Moving from "I" to "you". The Pope's encouragement in his letter to families.

On the Feast of the Holy Family, the Holy Father Francis invited families to take care of "the details of relationships", "to listen to and understand each other", and to look to the Virgin Mary, in order to move from "the dictatorship of the 'I' to the 'you'". Moreover, in a letter addressed to spouses, he reminds them to "keep their gaze fixed on Jesus".

Rafael Miner-December 26, 2021-Reading time: 7 minutes
pope letter families

After the Marian prayer of the Angelus, on the feast of the Holy Family that the Church celebrates this Sunday, and before people from many countries in Peter's Square, such as Poles, Brazilians and Colombians, Pope Francis encouraged families to listen to and understand each other. "Every day, in the family, we must learn to listen to and understand each other, to walk together, to face conflicts and difficulties," he said. "This is the daily challenge, and it is won with the right attitude, with small attentions, with simple gestures, taking care of the details of our relationships."

To achieve this, the Holy Father invited us to look at the Virgin Mary, "who in today's Gospel says to Jesus: 'Your father and I were looking for you. Your father and I; not I and your father: before 'I' there is 'you'! To preserve harmony in the family, we must fight against the dictatorship of the 'I'".

In this regard, the Pope stated that "it is dangerous when, instead of listening to each other, we blame each other for our mistakes; when, instead of caring for others, we focus on our own needs; when, instead of talking, we isolate ourselves with our cell phones; when we accuse each other, always repeating the same phrases, staging an already seen play in which everyone wants to be right and in the end there is a cold silence."

Breaking silences and selfishness

As he has done on various occasions and countries, Francis added the convenience of making peace at night. "I repeat a piece of advice: at night, after all, make peace. Never go to sleep without having made peace, otherwise the next day there will be a 'cold war'. How often, unfortunately, conflicts are born within the walls of the home as a result of too long silences and unhealed selfishness! Sometimes it even comes to physical and moral violence. This breaks the harmony and kills the family."

The Pope also revealed a "real concern" about the "demographic winter," "at least here in Italy," he noted. "It seems that many have lost the aspiration to carry on with children, and many couples prefer to remain without or with only one child. Think about it, it's a tragedy."

"A few minutes ago I saw on the program 'In His Image' how they were talking about this serious problem, the demographic winter," the Holy Father added. "Let us all do what we can to recover our conscience, to overcome this demographic winter that goes against our families, our homeland and even our future."

"Protecting our roots"

At the beginning, following the Gospel proposed by the liturgy of the day, the Pontiff affirmed that "we are reminded that Jesus is also the son of a family history", as "we see him traveling to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph for the Passover"; and "then he makes his mother and father worry, who cannot find him"; while "once he is found, he returns home with them".

Hence the Pope's affirmation: "It is beautiful to see Jesus inserted in the network of family affection, being born and growing in the embrace and concern of his own. This is important for us too: we come from a history interwoven with bonds of love and the person we are today is born not so much from the material goods we have enjoyed, but from the love we have received."

Francis then pointed out that "we may not have been born into an exceptional and problem-free family", but "it is our history" and "they are our roots", and exclaimed: "If we cut them off, life dries up!", since "God did not create us to be solitary drivers, but to walk together. Let us thank him and pray for our families. God thinks of us and wants us to be together: grateful, united, able to protect our roots."

"Close to every person, to every marriage."

The Holy See issued this morning a Letter dated December 26, which the Holy Father addressed to couples around the world on the occasion of the Year of the Family Amoris laetitia, in which he encourages them to continue walking with the strength of the Christian faith and the help of St. Joseph and Our Lady, reports the official Vatican agency.

In the letter, signed at St. John Lateran, the Pope conveys a message of closeness and hope to wives and husbands, noting that "I have always kept families in my prayers, but even more so during the pandemic, which has severely tested everyone, especially the most vulnerable. The moment we are going through leads me to approach with humility, affection and welcome to every person, every marriage and every family in the situations they are experiencing".

The Holy Father goes on to emphasize that this particular context "invites us to make alive the words with which the Lord calls Abraham to leave his homeland and his father's house for an unknown land that he himself will show him", Francis affirms that all of us "have experienced more than ever uncertainty, loneliness, the loss of loved ones, and we have been impelled to leave our securities, our spaces of control, our own ways of doing things, our own desires, in order to attend not only to the good of our own family, but also to the good of the family itself, the loss of loved ones and we have been impelled to leave our security, our control, our own ways of doing things, our desires, in order to attend not only to the good of our own family, but also to the good of society, which also depends on our personal behavior.

"You are not alone!"

Francis then launches a message of accompaniment, recalling that they are not alone, "since God is in us, with us and among us: in the family, in the neighborhood, in the place of work or study, in the city we live in". And he draws a parallel with the life of Abraham, since the spouses also leave their homeland, as is implied in the same courtship that leads to marriage and to the different situations of life. "God accompanies them, he loves them unconditionally, they are not alone!

Moreover, addressing spouses and especially young people, the Pope writes that their children "watch them attentively" and look to them for "the witness of a strong and trustworthy love." "Children are a gift, always, they change the history of every family. They are thirsty for love, recognition, esteem and trust. Fatherhood and motherhood call them to be generative in order to give their children the joy of discovering themselves children of God, children of a Father who from the very first moment has loved them tenderly and takes them by the hand every day."

"Vocation to marriage, a calling".

At one point in the Letter, the Pope encourages us to remember that "the vocation to marriage is a call to steer an uncertain but safe ship through the reality of the sacrament, in a sea that is sometimes rough", so he understands if at times, like the apostles, we feel like crying out: "Master, do you not care if we perish?

However, "let us not forget that through the sacrament of marriage, Jesus is present in that boat. He cares for you, he remains with you at all times in the swaying of the boat tossed by the sea," the Pope emphasizes.

The Holy Father stressed the importance of "keeping your gaze fixed on Jesus", since "only in this way will you find peace, overcome conflicts and find solutions to many of your problems". "Our human love is weak, it needs the strength of the faithful love of Jesus. With him you can truly build the 'house on the rock'".

"Excuse me, thank you, sorry."

As he has done in other circumstances, Francis once again asked families to keep in their hearts the advice to the engaged couple that he expressed in these three words: "permission, thanks, forgiveness". And he encourages them not to be ashamed "to kneel together before Jesus in the Eucharist to find moments of peace and a mutual gaze made of tenderness and kindness. Or to take each other's hand, when you are a little angry, to get an accomplice's smile".

Without forgetting that "for some couples the cohabitation to which they have been forced during the quarantine has been particularly difficult", the Pope states that "the problems that already existed were aggravated, generating conflicts that have often become almost unbearable", for which he expresses his closeness and affection.

The Holy Father also refers to the pain of the breakdown of a marital relationship and the lack of understanding. Francis asks them "not to stop seeking help so that conflicts can somehow be overcome and do not cause even more pain between you and your children. The Lord Jesus, in his infinite mercy, will inspire you to move forward in the midst of so many difficulties and afflictions. Do not cease to invoke him and to seek in him a refuge, a light for the journey, and in the ecclesial community a "fatherly home where there is room for everyone with his or her life on his or her shoulders" (Evangelii Gaudium, 47).

The Pope also reminds us that "forgiveness heals every wound" and that "forgiving one another is the result of an interior decision that matures in prayer".

Family education, family pastoral care

Before addressing young people and grandparents, the Holy Father assures them that "educating children is not easy. But let us not forget that they also educate us. The first field of education remains the family, in small gestures that are more eloquent than words".

"On the other hand, as I have already pointed out, awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church and in society has increased. You have the mission to transform society through your presence in the world of work and to make sure that the needs of families are taken into account. Also married couples should 'come first' within the parish and diocesan community with their initiatives and creativity, seeking the complementarity of charisms and vocations as an expression of ecclesial communion; in particular, 'spouses together with pastors, to walk with other families, to announce that, even in difficulties, Christ is present.

"I therefore exhort you, dear spouses, to participate in the Church, especially in the pastoral care of the family. For 'co-responsibility in mission calls [...] married couples and ordained ministers, especially bishops, to cooperate fruitfully in the care and custody of the domestic Churches'. Let them remember that the family is the 'basic cell of society' (Evangelii gaudium , 66)".

Young people, boyfriends, grandparents...

The Pontiff addresses the young people who are preparing for marriage, telling them that "if before the pandemic it was difficult for engaged couples to plan a future when it was difficult to find a stable job, now the situation of job uncertainty is even greater. In this context, he added: "I invite engaged couples not to be discouraged, to have the 'creative courage' of St. Joseph, whose memory I wanted to honor in this Year dedicated to him. In the same way, when it comes to facing the path of marriage, even if you have few means, always trust in Providence, because 'sometimes difficulties are precisely those that bring out resources in each of us that we did not even think we had'."

Before taking his leave, Francis sends a special greeting to the grandfathers and grandmothers "who during the time of isolation were deprived of seeing and being with their grandchildren, to the elderly who suffered even more radically from loneliness". And he does not hesitate to reaffirm a concept expressed on several occasions: "The family cannot do without grandparents, they are the living memory of humanity, 'this memory can help build a more humane, more welcoming world'."

Living vocation with joy

With the wish that "St. Joseph inspire in all families the creative courage, so necessary in this change of era that we are living", and that "Our Lady accompany in their marriages the gestation of the 'culture of encounter', so urgent to overcome the adversities and oppositions that darken our time", Pope Francis also encourages to live with joy the vocation. "The many challenges cannot rob the joy of those who know that they are walking with the Lord. Live your vocation intensely. Do not let a sad countenance transform your faces."

The Pope bids them farewell with affection "encouraging them to continue to live the mission that Jesus" has entrusted to them, persevering in prayer", and asks them to "please do not forget to pray" for him, just as he himself does "every day" for the spouses and their families.

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