacraments are not decorations in life; the sacrament of marriage is not a pretty ceremony! Christians celebrate the sacrament of marriage because they know they need it! They need it to stay together and to carry out their mission as parents. “In joy and in sadness, in sickness and in health”. And in their marriage they pray with one another and with the community. Why? Only because it is helpful to do so? No! They do so because they need to, for the long journey they are making together. They need Jesus’ help to walk beside one another in trust, to accept one another each day, and daily to forgive one another.
The following day, Pope Francis turned his attention to the defining characteristics of the Christian family during his homily for Sunday Mass. First, he said, the Christian family prays together.
In the light of God’s word, I would like to ask you, dear families: Do you pray together from time to time as a family? Some of you do, I know. But so many people say to me: How can we? Prayer is something personal, and besides there is never a good time, a moment of peace… Yes, all that is true enough, but it is also a matter of humility, of realizing that we need God, like the tax collector! And we need simplicity! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is something all of you can do. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength! And praying for one another!
Drawing on the day’s second reading from St. Paul, the Holy Father said that the Christian family “keeps the faith.”
Paul compares his life to a fight and to a race. He kept the faith because he didn’t just defend it, but proclaimed it, spread it, brought it to distant lands. … Saint Paul kept the faith because, in the same way that he received it, he gave it away, he went out to the fringes, and didn’t dig himself into defensive positions.
Here too, we can ask: How do we keep our faith? Do we keep it for ourselves, in our families, as a personal treasure, or are we able to share it by our witness, by our acceptance of others, by our openness? We all know that families, especially young families, are often “racing” from one place to another, with lots to do. But did you ever think that this “racing” could also be the race of faith? Christian families are missionary families, in their everyday life, in their doing everyday things, as they bring to everything the salt and the leaven of faith!
Returning to his theme from the previous day, Pope Francis said that the Christian family “experiences joy.”
Dear families, you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well… True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey. But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all. God alone knows how to create harmony from differences. But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centeredness prevails and joy fades. But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally. That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society.