On this day dedicated to the family, we ought to take some time to stop and reflect on this very important reality that forms the bedrock of our society. It is within the family that one learns that mutual respect, justice, dialogue and love are essential for successful coexistence. If one proves to be responsible and to practice solidarity in the “little things”, it will be more likely to do so “in big things” too. The family thereby makes an irreplaceable contribution to the “humanization of society” (C. Kissling).
The family is the place where every person discovers his or her capabilities and strengths; finds the support to face fears, doubts and sadness; recognizes and appreciates the importance of social responsibility and solidarity and also indulges in the concepts of self-giving and self-acceptance. The recurrence and familiarization of these life events mold us and shape us into the persons we are as grownups, hence ultimately shaping tomorrow’s society (Familiaris consortio, para. 36).
“What would the Church look without you?” Pope Francis asked during a world meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018. Making reference to his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis declared the importance of the family role within the Church and that it is the renewed love in Christ that can make a family flourish. It is through such love that families can live as one mind and heart.
But what elements are hindering the realization of this love? Families everywhere are facing challenges. Modern family lifestyles are becoming too complex, demanding and possibly even driven by societal acceptance and economic pressures. We have forgotten that family happiness and fulfilment can be attained through simplicity! During another meeting with the families last year, Pope Francis highlighted the importance of simplicity in our lives. He listed simple things and gestures that are essential to ensure a prosperous family life, which we might have forgone, being blinded by the chaotic surroundings:
1. The 3 magic words: Please, Thank you and Sorry. Three essential words! A language that seeks appreciation, respect and reconciliation is essential for a thriving family life. Having this embedded in our everyday life, will ultimately lead to more constructive and respectful interactions with our peers, be it at work, at school and even on social media portals.
2. Do little things. All families have their difficulties and frictions, but love is stronger than the moment when there is arguing. Pope Francis advises not to let the sun set without making peace (Eph 4:26), and simple gestures such as a caress, a significant “sorry” can be the most powerful tools.
3. Keep Dreaming! The moment a family loses the ability to dream, children are stalled from growing, love halts, as life shrivels up and dies. Simple dreams about the goodness present in everything around us can be the key to make us face difficult times.
4. Make time to play It essential to work for the right balance between working hours and family life. Taking a glimpse at the current COVID-19 situation, many of us were forced to make drastic changes to their lifestyles, as many are remote-working or working less hours and kids are at home 24hours. Let us not ignore this opportunity and make this the “normality” and not the “rarity”. Let us not support a totalitarian ideology, whereby parents, due to social and economic pressures are obstructed from being the primary educators for their kids. Employers together with policy makers are to ensure family friendly measures are available to all, recognizing the residual importance of this for a more thriving society.
5. Pray together. The family that prays together, stays together! Through prayer we come to know God, to grow into men and women of faith and see ourselves as members of God’s greater family. In the family we also come to see that “Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers in a fruitless and incomplete prayer”. The family thus helps us grow into ‘contemplatives in action’.
6. Accept our imperfections. We are not to fear imperfections, weaknesses or conflict, but rather learn how to deal with them constructively. The family is the only place where we keep loving one another through forgiveness and by learning to listen, to speak respectfully and be free to express our real selves, will ultimately translate in a force of dialogue and reconciliation in society.
7. Be Patient. It takes so much patience and with patience comes holiness. We can be saints by passionately teaching our children to know and to follow Jesus.
8. Look to our Elders. A grandfather is a father twice over and a grandmother is a mother twice over. Grandparents are entrusted with the responsibility to transmit their life experience, their family history, the history of a community, of a people; to share wisdom with simplicity, and faith itself—the most precious heritage! Moreover, another family task is to provide loving care to all of its household members who need assistance, both physical and monetary. This profound sense of solidarity with our elders is an essential element for a more inclusive, caring and unified society.
9. Set an Example. Truly Christian families are known by their fidelity, their patience, their openness to life. So let us approach with care and affection those families who are struggling, forced to leave their homeland, broken, homeless or unemployed, or going through any type of suffering. Let us be close to everyone through the proclamation of this Gospel of the family, the beauty of the family. Through comprehensive education and social teaching, future generations will be guided to be law-abiding, peaceful and most importantly capable to dialogue, show solidarity and practice the virtues of justice and love in an unbiased manner.
10. Light the Way. Families will always have their trials, but let us instead be living examples of love, forgiveness and care. Be sanctuaries of respect for life, proclaim the sacredness of every human life from conception to natural death. This could be our gift to society, fulfilling the vocation evoked to us through the Christian family life.