Posted On February, 26 - 2018
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is a rich source of advice for families, writes Julie Kavanagh, the WMOF2018 Diocesan Delegate for the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
In the coming weeks, many parishes across the country and beyond will begin to host a series of parish conversations as part of their preparations for the World Meeting of Families 2018. This series will give anybody who wants to join in on the conversation a chance to hear a wide cross-section of people speaking on the realities and hopes for family life today. These voices will be accompanied by an exploration of Pope Francis’ letter, The Joy of Love.
Why might people consider being part of these conversations? Among the different reasons people may have, one may be the simple reason that each of us wants what’s best for our family. As a parent to three teenage girls, I am very aware that, like many other expectant parents, from the moment I knew I was expecting my antennae were up for any advice on baby rearing. From books, to radio features, to internet articles, to shared conversations with others, I sought out the information I thought would be helpful and that would put me on the best possible track for good parenting. As time has gone on the antennae are still up! The child rearing topics that grab my attention, however, have changed as the girls have gotten older. But I am wise enough to know that my husband and I don’t have all the answers. We need to seek out the best answers for our children and for our family. And here is the nub! Where do we go to for those answers?
In The Joy of Love Pope Francis re-presents to us the Christian vision of love and of the family that speaks realistically and compassionately into the lives of families today. The Pope gives us a Christian understanding of love, of marriage, of the family that is attainable and that is do-able. But it is not necessarily an automatic understanding. In other words, what he writes makes the world of sense as we read it, but it may not have consciously struck us before!
Over the course of these six parish conversations, participants get to tap into both this Christian vision, with its accompanying practical advice, and a space for reflection that has the potential to have a real impact on the quality of a family’s life.
Pope Francis reminds us that love does not begin in perfection, and indeed it may never reach perfection, but rather love grows and changes as people grow and change. In typical refreshing language, Pope Francis alerts us to the fact that among these changes are the physical ones of aging which will likely see the person we married in their 20’s looking very different in their 70’s! It may seem superficial but, actually, it is a real adjustment that forms part of a couple’s relationship and that for some reason, despite its inevitability, some couples don’t anticipate.
In our married and family life we can’t just plod along and, in turn, expect our love to deepen and grow. To face the many changes that come as life moves on, we need to acquire the interpersonal skills to help us figure out exactly what is and is not important in how we relate to others. This is one of the reasons why these conversations may prove so useful.
For example, God’s vision of love (as articulated in St. Paul’s famous passage ‘Love is patient, love is kind…’) is explored in the third conversation and, in doing so, concrete examples of attitudes, values and actions that we can exercise in our family life are shared. Participants might walk away from this session more mindful of the need to put the pause button on before saying a harsh word that can’t be undone; more conscious of the need to be aware of what we are saying about our spouse in front of our children; more willing to forgive ourselves and one another; readier to accept family members for who they are, rather than feeling angry or resentful that they are not who we would have them be!
These sessions remind us of the constant call of Pope Francis for us to act out of love for the other person rather than out of our own expectations or needs or wants. If we are honest, that’s a very difficult lesson to learn and it’s one that requires daily practice. As does the advice from Pope Francis to never let the day end without making peace in our family. In real terms, just think of the difference this one suggestion might make to family life if it were followed.
As we try to put into practice a Christian vision of living together as family, we know that there will be times when we will get it right and there will be plenty of times when we will get it wrong. But we are not alone; God, who is love, journeys with us. So, while these conversations can help us tap into the concrete, practical wisdom of the Christian vision, this might also be a good time to remember that prayer, for example the WMOF 2018 prayer, can help us tap into the concrete and constant companionship of God.
As we continue our preparations for August we instinctively know that even more important than this event is the legacy it may leave us. While this legacy must be visibly demonstrated in parish and wider Church life, it will fundamentally take flesh in individual families. There are tangible Christian values, attitudes and actions that we can practice and that will enrich the life of our family and, in turn, society. So maybe this is the time to embrace the opportunity WMOF2018 offers us. Because, after all, we each want what’s best for our family.
Julie Kavanagh is Resource Person for the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin and a diocesan delegate to WMOF 2018.
This article appeared in the Irish Catholic newspaper and is reproduced here courtesy of the Editor.