October 9, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Three phrases echoing Gospel values can transform family life

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

As Church leaders from all regions of the world gather in Rome for the Synod on the Family, many complex, important issues will be discussed. The challenges families face today are enormous, especially given the power our contemporary culture has in influencing the minds and hearts of young people.

Today, especially because of the influence of social media and what might be called “the culture of technology” that competes with all other cultural influences, we can no longer be isolated from what is happening all around us—for good or evil.

For example, when pornography is instantly available to young people by a few clicks on a so-called smart phone, it is very difficult to shield children from these harmful images. That makes responsible parenting more challenging than ever!

The synod’s “Instrumentum Laboris” (working paper) devotes an entire section to the vocation of family life. Recognizing that marriage and family are gifts from God, the Church invites couples who are sacramentally united in marriage to open themselves to God’s grace, and to the support that comes from a community of faith that can help families resist destructive cultural forces.

Quoting Pope Francis, the synod’s working paper offers some very practical advice to families. Here is one of my favorite citations:

Pope Francis says that above the portal leading to family life “are written three words [...] ‘permesso’ [‘may I?’], ‘grazie’ [‘thank you’] and ‘scusa’ [‘pardon me’ ”].

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” (Pope Francis during his general audience on May 13, 2015).

Indeed, the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony is the beginning of a process which includes and sustains the various stages and trials of love, all of which, nourished by grace, requires a gradual growth towards full development (“The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World, Instrumentum Laboris” #43).

These three simple phrases can make a big difference because they embody the values that are central to our Catholic Christian way of life. If parents practice these virtues, and teach their children to do the same, the negative influences of our secular, technological culture can be overcome. By following the example of Jesus and the saints, families learn how to live in the world and break the cultural bonds of sin and selfishness that make life so challenging.

“May I?” expresses the dignity and respect due to others—spouses, children, grandparents, siblings, friends, neighbors, strangers and even enemies. If we teach children—by words and example—to be respectful always, they will resist the temptation to use other people as objects for their own selfish ends. And they will come to show a similar respect for the environment, for others’ property and for truth itself.

“Thank you” signals that we are not “takers,” but “grateful receivers” who are called to nurture, respect and share all the gifts God has given us. Simple expressions of thanks show that we don’t take people or things for granted but are aware of the ways in which we are gifted. Our most profound prayer as Christians is the Eucharist which comes from a Greek word that means thanksgiving. Gratitude is central to our identity as Christians, and the more we can say “thank you” in our relationships with others, the happier we will be.

“Pardon me” is sometimes the hardest thing to say, especially to those who are closest to us. It’s true that we too often hurt the people we love by our selfishness, our insensitivity and our failure to be the persons we know we’re called to be. No one is perfect. None of us is without sin. We need to ask for forgiveness—and we must forgive those who sin against us. If we can break through our own denial and seek forgiveness, we can be free.

May I? Thank you. Pardon me. The Gospel values represented by these statements are simple, but not easy. They are the foundation for authentic Christian living, and they are often countercultural.

Let’s pray that families succeed in giving witness to these fundamental Gospel values in spite of all obstacles, today and always. †

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