In 2014 and 2015 the Catholic Church experienced an unprecedented event: a Synod of Bishops that spanned across two years. The topic of the synod was the family. In preparation for that event Catholics around the world were asked their opinions on the needs of families today. Families and their importance in the life of the Church were on the minds of the bishops as they debated how to support and to care for them.
In 2016, Pope Francis, responding to the recommendations of the Synod issued an apostolic exhortation titled: The Joy of Love. That was five years ago. The wellbeing of the family is important to Pope Francis. In the Joy of Love, he tells us that the Church is a family of families, and therefore if families are strong, the Church is strong. Both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have stated that the future of the Church and of society depends on the wellbeing of the family. Unfortunately, many families today struggle because of the social and economic damages cause by the pandemic and other disasters.
This year, on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, Pope Francis will launch a year of activities to address the needs of families, and he invites all Catholics to reflect on the message of his document, the Joy of Love. To support the Pope’s invitation, I will devote this and future articles to highlight key messages from the document.
The last chapter of the Joy of Love addresses the spirituality of the family. The chapter begins by affirming the presence of God in every home. The Pope writes: “The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes.” (AL315) That basically describes all of our families. We all have our lists of worries, especially today during this time of pandemic, and the Pope tells us that Jesus is in all of our homes.
God lives with us in our homes regardless of whether we are married or divorced, or have a great marriage or are struggling. The Pope encourages all of us to make room for God, and to recognize his presence in the love we share. Where love is, there is God. We feel God’s presence in the small gestures of daily life that bring us closer to one another, writes the Pope. Jesus is in the kitchen with us when we cook for the family, He is at our dinner table; He is sitting on the couch with us when we watch TV; and He is by us when we help a child with school work. Being aware of his presence helps us grow in our ability to love.
Learning to truly love one another is not easy because true love requires sacrifice. There may be times when we are tired; when we have given all that we have to give and our patience runs short, or times when we resist doing a favor to someone who disappointed us, or times when we find it difficult to forgive.
The Pope suggests that prayer can help our love grow. He writes: “A few minutes a day can be found each day to come together before the living God, to tell him our worries, to ask for the needs of our family, to pray for someone experiencing difficulty, to ask for help in showing love.” (AL 318) Praying together as a family can do immense good, writes the Pope. However, many find it difficult to pray together at home. If this is the case, pray alone. What is most important is that you pray. When we turn to God in prayer to thank him or asking for help in dealing with our inadequacies, He will respond.
Our Catholic tradition has given us many ways of praying. In addition to our personal conversation with God in the privacy of our heart, and our family prayers, we also have the communal prayers of the Church. The Pope writes: “The family’s communal journey of prayer culminates by sharing together in the Eucharist. Jesus knocks at the door of families to share with them the Eucharistic supper.” These words bring to mind images of families kneeling in the pews at Sunday Mass at my parish church: young couples with their children, single parents, parents with their teens, and older couples. We are all part of the “family of families,” which is the Church. We gather to bring to the altar our lives and join our sacrifices to Jesus’s sacrifice, and to share in the Eucharistic supper that Jesus has prepared for us. It is important that we attend Mass, and that we do so with the right attitude.
Questions for Reflection: If you could hear Jesus’ voice when He rides with you in your car on the way to Sunday Mass, what would He say to you?
John Bosio is the author of several books on marriage and programs for couples. He is a retired marriage and family therapist. Visit www.happy-together.net.