“What About You?”
“In the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission. Each one of us has to respond, as best we can, to the Lord’s call to build up his Body, the Church.”
Pope Francis pronounced this call to action during his first homily in Philadelphia, at the World Meeting of Families. He was calling to mind the words Pope Leo XIII said to St. Katharine Drexel, when she approached him about the needs of the missions. Leo turned it back on Katharine, asking “what about you,” challenging and thereby changing her life.
Throughout the course of his 6-day Apostolic Journey, Pope Francis addressed the constant focus of his Wednesday General Audiences since December 2014: the family. In all of its beauty and grace, as source of education and formation, as well as its struggles, trials, and wounds. The Pope shares with us the hopes and struggles of trying to sanctify our own homes to be the “domestic church” we are striving for. His holy visit alone is testimony to the encouragement he desires to give each family in his flock.
In an intimate recounting of the wedding feast of Cana, to families in Cuba, Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of Jesus’ public ministry, beginning at a wedding. Jesus; who was part of his own family, also entered into the lives of many other families. He entered into their homes, to share a place at meals, visit the sick and despairing, and celebrate weddings and new life. Jesus chose to teach many lessons in the heart of the family, at the dinner table, where intimate discussions and disagreements are often born. He came to the place where each man is himself, in his own environment.
It is in the home that we learn fraternity, solidarity, and not to be overbearing. It is in the home that we learn to receive, to appreciate life as a blessing and to realize that we need one another to move forward. It is in the home that we experience forgiveness, that we are continually asked to forgive and to grow. In the home there is no room for “putting on masks”: we are who we are, and in one way or another we are called to do our best for others.
Jesus brought the love of God into the community of the home. His very presence at a family table, gave witness to the importance of that act of gathering. It sanctified and fortified the relationships being formed, the education being imparted, and the example being upheld. Pope Francis spoke with concern of the growing emptiness in the home. The loss of these natural encounters rightly experienced in the home, no longer allowing for the growth of forgiveness, patience, and permission. He spoke about the emptiness of life without family and the warmth of home.
The weakening of the family is of course, a cause of concern for society, and on a greater scale for humanity. The Pope highlights the two biggest concerns; fragmentation and uniformity. “In both cases, people turn into isolated individuals, easy to manipulate and to rule. Societies which are divided, broken, separated or rigidly uniform are a result of the breakup of family bonds…” It seems obvious that we continue to grow more isolated as a society. In fact, the greatest evils in our society target the person who is isolated from a family unit, or work to separate an individual from the family unit. If there is truly strength in numbers, then a unified family offers the strength of opportunity, which opposes evil.
The most powerful experience the family will participate, is the encounter of Jesus in the Eucharist; the sacrificial meal he shares with all of us. Through the Eucharist we are nourished and sustained. We become part of Jesus’ family, fed by his body and blood. This supernatural sustenance gives us the grace and fortitude to love as Christ loves. To rule and judge with compassion, justice, and mercy.
Pope Francis addressed Congress, encouraging them in positive efforts to build and protect the common good. He asked Congress to see the refugees as persons, not being overwhelmed by their numbers. To turn upon them in fraternal love, rather than seeing the burden they may present. He recalled the hope of every family, to provide opportunity, freedom, and happiness for its own. The Pope did not step down from the listening ears of Congress without stating that every life is sacred (although I wish he would have expanded on this for the sake of the unborn), and calling to the forefront the purpose of his visit; to recognize the importance and beauty of family life. I found the contradiction the Pope found in our American society, when it comes to beginning a family, to be fascinating:
At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.
Finally, in his closing homily at the World Meeting of Families, I was struck by yet another interesting point of view. Pope Francis spoke of the “temptation to be scandalized by the freedom of God.” All that I could think about upon hearing this, was the Parable of the workers in the vineyard. The laborers, who began working at different times of the day, and yet received the same pay, became angry. The owner of the vineyard then asks them if they begrudge his generosity (Mt 20:15). In the same way, the people of Jesus’ time were often scandalized by his generosity toward the poor and lowly, and his disregard for the letter of the law. “Holiness is always tied to little gestures,” said Francis. It is the blessing received when giving a cup of water to another, in the name of Jesus. These opportunities are abundant in the family.
So the question remains; what about you? What are you doing to teach your children “to become excited by every gesture aimed at overcoming evil?
“May our children find in us models and incentives to communion!
May our children find in us men and women capable of joining others in bringing to full flower all the good seeds which the Father has sown!”