Marriage

Today’s first reading speaks to us of the people’s journey through the desert. We can imagine them as they walked, led by Moses; they were families: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, grandparents, men and women of all ages, accompanied by many children and the elderly who struggled to make the journey. This people reminds us of the Church as she makes her way across the desert of the contemporary world, reminds us of the People of God composed, for the most part, of families.

This makes us think of families, our families, walking along the paths of life with all their day to day experiences. It is impossible to quantify the strength and depth of humanity contained in a family: mutual help, educational support, relationships developing as family members mature, the sharing of joys and difficulties. Families are the first place in which we are formed as persons and, at the same time, the “bricks” for the building up of society.

Let us return to the biblical story. At a certain point, “the people became impatient on the way” (Num 21:4). They are tired, water supplies are low and all they have for food is manna, which, although plentiful and sent by God, seems far too meagre in a time of crisis. And so they complain and protest against God and against Moses: “Why did you make us leave?...” (cf. Num. 21:5). They are tempted to turn back and abandon the journey.

Here our thoughts turn to married couples who “become impatient on the way”, the way of conjugal and family life. The hardship of the journey causes them to experience interior weariness; they lose the flavour of matrimony and they cease to draw water from the well of the Sacrament. Daily life becomes burdensome, and often, even “nauseating”.

During such moments of disorientation – the Bible says – poisonous serpents come and bite the people, and many die. This causes the people to repent and to turn to Moses for forgiveness, asking him to beseech the Lord so that he will cast out the snakes. Moses prays to the Lord, and the Lord offers a remedy: a bronze serpent set on a pole; whoever looks at it will be saved from the deadly poison of the vipers.

What is the meaning of this symbol? God does not destroy the serpents, but rather offers an “antidote”: by means of the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses, God transmits his healing strength, namely his mercy, which is more potent than the Tempter’s poison.

As we have heard in the Gospel, Jesus identifies himself with this symbol: out of love the Father “has given” his only begotten Son so that men and women might have eternal life (cf. Jn 3:13-17). Such immense love of the Father spurs the Son to become man, to become a servant and to die for us upon a cross. Out of such love, the Father raises up his son, giving him dominion over the entire universe. This is expressed by Saint Paul in his hymn in the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:6-11). Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus crucified receives the mercy of God and finds healing from the deadly poison of sin.

The cure which God offers the people applies also, in a particular way, to spouses who “have become impatient on the way” and who succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment… To them too, God the Father gives his Son Jesus, not to condemn them, but to save them: if they entrust themselves to him, he will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the Cross, with the strength of his grace that renews and sets married couples and families once again on the right path.

The love of Christ, which has blessed and sanctified the union of husband and wife, is able to sustain their love and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded or worn out. The love of Christ can restore to spouses the joy of journeying together. This is what marriage is all about: man and woman walking together, wherein the husband helps his wife to become ever more a woman, and wherein the woman has the task of helping her husband to become ever more a man. This is the task that you both share. “I love you, and for this love I help you to become ever more a woman”; “I love you, and for this love I help you to become ever more a man”. Here we see the reciprocity of differences. The path is not always a smooth one, free of disagreements, otherwise it would not be human. It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life! Within this theology which the word of God offers us concerning the people on a journey, spouses on a journey, I would like to give you some advice. It is normal for husband and wife to argue: it’s normal. It always happens. But my advice is this: never let the day end without having first made peace. Never! A small gesture is sufficient. Thus the journey may continue. Marriage is a symbol of life, real life: it is not “fiction”! It is the Sacrament of the love of Christ and the Church, a love which finds its proof and guarantee in the Cross. My desire for you is that you have a good journey, a fruitful one, growing in love. I wish you happiness. There will be crosses! But the Lord is always there to help us move forward. May the Lord bless you!

14.09.14

Pope Francis

05.08.15 General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall

The family - 21. Wounded families (II)

John 10: 10-14

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

With this catechesis we return to our reflection on the family. After speaking the last time about families wounded due to misunderstandings between spouses, today I would like to focus our attention on another reality: how to take care of those who, after an irreversible failure of their matrimonial bond, have entered into a new union.

The Church is fully aware that such a situation is contrary to the Christian Sacrament. However, her gaze as a teacher always draws from a mother’s heart; a heart which, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, always seeks the good and the salvation of the people. This is why she feels obliged, “for the sake of truth”, to “exercise careful discernment of situations”. This is how St John Paul II expressed it in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (n. 84), giving as an example the difference between one subjected to separation compared to one who has caused it. This discernment has to be made.

If we then also look at these new bonds through the eyes of the young sons and daughters — and the little ones watch — through the eyes of the children, we are aware of a greater urgency to foster a true welcome for these families in our communities. For this reason it is important that the style of the community, its language, its attitudes, always be attentive to people, starting with the little ones. They are the ones who suffer the most in these situations. After all, how can we encourage these parents to do everything possible to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of committed and exercised faith, if we keep them at arm’s length from the life of the community, as if they are excommunicated? We must act in a way so as not to add even more to the burdens which the children in these situations already feel they have to bear! Unfortunately, the number of these children and youth is really large. It is important for them to feel the Church as loving mother to all, always ready to listen and to meet.

In these decades, in truth, the Church has been neither insensitive nor lazy. Thanks to the in-depth analysis performed by Pastors, led and guided by my Predecessors, the awareness has truly grown that it is necessary to have a fraternal and attentive welcome, in love and in truth, of the baptized who have established a new relationship of cohabitation after the failure of the marital sacrament; in fact, these persons are by no means excommunicatedthey are not excommunicated! — and they should absolutely not be treated as such: they are still a part of the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke about this question, calling for careful discernment and wise pastoral accompaniment, knowing that there are no “simple solutions” (Speech at the Seventh World Meeting of Families, Milan, 2 June 2012, answer n. 5). Here the repeated call to Pastors to openly and consistently demonstrate the community’s willingness to welcome them and encourage them, so they may increasingly live and develop their membership in Christ and in the Church through prayer, by listening to the Word of God, by attending the liturgy, through the Christian education of their children, through charity and service to the poor, through the commitment to justice and peace.

The biblical icon of the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11-18) summarizes the mission that Jesus received from the Father: that of giving his life for the sheep. This attitude is also a model for the Church, which embraces her children as a mother who gives her life for them. “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open”.... No closed doors! No closed doors! “Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community”.... The Church “is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (Ap. Exhort. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 47).

In the same way all Christians are called to imitate the Good Shepherd. Especially Christian families can cooperate with Him by taking care of wounded families, accompanying them in the life of faith of the community. Each one must do his part in taking on the attitude of the Good Shepherd, who knows each one of his sheep and excludes no one from his infinitive love!

05.08.15

Pope Francis

04.10.15 Holy Mass, Vatican Basilica

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Genesis 2: 18-24,

1 John 4: 12, Mark 10: 2-16

“If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12).

This Sunday’s Scripture readings seem to have been chosen precisely for this moment of grace which the Church is experiencing: the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the family, which begins with this Eucharistic celebration.

The readings centre on three themes: solitude, love between man and woman, and the family.

Solitude

Adam, as we heard in the first reading, was living in the Garden of Eden. He named all the other creatures as a sign of his dominion, his clear and undisputed power, over all of them. Nonetheless, he felt alone, because “there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20). He was lonely.

The drama of solitude is experienced by countless men and women in our own day. I think of the elderly, abandoned even by their loved ones and children; widows and widowers; the many men and women left by their spouses; all those who feel alone, misunderstood and unheard; migrants and refugees fleeing from war and persecution; and those many young people who are victims of the culture of consumerism, the culture of waste, the throwaway culture.

Today we experience the paradox of a globalized world filled with luxurious mansions and skyscrapers, but a lessening of the warmth of homes and families; many ambitious plans and projects, but little time to enjoy them; many sophisticated means of entertainment, but a deep and growing interior emptiness; many pleasures, but few loves; many liberties, but little freedom… The number of people who feel lonely keeps growing, as does the number of those who are caught up in selfishness, gloominess, destructive violence and slavery to pleasure and money.

Our experience today is, in some way, like that of Adam: so much power and at the same time so much loneliness and vulnerability. The image of this is the family. People are less and less serious about building a solid and fruitful relationship of love: in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, in good times and in bad. Love which is lasting, faithful, conscientious, stable and fruitful is increasingly looked down upon, viewed as a quaint relic of the past. It would seem that the most advanced societies are the very ones which have the lowest birth-rates and the highest percentages of abortion, divorce, suicide, and social and environmental pollution.

Love between man and woman

In the first reading we also hear that God was pained by Adam’s loneliness. He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18). These words show that nothing makes man’s heart as happy as another heart like his own, a heart which loves him and takes away his sense of being alone. These words also show that God did not create us to live in sorrow or to be alone. He made men and women for happiness, to share their journey with someone who complements them, to live the wondrous experience of love: to love and to be loved, and to see their love bear fruit in children, as the Psalm proclaimed today says (cf. Ps 128).

This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self. It is the same plan which Jesus presents in today’s Gospel: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).

To a rhetorical question – probably asked as a trap to make him unpopular with the crowd, which practiced divorce as an established and inviolable fact – Jesus responds in a straightforward and unexpected way. He brings everything back to the beginning, to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility. This shows us that the goal of conjugal life is not simply to live together for life, but to love one another for life! In this way Jesus re-establishes the order which was present from the beginning.

Family

“What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9). This is an exhortation to believers to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan.

Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense.

For God, marriage is not some adolescent utopia, but a dream without which his creatures will be doomed to solitude! Indeed, being afraid to accept this plan paralyzes the human heart.

Paradoxically, people today – who often ridicule this plan – continue to be attracted and fascinated by every authentic love, by every steadfast love, by every fruitful love, by every faithful and enduring love. We see people chase after fleeting loves while dreaming of true love; they chase after carnal pleasures but desire total self-giving.

“Now that we have fully tasted the promises of unlimited freedom, we begin to appreciate once again the old phrase: “world-weariness”. Forbidden pleasures lost their attraction at the very moment they stopped being forbidden. Even if they are pushed to the extreme and endlessly renewed, they prove dull, for they are finite realities, whereas we thirst for the infinite” (Joseph Ratzinger, Auf Christus schauen. Einübung in Glaube, Hoffnung, Liebe, Freiburg, 1989, p. 73).

In this extremely difficult social and marital context, the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love.

To carry out her mission in fidelity to her Master as a voice crying out in the desert, in defending faithful love and encouraging the many families which live married life as an experience which reveals of God’s love; in defending the sacredness of life, of every life; in defending the unity and indissolubility of the conjugal bond as a sign of God’s grace and of the human person’s ability to love seriously.

The Church is called to carry out her mission in truth, which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds. “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 3).

And the Church is called to carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others, but – faithful to her nature as a mother – conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy; to be a “field hospital” with doors wide open to whoever knocks in search of help and support; even more, to reach out to others with true love, to walk with our fellow men and women who suffer, to include them and guide them to the wellspring of salvation.

A Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27); and that Jesus also said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.

I remember when Saint John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time” (John Paul II, Address to the Members of Italian Catholic Action, 30 December 1978). The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock: “For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren” (Heb 2:11).

In this spirit we ask the Lord to accompany us during the Synod and to guide his Church, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse.

04.10.15

Pope Francis


25.05.18 Holy Mass Santa Marta

Mark 10: 1-12 James 5: 9-12

The question posed by the Pharisees concerned marriage; they wanted to know if it was lawful for a husband to divorce his wife. But, Jesus goes beyond the simple question of lawfulness, going back to the “the beginning.” Jesus speaks about marriage as it is in itself, perhaps the greatest thing created by God in those seven days of Creation.

“From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Jesus words in the Gospel are very strong. He speaks of “one flesh” which cannot be divided. Jesus lays aside the problem of separation, and goes to the beauty of the couple, who ought to be one.

We must not focus, like these doctors do, on [the answer] "Yes, you can" divide a marriage, or "No, you can’t." At times there is misfortune, when it doesn't work, and it is better to separate in order to avoid a world war. But this is a misfortune. Let us go and look at the positive.

I met a couple who were celebrating 60 years of marriage and asked them, “Are you happy?” They looked at one another, and with tears in their eyes, answered, “We are in love!”

It’s true that there are difficulties, there are problems with children or with the couple themselves, arguments and fights… but the important thing is that the flesh remains one, and you can overcome, you can overcome, you can overcome. And this is not only a sacrament for them, but also for the Church, a sacrament, as it were, that attracts attention: “See, love is possible!” And love is capable of allowing you to live your whole life “in love”: in joy and in sorrow, with the problems of children, and their own problems… but always going forward. In sickness and in health, but always going forward. This is beautiful.

Man and woman are created in God’s image and likeness; and for this reason, marriage likewise becomes an image of God. This makes marriage very beautiful. Matrimony is a silent homily for everyone else, a daily homily.

It’s sad when this is not news: the newspapers, the TV news shows, don’t consider this news. But this couple, together for so many years… it’s not news. Scandal, divorce, separation – these are considered newsworthy. Although at times its necessary to separate, as I said, to avoid a greater evil. The image of God isn’t news. But this is the beauty of marriage. They [the couple] are the image and likeness of God. And this is our news, the Christian news. Patience is the most important virtue

Marriage and family life is not easy. James 5: 9-12 speaks about patience. Patience, is perhaps the most important virtue for the couple – both for the man and for the woman. Pray that the Lord might give to the Church and to society a more profound and more beautiful understanding of marriage, so that we all might be able to appreciate and reflect upon [the fact] that the image and likeness of God is present in marriage.

25.05.18


Pope Francis

07.10.18 Angelus, St Peter's Square

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

Mark 10: 2-16

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

This Sunday’s Gospel reading (cf. Mk 10:2-16) offers us Jesus’ words on marriage. The passage opens with the provocation of the Pharisees who ask Jesus if it is “lawful for a man to divorce his wife”, as the Law of Moses provides (cf. vv. 2-4). Jesus firstly, with the wisdom and authority that come to him from the Father, puts the Mosaic prescription into perspective, saying: “For your hardness of heart he” — that is, the ancient legislator — “wrote you this commandment” (v. 5). Thus it is a concession that is needed to mend the flaws created by our selfishness, but it does not correspond to the Creator’s original intention.

And here, Jesus again takes up the Book of Genesis: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’” (vv. 6-8). And he concludes: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 9). In the Creator’s original plan, it is not that a man marries a woman and, if things do not go well, he repudiates her. No. Rather, the man and the woman are called to recognize each other, to complete each other, to help each other in marriage.

This teaching of Jesus is very clear and defends the dignity of marriage as a union of love which implies fidelity. What allows the spouses to remain united in marriage is a love of mutual giving supported by Christ’s grace. However, if in the spouses, individual interests, one’s own satisfaction prevails, then their union cannot endure.

And the Gospel passage itself reminds us, with great realism, that man and woman, called to experience a relationship of love, may regretfully behave in a way that places it in crisis. Jesus does not admit all that can lead to the failure of the relationship. He does so in order to confirm God’s plan, in which the power and beauty of the human relationship emerge. The Church, on the one hand, does not tire of confirming the beauty of the family as it was consigned to us by Scripture and by Tradition; at the same time, she strives to make her maternal closeness tangibly felt by those who experience relationships that are broken or that continue in a difficult and trying way.

God’s way of acting with his unfaithful people — that is, with us — teaches us that wounded love can be healed by God through mercy and forgiveness. For this reason in these situations, the Church is not asked to express immediately and only condemnation. On the contrary, before so many painful marital failures, she feels called to show love, charity and mercy, in order to lead wounded and lost hearts back to God.

Let us invoke the Virgin Mary, that she help married couples to always live and renew their union, beginning with God’s original Gift.

07.10.18


Pope Francis

05.02.20 General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis on the Beatitudes - Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5: 1-11

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today we are confronted with the first of the eight Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus begins to proclaim His way to happiness with a paradoxical proclamation: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"(5:3). A surprising road and a strange object of bliss, poverty.

We must ask ourselves: what does "poor" mean here? If Matthew used only this word, then the meaning would simply be economic, that is, it would indicate people who have little or no means of livelihood and need the help of others.

But the Gospel of Matthew, unlike Luke, speaks of "poor in spirit". What does that mean? The spirit, according to the Bible, is the breath of life that God has communicated to Adam; it is our most intimate dimension, we say the spiritual dimension, the most intimate, the one that makes us human people, the deep core of our being. Then the "poor in spirit" are those who are and feel poor, beggars, in the depths of their being. Jesus proclaims them blessed, for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to them.

How many times have we been told otherwise! You have to be something in life, be someone... You have to make a name for yourself... This is where loneliness and unhappiness arises: if I have to be "someone", I am competing with others and I live in obsessive concern for my ego. If I do not accept being poor, I hate everything that reminds me of my fragility. Because this fragility prevents me from becoming an important person, rich not only in money, but in fame, of everything.

Everyone, in front of himself, knows well that, no matter how hard he tries, he remains radically incomplete and vulnerable. There's no make-up that covers this vulnerability. Each of us is vulnerable inside. Its all from the same place. You can live so badly if you reject your own limits! You live badly. The limits are here within us. Proud people don't ask for help, they can't ask for help, they can't ask for help because they have to prove themselves self-sufficient. And how many of them need help, but pride prevents them from asking for help. And how hard it is to admit a mistake and ask for forgiveness! When I give some advice to newlyweds, who ask me how to carry on their marriage well, I tell them: "There are three magic words: may I, thank you, sorry. " These are the words that come from the poverty of spirit. You don't have to be pushy, but ask permission: "Do you think it's good to do this?", so there is dialogue in the family, dialogue between husband and wife. "You did this for me, thank you I needed it." Then you always make mistakes, you slip: "Excuse me." And usually, couples, new marriages, those who are here and many, tell me: "The third is the most difficult", apologize, ask forgiveness. Because the proud can't do it. They can't apologize: they are always right. They are not poor in spirit. But the Lord never tires of forgiving; unfortunately, we grow tired of asking for forgiveness (cf. Angelus, 17 March 2013). The tiredness of asking for forgiveness: this is an ugly disease!

Why is it difficult to ask forgiveness? Because it humiliates our hypocritical image. Yet living trying to conceal one's own shortcomings is exhausting and distressing. Jesus Christ tells us: being poor is an occasion of grace; and it shows us the way out of this toil. We are given the right to be poor in spirit, because this is the way of the Kingdom of God.

But there is a fundamental thing to reiterate: we must not transform ourselves to become poor in spirit, we must not make any transformation to do this because we already are! We are poor ... or more clearly: we are poor in spirit! We all need this. We are all poor in spirit, we are beggars. It's the human condition.

The Kingdom of God is for the poor in spirit. There are those who have the kingdoms of this world: they have goods and they have comfort. But they are kingdoms that end. The power of men, even the greatest empires, pass and disappear. So many times when we look at the news or in the newspapers we see people governing, powerful people and so that government that was there yesterday is no longer there today, has fallen. The riches of this world will disappear, and also the money. The old men taught us that the shroud had no pockets. It's true. I've never seen a moving truck behind a funeral procession: no one brings anything. These riches remain here.

The Kingdom of God is for the poor in spirit. There are those who have the kingdoms of this world, have goods and have comfort. But we know how they end up. He who knows how to love the true good more than himself truly reigns. And this is the power of God.

How did Christ be powerful? Because He has been able to do what the kings of the earth did not do: giving their lives for men. And that's the real power. The power of brotherhood, the power of charity, the power of love, the power of humility. This is what Christ did.

In this lies true freedom: those who have this power of humility, service and brotherhood are free. At the service of this freedom lies the poverty praised by the Beatitudes.

Because there is a poverty that we must accept, that of our being, and a poverty that we must seek, the concrete one, from the things of this world, in order to be free and to be able to love. We must always seek the freedom of the heart, which has its roots in the poverty of ourselves.

05.02.20


Pope Francis

28.04.21 The Family in the Light of the Word of God

Video message

Amoris Laetitia Family Year 2021 - 2022

Pope Francis


29.07.21 The ‘foreverness’ and beauty of Love video message


Amoris Laetitia Family Year 2021 - 2022

Marriage is a precious sign. It is the icon of God’s love for us. This does not mean

that the love spouses have for each other must be perfect… Nobody is perfect. But

the love spouses have for each other is a dynamic process that progresses and improves over a lifetime. This is why marriage requires fidelity. Marriage lasts forever.

29.07.21


Pope Francis

01.12.21 General Audience, Paul VI Audience Hall

Catechesis on Saint Joseph - 3. Saint Joseph: just man and husband of Mary

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Let us continue our journey of reflection on the person of Saint Joseph. Today, I would like to deepen his being “just” and “Mary’s betrothed spouse”, and thus provide a message to all engaged couples, and newlyweds as well. Many events connected with Joseph fill the stories of the apocryphal, that is, non-canonical gospels, that have even influenced art and various places of worship. These writings that are not in the Bible are stories that Christian piety provided at that time and are a response to the desire to fill in the empty spaces in the canonical Gospel texts, the ones that are in the Bible, which provide you with everything that is essential for faith and the Christian life.

The evangelist Matthew – this is important. What does the Gospel say about Joseph? Not what these apocryphal gospels say which are not something ugly or bad, no! They are beautiful, but they are not the Word of God. Instead, the Gospels that are in the Bible are the Word of God. Among these is the evangelist Matthew who defines Joseph as a “just” man. Let us listen to his account: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (1:18-19). Because those who were engaged, when the fiancée was unfaithful, or became pregnant, they could accuse her! They had to. And the women were stoned back then. But Joseph was just. He says: “No, I am not going to do this. I will go away quietly”.

To understand Joseph’s behaviour toward Mary, it is helpful to remember the marriage customs of ancient Israel. Marriage included two well-defined phases. The first was like an official engagement that already implied a new situation. In particular, while continuing to live in her paternal home for another year, the woman was in fact considered the “wife” of her betrothed spouse. They still did not live together, but it was like she was already someone’s wife. The second phase was the transfer of the bride from her paternal home to that of her spouse. This took place with a festive procession which concluded the marriage. And the friends of the bride accompanied her there. On the basis of these customs, the fact that “before they came to live together, Mary was found to be with child” exposed the Virgin to the accusation of adultery. And, according to the ancient Law, her guilt was punishable with stoning (cf. Dt 22:20-21). Nevertheless, a more moderate interpretation had taken hold after this in later Jewish practice that imposed only an act of repudiation along with civil and criminal consequences for the woman, but not stoning.

The Gospel says that Joseph was “just” precisely because he was subject to the law as any pious Israelite. But within him, his love for Mary and his trust in her suggested a way he could remain in observance of the law and save the honour of his bride. He decided to repudiate her in secret, without making noise, without subjecting her to public humiliation. He chose the path of confidentiality, without a trial or retaliation. How holy Joseph was! We, as soon as we have a bit of gossip, something scandalous about someone else, we go around talking about it right away! Silent, Joseph. Silent.

But the evangelist Matthew adds immediately: “But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ ” (1:20.21). God’s voice intervenes in Joseph’s discernment. In a dream, He reveals a greater meaning than his own justice. How important it is for each one of us to cultivate a just life and, at the same time, to always feel the need for God’s help to broaden our horizons and to consider the circumstances of life from an always different, larger perspective. Many times, we feel imprisoned by what has happened to us: “But look what happened to me!” – and we remain imprisoned in that bad thing that happened to us. But particularly in front of some circumstances in life that initially appear dramatic, a Providence is hidden that takes shape over time and illuminates the meaning even of the pain that has touched us. The temptation is to close in on that pain, in that thought that good things never happen to us. And this is not good for us. This leads you to sadness and bitterness. A bitter heart is so ugly.

I would like us to pause to reflect on a detail of this story recounted in the Gospel that is often overlooked. Mary and Joseph were engaged to each other. They had probably cultivated dreams and expectations regarding their life and their future. Out of the blue, God seems to have inserted himself into their lives and, even if at first it was difficult for them, both of them opened their hearts wide to the reality that was placed before them.

Dear brothers and dear sisters, our lives are very often not what we imagine them to be. Especially in loving and affectionate relationships, it is difficult to move from the logic of falling in love to the logic of a mature love. We need to move from infatuation to mature love. You newlyweds, think about this. The first phase is always marked by a certain enchantment that makes us live immersed in the imaginary that is often not based on reality and facts – the falling in love phase. But precisely when falling in love with its expectations seems to come to an end, that is where true love begins or true love enters in there. In fact, to love is not the pretension that the other person, or life, should correspond to our imagination. Rather, it means to choose in full freedom to take responsibility for one’s life as it comes. This is why Joseph gives us an important lesson. He chooses Mary with “his eyes open”. We can say “with all the risks”. Think about this: in the Gospel of John, a reproof the doctors of the law make to Jesus is: “we are not children from that”, referring to prostitution. They knew how Mary had remained pregnant and they wanted to throw dirt on Jesus’ mamma. For me, this is the worst, the most demonic passage, in the Gospel. And Joseph’s risk gives us this lesson: to take life as it comes. Has God intervened there? I accept it. And Joseph does what the angel of the Lord had ordered: “He took his wife, but knew her not” – without living together she is expecting a son – “until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus” (Mt 1:24-25). Christian engaged couples are called to witness to a love like this that has the courage to move from the logic of falling in love to that of mature love. This is a demanding choice that instead of imprisoning life, can fortify love so that it endures when faced with the trials of time. A couple’s love progresses in life and matures each day. The love during engagement is a bit – allow me to use the word – a bit romantic. You have all experienced this, but then mature love begins, love lived every day, from work, from the children that come… And sometimes that romanticism disappears a bit, right? But is that not love? Yes, but mature love. “But you know, Father, sometimes we fight...” This has been happening since the time of Adam and Eve until today, eh! That spouses fight is our daily bread, eh! “But we shouldn’t fight?” Yes, yes, you must. It happens. I am not saying you should, but it happens. “And, Father, sometimes we raise our voices…” It happens. “And there are even times when plates fly”. It happens. But what can be done so that this does not damage the life of the marriage? Listen to me well: never finish the day end without making peace. “We fought. My God, I said bad words. I said awful things. But now, to finish the day, I must make peace”. You know why? Because the cold war the next day is very dangerous. Don’t let war begin the next day. For this reason, make peace before going to bed. “But, Father, you know, I don’t know how to express myself to make peace after such an awful situation that we experienced”. It’s very easy. Do this (the Pope caresses his cheek) and peace is already made. Remember this always. Remember always: never finish the day without making peace. And this will help you in your married life. To them and to all the married couples who are here. This movement from falling in love to mature love is a demanding choice, but we must choose that path.

This time too, let us conclude with a prayer to Saint Joseph.


Saint Joseph,

you who loved Mary with freedom,

and chose to renounce your fantasies to give way to reality,

help each of us to allow ourselves to be surprised by God

and to accept life not as something unforeseen from which to defend ourselves,

but as a mystery that hides the secret of true joy.

Obtain joy and radicality for all engaged Christians,

while always being aware

that only mercy and forgiveness make love possible. Amen.

Thank you.

01.12.21

Pope Francis

for the "Amoris Laetitia Family" Year 2021-2022

Dear married couples throughout the world!

In this “Amoris Laetitia Family” Year, I am writing to express my deep affection and closeness to you at this very special time. Families have always been in my thoughts and prayers, but especially so during the pandemic, which has severely tested everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us. The present situation has made me want to accompany with humility, affection and openness each individual, married couple and family in all those situations in which you find yourselves.

We are being asked to apply to ourselves the calling that Abraham received from the Lord to set out from his land and his father’s home towards a foreign land that God himself would show him (cf. Gen 12:1). We too have experienced uncertainty, loneliness, the loss of loved ones; we too have been forced to leave behind our certainties, our “comfort zones”, our familiar ways of doing things and our ambitions, and to work for the welfare of our families and that of society as a whole, which also depends on us and our actions.

Our relationship with God shapes us, accompanies us and sends us forth as individuals and, ultimately, helps us to “set out from our land”, albeit in many cases with a certain trepidation and even fear in the face of the unknown. Yet our Christian faith makes us realize that we are not alone, for God dwells in us, with us and among us: in our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces and schools, in the cities where we live.

Like Abraham, all husbands and wives “set out” from their own land at the moment when, in response to the vocation to conjugal love, they decide to give themselves to each other without reserve. Becoming engaged already means setting out from your land, since it calls you to walk together along the road that leads to marriage. Different situations in life, the passage of time, the arrival of children, work and illness, all challenge couples to embrace anew their commitment to one another, to leave behind settled habits, certainties and security, and to set out towards the land that God promises: to be two in Christ, two in one. Your lives become a single life; you become a “we” in loving communion with Jesus, alive and present at every moment of your existence. God is always at your side; he loves you unconditionally. You are not alone!

Dear spouses, know that your children – especially the younger ones – watch you attentively; in you they seek the signs of a strong and reliable love. “How important it is for young people to see with their own eyes the love of Christ alive and present in the love of spouses, who testify by the reality of their lives that love for ever is possible!” [1] Children are always a gift; they change the history of every family. They are thirsty for love, gratitude, esteem and trust. Being parents calls you to pass on to your children the joy of realizing that they are God’s children, children of a Father who has always loved them tenderly and who takes them by the hand each new day. As they come to know this, your children will grow in faith and trust in God.

To be sure, raising children is no easy task. But let us not forget that they also “raise” us. The family remains the primary environment where education takes place, through small gestures that are more eloquent than words. To educate is above all to accompany the growth process, to be present to children in many different ways, to help them realize that they can always count on their parents. An educator is someone who spiritually “gives birth” to others and, above all, becomes personally engaged in their growth. For parents, it is important to relate to children with an authority that grows day by day. Children need a sense of security that can enable them to have confidence in you and in the beauty of your life together, and in the certainty that they will never be alone, whatever may come their way.

As I have already noted, we are becoming increasingly aware of the laity’s identity and mission in the Church and in society. You have the mission of transforming society by your presence in the workplace and ensuring that the needs of families are taken into due account. Married couples too should take the lead ( primerear) [2] in their parochial and diocesan community through their initiatives and their creativity, as an expression of the complementarity of charisms and vocations in the service of ecclesial communion. This is especially true of those couples who, together with the Church’s pastors, “walk side by side with other families, to help those who are weaker, to proclaim that, even amid difficulties, Christ is always present to them”. [3]

Therefore, I encourage you, dear married couples, to be active in the Church, especially in her pastoral care of families. “Shared responsibility for her mission demands that married couples and ordained ministers, especially bishops, cooperate in a fruitful manner in the care and custody of the domestic Churches”. [4] Never forget that the family is the “fundamental cell of society” ( Evangelii Gaudium, 66). Marriage is an important part of the project of building the “culture of encounter” ( Fratelli Tutti, 216). Families are thus called to bridge generations in passing on the values that forge true humanity. New creativity is needed, to express, amid today’s challenges, the values that constitute us as a people, both in our societies and in the Church, the People of God.

Marriage, as a vocation, calls you to steer a tiny boat – wave-tossed yet sturdy, thanks to the reality of the sacrament – across a sometimes stormy sea. How often do you want to say, or better, cry out, like the apostles: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:38). Let us never forget, though, that by virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, Jesus is present in that boat; he is concerned for you and he remains at your side amid the tempest. In another Gospel passage, as they rowed with difficulty, the disciples saw Jesus coming to them on the waters and welcomed him into their boat. Whenever you are buffeted by rough winds and storms, do the same thing: welcome Jesus into your boat, for once he “got into the boat with them... the wind ceased” (Mk 6:51). It is important that, together, you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Only in this way, will you find peace, overcome conflicts and discover solutions to many of your problems. Those problems, of course, will not disappear, but you will be able to see them from a different perspective.

Only by abandoning yourselves into the Lord’s hands will you be able to do what may seem impossible. Recognize your own weakness and powerlessness in the face of so many situations all around you, but at the same time be certain that Christ’s power will thus be manifested in your weakness (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). It was precisely in the midst of the storm that the apostles came to know the kingship and divinity of Jesus, and learned to trust in him.

With these biblical passages in mind, I would now like to reflect on some of the difficulties and opportunities that families have experienced during the current pandemic. For instance, the lockdown has meant that there was more time to be together, and this proved a unique opportunity for strengthening communication within families. Naturally, this demands a particular exercise of patience. It is not easy to be together all day long, when everyone has to work, study, recreate and rest in the same house. Don’t let tiredness get the better of you: may the power of love enable you to look more to others – to your spouse, to your children – than to your own needs and concerns. Let me remind you of what I said in Amoris Laetitia (cf. Nos. 90-119), inspired by Saint Paul’s hymn to charity (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3). Implore the gift of love from the Holy Family and reread Paul’s celebration of charity, so that it can inspire your decisions and your actions (cf. Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6).

In this way, the time you spend together, far from being a penance, will be become a refuge amid the storms. May every family be a place of acceptance and understanding. Think about the advice I gave you on the importance of those three little words: “please, thanks, sorry”. [5] After every argument, “don’t let the day end without making peace”. [6] Don’t be ashamed to kneel together before Jesus in the Eucharist, in order to find a few moments of peace and to look at each other with tenderness and goodness. Or when one of you is a little angry, take him or her by the hand and force a complicit smile. You might also recite together a brief prayer each evening before going to bed, with Jesus at your side.

For some couples, the enforced living conditions during the quarantine were particularly difficult. Pre-existing problems were aggravated, creating conflicts that in some cases became almost unbearable. Many even experienced the breakup of a relationship that had to deal with a crisis that they found hard or impossible to manage. I would like them, too, to sense my closeness and my affection.

The breakdown of a marriage causes immense suffering, since many hopes are dashed, and misunderstandings can lead to arguments and hurts not easily healed. Children end up having to suffer the pain of seeing their parents no longer together. Keep seeking help, then, so that you can overcome conflicts and prevent even more hurt for you and your children. The Lord Jesus, in his infinite mercy, will inspire you to carry on amid your many difficulties and sorrows. Keep praying for his help, and seek in him a refuge and a light for the journey. Discover too, in your communities, a “house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems” (Evangelii Gaudium, 47).

Remember also that forgiveness heals every wound. Mutual forgiveness is the fruit of an interior resolve that comes to maturity in prayer, in our relationship with God. It is a gift born of the grace poured out by Christ upon married couples whenever they turn to him and allow him to act. Christ “dwells” in your marriage and he is always waiting for you to open your hearts to him, so that he can sustain you, as he did the disciples in the boat, by the power of his love. Our human love is weak; it needs the strength of Jesus’ faithful love. With him, you can truly build your “house on rock” (Mt 7:24).

Here I would like to address a word to young people preparing for marriage. Even before the pandemic, it was not easy for engaged couples to plan their future, due to the difficulty of finding stable employment. Now that the labour market is even more insecure, I urge engaged couples not to feel discouraged, but to have the “creative courage” shown by Saint Joseph, whose memory I wanted to honour in this Year dedicated to him. In your journey towards marriage, always trust in God’s providence, however limited your means, since “at times, difficulties can bring out resources we did not even think we had” (Patris Corde, 5). Do not hesitate to rely on your families and friends, on the ecclesial community, on your parish, to help you prepare for marriage and family life by learning from those who have already advanced along the path on which you are now setting out.

Before concluding, I would like to greet grandparents, who during the lockdown were unable to see or spend time with their grandchildren, and all those elderly persons who felt isolated and alone during those months. Families greatly need grandparents, for they are humanity’s living memory, a memory that “can help to build a more humane and welcoming world”. [7]

May Saint Joseph inspire in all families a creative courage, so essential for these times of epochal change. May Our Lady help you to foster in your married lives the culture of encounter that we so urgently need in order to face today’s problems and troubles. No amount of difficulty can take away the joy of those who know that they are walking with the Lord ever at their side. Live out your vocation with enthusiasm. Never allow your faces to grow sad or gloomy; your husband or wife needs your smile. Your children need your looks of encouragement. Your priests and other families need your presence and your joy: the joy that comes from the Lord!

I greet all of you with affection, and I encourage you to carry out the mission that Jesus has entrusted to us, persevering in prayer and in “the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).

And please, do not forget to pray for me, even as I daily pray for you.

Fraternally,

Francis

Rome, Saint John Lateran, 26 December 2021, Feast of the Holy Family

____________________________________________

[1] Video Message to Participants in the Forum “Where Do We Stand With Amoris Laetitia?” (9 June 2021).

[2] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, 24.

[3] Video Message to Participants in the Forum “Where Do We Stand With Amoris Laetitia?” (9 June 2021).

[4 Ibid.

[5] Address to Participants in the Pilgrimage of Families during the Year of Faith (26 October 2013); cf. Amoris Laetitia, 133.

[6] Catechesis of 13 May 2015; cf. Amoris Laetitia, 104.

[7] Message for the 2021 World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly: “I am with you always” (25 July 2021).

26.12.21