During his homily to 150,000 pilgrim families in Rome in October 2013 gathered to celebrate the Year of Faith, the Holy Father said, “The three most important words upon which all of family life rests and depends for its vitality and daily survival are ‘Please, thank you and sorry’.” This has been further commented upon by the Instrumentum Laboris n43 (working document) for the Synod this October, in terms of ‘fostering a morality of grace’ in the family. These three simple expressions are the glue if you like of family ties and affections, typifying the beauty of virtues. And there are corresponding spiritual fruits/virtues to the three simple courtesies within the home. So the morality of grace in the home might look something like this::
- “Please” = respect and mutual trust
- ”Thank you” = mutual acceptance and gratitude
- “Sorry” / “Forgive me” = patience and forgiveness
And as the Holy Father himself reiterated in a general audience on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima on the 13th May 2015:
“Indeed, these expressions open up the way to living well in your family, to living in peace. They are simple expressions, but not so simple to put into practice! They hold much power: the power to keep home life intact even when tested with a thousand problems. But if they are absent, little holes can start to crack open and the whole thing may even collapse.”
Perhaps our reflecting on these daily expressions within the home and family might well be the key (or hermeneutic if you like) of how to interpret the unprecedented decision by the Pope to invite comments from far and wide from 2013 until now on the centrality of marriage and the family in the life of the Church and how the Church is shaping up in terms of her pastoral care of it.
We all know that in every family context, be it over small or big hurts, these words and gestures of giving and eliciting love are absolutely crucial to our ties of love and affection surviving in most cases most of the time. If the Church is, as She is called to be at the parish level, a family of families, then it has to find a way of being more FAMILIAL in its various levels of interaction among ALL its faithful both lay and ordained.
The pope also warned spouses and families at that gathering in October 2013, never to let the sun set on disputes and bitters rows (“even if you throw plates” he said) but end the day with a gesture of peace and come back to the issue in a spirit of calm and serenity. This then is what I think may be his unstated purpose of allowing and encouraging the consultation exercises during the synodal journey. Mother Church through her spiritual fathers has for too long allowed the sun to set on bitter disputes and rows within the family of the Church over too many decades. Unsurprisingly then, legitimate resentment, frustration and anger has built up to the point of many understandably rejecting outright the teaching of the Church on sensitive issues as well as others just giving up the effort through pastoral neglect. So there’s been a need to open up that collective hurt, rather like a vibrant family dispute. Painful things may be said but if they are spoken as felt truth, then no matter how painful they are to express and be heard, the venting of them cannot be a bad thing overall so long as both sides; – the hurting lay and ordained faithful and the teaching office – carry out this exercise under the three golden words of fruitful family living; “..please, thank-you and sorry.”
Perhaps Rome/the Vatican (pope and bishops) have needed to say;
“Please….. tell us how you really feel and think….”
“Thank you… for being so honest in your sharing…”
“Sorry….. for neglecting your deeper spiritual needs by abandoning you to the lame excuse of ‘follow your conscience’ – ”
And in turn the faithful must and have been be prepared to say…
“Please be true and conscientious shepherds to us in season and out.” (like Jesus and the Samaritan woman, Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ rebuke of Peter)..
“Thank you… for listening to our hurts, hopes and sorrows (even if you cannot resolve them immediately and as we would want.) Help us to know the difference between want and need just as we teach that to our own children.”
“Sorry….that we have not always exercised due care, prudential judgement and vigilance in seeking to align the voice of conscience with the tried and tested wisdom of the Church in an effort to truly listen to the challenging but healing tone of the Head of the Church Jesus Christ who speaks through His Vicar, Peter”
Whatever the outcome of all this consulting and two synods, interspersed with the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia with the Pope in September, one thing is clear; the Church needs to proclaim the Gospel of the Family so it is ‘a message which might give hope and not be burdensome’ (Instrumentum Laboris n42) For as the great Pope of the family himself, St. John Paul II, declared in the Jubilee Year 2000 that in answering the question put to St. Peter “What must we do?” [Acts 2:37]:
We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that.., we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you!
It is not therefore a matter of inventing a “new programme”. The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever..(with) its centre in Christ himself…This is a programme which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This programme for all times is our programme for the Third Millennium.” Novo Millennio Inuente 29
There will be no Friday FAST during the month of August. I wish those of you taking time to be with family and loved ones for holidays every grace and peaceful blessing that you be recreated anew. “Come away and rest a while,” said Jesus to the disciples. May it be a time of rest in some measure for us all wherever possible.
– Edmund Adamus
Director of Marriage & Family Life, Diocese of Westminster