“If Jesus walked into our house right now, what would he think of us?” That’s a question I often ask my five children. I love to tease them that it should only be half as hard for them to get along with each other as it was for me and my ten siblings.
Of course, I’m joking. We all know that any relationship calls for patience, perseverance, and wisdom and that our closest relationships are often the most challenging. But we don’t have to face the challenges alone. Jesus has already walked into our homes. He’s here—not to blame and condemn but to offer harmony and joy.
Since I so often need this encouraging reminder, I felt especially blessed to read a new collection of reflections, Pope Francis Speaks to Families. The book contains eight chapters filled with the pope’s insightful teachings on topics like marriage, parenting, and grandparenting; handing on the faith; witnessing to Christ; and belonging to God’s family. These reflections are culled from homilies, audiences, World Youth Day talks, and the weekly teachings Pope Francis began last year in preparation for this September’s World Meeting of Families.
With anecdotes, wit, and gentle humor, Pope Francis Speaks to Families offers practical counsel and encouragement for our family relationships. As a busy mom, I appreciate that the book is reasonably sized, with one chunk of wisdom per page. I can easily read a section and think about it as I dash to keep the pasta from boiling over.
Multiplying Loaves and Love. One of my favorite sections is the chapter on marriage. I’m sure my husband appreciates it too, since it inspires me to give more attention to our relationship! Thankfully, these reflections do not take the tone of a lecture or a simplistic “how to fix your marriage in five easy steps.” Rather, Pope Francis offers both a vision for marriage and suggestions about how to receive God’s grace and move ahead. I especially like his insight that “the Lord can multiply your love and give it to you fresh and good each day. He has an infinite reserve!”
Building a strong marriage requires the effort to stay focused, stay positive, and stay connected to your spouse. This isn’t always easy. Even when life is going well, just making time for one another can be a challenge. Yet like a tasty loaf of French bread that’s left sitting for too long, a neglected relationship runs the risk of going stale. This doesn’t have to happen, Pope Francis insists—not if we turn to Jesus:
In the prayer of the Our Father, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Spouses can also learn to pray like this: “Lord, give us this day our daily love,” for the daily love of spouses is bread, the true bread of the soul; what sustains them in going forward.
Rules for the Road. #8220;How can there be peace on earth if we can’t even manage peace in our family?” This is another question my children hear a lot, especially on long car trips.
Learning to love, forgive, and make peace can be painfully difficult. Sometimes we think it would be easier to walk away from family members who annoy us. But without true reconciliation, we will never experience peace at home or be able to pass it along to others. It’s a challenge. As in the world at large, situations in the home are always changing. Moods and hormones, the demands of work and school—finding a balance among these and other shifting realities requires constant prayer and vigilance, as well as seizing every opportunity for humility and forgiveness.
Pope Francis understands this, and his guidance for growing in peace and love is realistic. I laughed heartily at his humorous admission that the perfect family (“we won’t even speak about a perfect mother-in-law”) doesn’t exist. Among the many gems I bookmarked are his three “rules for the journey”:
Please, thank you, sorry. Three essential words! We say please so as not to be forceful in family life. . . . We do this with a language that seeks agreement. We say thank you, thank you for love! . . .
And the last word: sorry. We all make mistakes. . . . Sometimes, I say, plates are smashed, harsh words are spoken, but please listen to my advice: don’t ever let the sun set without reconciling. . . . “Please forgive me,” and then you start over.
Jesus Knows! Since advice like this applies to all relationships, Pope Francis Speaks to Families actually speaks to everyone. Whatever your age, whether you’re single, engaged, newly married, or celebrating your fortieth anniversary, there’s something here for you. Jesus is near, offering joy and peace for every stage and state of life:
The Lord knows our struggles; he knows them. He knows the burdens we have in our lives. But the Lord also knows our great desire to find joy and rest! . . . “Come to me, families from around the world,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest, so that your joy may be complete.” Take home this word of Jesus, carry it in your hearts, share it with the family. It invites us to come to Jesus so that he may give this joy to us and to everyone.
Patty Whelpley and her husband have five children and live in northern Virginia.
Pope Francis Speaks to Families: Words of Joy and Life (softcover, 176 pages) is available from The Word Among Us at www.wau.org and amazon.com. To read an excerpt, visit our online bookstore.