July, 2016 

Pope Francis on Marriage and Family Life

The Pope’s Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, is a rich mixture of profound insight and practical suggestions related to marital relationships and raising a family  A few examples:

– Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary.  Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one other, and gaze in each other’s eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a stronger relationship.  Sometimes the frenetic pace of our society and the pressures of the workplace create problems.  At other times, the problem is the lack of quality time together, sharing the same room without one even notic­ing the other. (224)

– Instead of offering an opinion or advice, we need to be sure that we have heard everything the other person has to say.  This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions.  Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space.  Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams. (137)

– In the family, three words need to be used. . . . “Please,” “Thank you,” “Sorry.” Three essential words!  In our families when we are not overbearing and ask: ‘May I?’; in our families when we are not selfish and can say: ‘Thank you!’; and in our families when someone realizes that he or she did something wrong and is able to say ‘Sorry!’, our family experiences peace and joy.  Let us not be stingy about using these words, but keep repeating them, day after day. . . .  The right words, spoken at the right time, daily protect and nurture love.  (133)

– Parents need to consider what they want their children to be exposed to, and this necessarily means being concerned about who is providing their entertainment, who is en­tering their rooms through television and elec­tronic devices, and with whom they are spending their free time. Only if we devote time to our children, speaking of important things with sim­plicity and concern, and finding healthy ways for them to spend their time, will we be able to shield them from harm. (260)

Options for Parish Ministry

The Pope suggested that it is essential, during the first years of married life, that couples en­rich and deepen their conscious and free decision to have, hold and love one another for life. (217)  Perhaps a group of people who have experienced the ups and downs of married life could be recruited in the parish to reach out to those recently married and meet with them three or four times during the first year, two-on-two, sharing stories and providing support.

Pope Francis also commented on the contribution a parish can make to the pastoral care of families, seeing itself as a family of families, where small communities, organizations and various associations live in harmony.” (202)  Fostering pastoral care of families might include an annual renewal of marriage vows, regular events that reinforce commitment, such as a Valentine’s Day Dance or a World Café process where couples share on a deep and meaningful level. (see www.theworldcafe.com )

“Nowadays,” the Pope wrote, “pastoral care for families has to be fundamentally missionary, going out to where people are.” (230)  A creative use of social media and other means of digital communication could reach out “to where people are,” rather than waiting for them, especially younger adults, to come to the parish.

The Pope’s Exhortation is a treasure hidden in a field.  It will take some time and effort to discover the gems, but the rewards are well worth it.

Maria Gabriela Garcia, Debora Elkins, Tom Sweetser, SJ