Dear brothers and sisters, our Archbishop has written a Pastoral letter to Priests, Catholic Faithful and all people of good will on the Theme ‘Stay with Us’. In this pastoral Letter, he has shared some of his pastoral concerns and one of them is related to families –‘Appreciate the beauty of family life and protect it. You might also be aware that our Holy Father, Pope Francis has inaugurated the ‘Amoris Laetitia Family’ year in March 2021, which started on 19th March 2021 and will end on 26th June 2022. In view of this, in his inaugural message he appealed that we all should reread the document ‘Amoris Laetitia’ which was written five years ago and to reflect on important teachings highlighted in the document. Keeping this mind, I will try my best to make this reflection which I humbly hope will be meaningful to all of us.
WHAT IS A FAMILY?
While I pose this question, I don’t mean to say that we are dealing with it as if for the first time in life. However, I assume that you will agree with me that when important topics are placed before us for reflection, even repeatedly, it can help to revive and re-strengthen, and even expand our understanding of such topics. It is in this regard that we will try to reflect on this important topic.
In his Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Familiaris Consortio’, Holy Father, St. John Paull II defined Family as a communion of persons (FC 15). “The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons; of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives.’ ((FC18). This community of persons is established through the Sacrament of Marriage, whose foundation is love. By defining family with such depth and openness, the Holy Father reveals the important entrusted to each family and therefore he says that ‘each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and responsibility; ‘family become what you are.’ (FC17).
This was an appeal made to each family for the past 40 years (1981 – 2021). Did we hear it? If we had paid heed to his call, did our families strive to become what they were called to be? Even if we were not aware of the apostolic exhortation and didn’t even read it, I assume that we were informed about it and explained at least in some parts of it, in our liturgies or Word of God. Our families were called to understand the importance of what they are and to work towards actualizing the mission entrusted by God. Where are our families placed in this task or mission? As we ponder on few of these questions we may feel sorry for having not done enough in our mission to make our families what they were called to be. If we sincerely mean that then let us recommit ourselves to the mission entrusted to us and thank God for the opportunity he is giving us this year as the Holy Father inaugurated this year as ‘Amoris Laetitia Family Year’ and endeavour to appreciate the beauty of family life and protect it.
While expressing his concerns towards the family, our Archbishop in his pastoral letter appealed to the family to appreciate the beauty of family and protect it. He said, ‘there is abounding goodness in our families; every member of the family is a treasure of love. There is a compelling need for every family to rediscover this treasure.’ He further said that ‘when we invite Jesus into our families, He will unravel to us the magnificence of this treasure.’ ‘At the same time, he said, that we notice, due to numerous reasons, several families who find themselves entangled in perplexing situations; familial life and values have been under threat.’ In such situations, it becomes very sacrosanct to make Jesus the centre of our family life by renewing our invitation to Him to come and stay with us. In order to honour, our Archbishop’s call to appreciate the beauty of family life and protect it, we will reflect on three important modules with the help of Apostolic Exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia’ which can help to make our families Amoris Laetitia Family.
The three modules are:
LOVE (AL Chapter 4)
DIALOGUE (AL – 141)
ACCOMPANIMENT (AL – Chapter 8, FC 18.??)
The fourth chapter of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ is titled ‘LOVE in MARRIAGE’ in which our Holy Father beautifully expounds in depth and with conviction the role of love in marriage. He builds his reflection on St. Paul’s explanation of love found in 1 Corinthians 13; 4 – 7. I will try to develop that in this part.
Love is Patience. It refers to the quality of one who does not act on impulses and avoids giving offense. It refers to the quality of God where we read that God is ‘slow to anger’ (Ex. 34,6; Num. 14;18). If we don’t cultivate patience then, we tend to react aggressively, finding excuses for such actions which make us get involved with antisocial/harmful activities because we are not be able to control our impulses. Patience takes root when we recognize that the other person also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. We must also know that being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other person to use us.
Love is at the service of others. It means that love is ever ready to be of assistance. St. Paul wants to stress that love is more than a mere feeling. It should be understood as along the lines of the Hebrew verb ‘to love’, which means ‘to do good’. So, the person for whom love is the way, he/she will show it through his/her deeds and actions of love. St. Ignatius of Loyola said, ‘Love is shown more by deeds than by words’. St. John in his letters, in many ways, reminds the readers that love, with words and no actions, is futile, meaningless and fruitless.
Love is not jealous. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. Such a love frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So, it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs. This true love inspires a sincere esteem for every human being and the recognition of his or her own right to happiness. We love each person, whom we see, with the eyes of God, who gives us everything.
Love is not boastful. Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focussed on others. They do not need to be the centre of attention. Some people think that they are better off than others or that they are more important than others because they think that they are more spiritual, knowledgeable, talented or gifted than others. Yet, we need to realize that what really makes us important is a love that understands, shows concern and embraces the weak. Love is marked by humility. The inner logic of Christian love is not about importance and power, rather, ‘whoever would be first among you must be your slave’ (Mt. 20, 27). We should be careful to know that in family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love. Therefore, we must listen to what St. Peter wrote in his letter, ‘Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Pet 5, 5).
Love is not rude. To love is to be gentle and thoughtful. Love is not harsh or impolite. Its actions, words and gestures are pleasing and not abrasive or rigid. Love abhors making others suffer. Love is courteous. A loving person is a kind person. Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric. Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement. These are the words that Jesus spoke. He comforted, strengthened, consoled and encouraged others. The Holy Father says that in our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another.
Love is generous. Generosity is the characteristic of a loving heart. A person whose heart overflows with true love can’t see the other person suffering. His heart melts. St. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians (Phil 2; 4) ‘Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others’. Love can transcend and overflow the demands of justice, expecting nothing in return and the greatest of loves can lead to laying down one’s life for another. Can such a generosity, which enables us to give freely and fully, possible? Yes, says the Holy Father, because it is demanded by the Gospel; ‘You received without pay, give without pay. (Mt. 10.8)
Love is not irritable or resentful. Love understands that every person is a sinner, that every person has weakness and limitations. The Gospel reminds us of this nature where it is said that one must look to the log in his/her own eye, instead of looking for a speck in another’s eye. Therefore, a violent reaction within, a hidden irritation that sets us on the edge where others are concerned, as if they were troublesome or threatening is to be avoided. It is harmful to nurture interior hostility.
Love forgives. A loving person is a forgiving person. Forgiveness is a positive attitude that seeks to understand other person’s weaknesses and to excuse them. A forgiving person lives the prayer Jesus said on the Cross before dying, ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Lk 23,34). No one can say that forgiveness is easy. However, we know that it is possible and desirable. Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance, to pardon, to reconciliation. I understand that there is no family who does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion. And, yet we sadly notice so many families falling apart and being destroyed by their own selfishness, stubbornness and unwillingness to forgive one another. Often our mistakes, or criticism we have received from loved ones, can lead to a loss of self-esteem. We become distant from others, avoiding affection and fearful in our interpersonal relationships. Blaming others becomes falsely true. Holy Father says that we need to learn to pray over our past history, to accept ourselves, to learn how to live with our limitations and even to forgive ourselves in order to have this same attitude towards others. Today, we need to recognize that being able to forgive others implies the liberating experience of understanding and forgiving ourselves first. In order to forgive ourselves, we must have the experience of being forgiven by God, justified by his grace and not by our own merits. If we don’t experience God’s forgiveness, our family life will no longer be a place of understanding, support and encouragement, but rather one of constant tension and mutual criticism.
Love believes all things, Love hopes all things, Love endures all things, and Love bears all things. We come across several challenges in family life which make us difficult to truly love one another. And yet, it is demanded of every Christian family to strive to make their family a healthy, holy and happy family. This goal can be achieved when each member understands the true characteristics of love – to know and understand that Love bears all things, it believes, hopes and endures all things. This means that though each member of the family have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows, yet he or she is joined by love to speak well of each other, to try to show the good side of one another and not their weakness and faults. Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it. However, the fact that love is imperfect does not mean that it is untrue or unreal. What is important is that other person loves him/her as best he/she can, with all their limits. Love coexists with imperfection because love bears all things.
It is said that Love is trust because without trust love is not fruitful. This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means that we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything. This trust does not lead us to despair. It enlivens hope. This is the hope that encourages us to endure all things. It means that love helps us to face every trial with a positive attitude. This endurance involves not only the ability to tolerate certain aggravations, but something greater; a constant readiness to confront any challenge. It is love that never gives up even in the darkest hours. In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love which can help each member to fight every evil threatening the beauty of family life and protect it.
We can have many beautiful presentations on the importance of love or on the characteristics of love. But, all this will be futile if all that we say we know and should be done, remains on the paper or merely in mind and on tongues. The word ‘love’ however, is commonly used and often misused and abused. So, are we going to continue to misuse and abuse it? We have to seriously reflect and strive to make our families – models of living gospel. As our Archbishop says that it is time to rediscover that treasure our families possess and live no stone unturned to protect it. If the engaged couple before marriage can promise and assure that nothing will separate them from anything, then how is it that those same couples after marriage turn against each other and do everything to get their marriage annulled? The scenario of faithfulness and commitment to the sacramental vows amidst us is very saddening and disturbing. However, it should not discourage any family to do the best that they can to appreciate the beauty of family life and protect it.
In order to appreciate and uphold the beauty of family life and protect it, dialogue is very essential. It is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life. Each member of the family is unique, men and women, young people and adults and therefore they communicate differently. They speak differently and behave/act differently. Their way of asking and responding to questions, the tone used, the timing and any number of other factors reflect the quality of communication. Therefore, there is a need to develop certain attitudes that expresses love and encourages authentic dialogue.
One of the qualities of an authentic dialogue is active listening. It means respecting the quality of time and being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right. This means cultivating an interior silence that makes it possible to listen to the other person without mental or emotional distractions. More than offering an advice or an opinion, it is more important that the person has felt heard and connected. Often, the other person does not need a solution to his or her problems or seeks an advice; but, simply to feel that someone has acknowledge his/her pain, disappointment, fear, anger, hopes and dreams. This will make the person feel relieved and loved.
Another habit which can help in good communication is a habit of giving real importance to the other person. This means appreciating them and recognizing their right to exit, to think as they do and to be happy. We ought to be able to acknowledge the other person’s truth, the value of his or her deepest concerns and what it is that they are trying to communicate. Everyone has something to contribute because each one has his/her life experiences. We have to put ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue. This is called empathy and not merely sympathy. Here our words play an important role. Words should be carefully chosen so as not to offend, especially when discussing difficult issues. Making a point should never involve venting anger and inflicting hurt. A patronizing tone only serves to hurt, ridicule, accuse and offend others. Mostly arguments are about trivial things. But, what alters the mood is the way things are said or the attitude with which they are said. Fearing the other person as a kind of rival is a sign of weakness and needs to be overcome. It is very important to base one’s position on solid choices, beliefs or values and not on the need to win an argument or to be proved right. Showing affection and concern for the other person can give unimaginable effective and efficient results.
It is also very important to keep an open mind to have an effective and authentic dialogue. One should not get bogged down in his/her own limited ideas and opinions, but should keep the mind open for any change.
Finally, The Holy Father invites us to acknowledge that for a worthwhile dialogue we have to have something to say. This can only be the fruit of an interior richness nourished by reading, personal reflection, prayer and openness to the world around us.
What type of communication or dialogue does exist in our families? Is our communication with each member of the family sincere, authentic, open, loving and warm? Do we possess good communication skills? Do we invest or are we willing to invest our energy to cultivate these good communication skills so that our families become ‘Amoris Laetitia Family’? Keeping our hearts and minds open to dialogue wherein the goodness of the other person is acknowledged and the weaknesses of limitations are tolerated or overlooked can help each family to appreciate the beauty of family life and protect it.
In this part, I would like to place my focus on our Priests, including me. One of the important aspects of the story of the two disciples to Emmaus is that they were both walking together and Jesus accompanies them as a stranger. And, at the end of the journey, when they invited this stranger for the meal, their eyes were opened and they recognized him as their Lord. But, He disappeared. However, their experience made an indelible mark on their lives as they began to recollect how their hearts were burning when Jesus was explaining the Scriptures to them.
I believe that each priest is called to accompany his flock. The well-known statement of our Holy Father – ‘Smell your Sheep’ says it all. This was stressed by Holy Father, St. John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation ‘Familiaris Consortio’ Part Four. He said that the Church accompanies the Christian Families on its journey through life. It must be emphasized once more that the pastoral intervention of the Church in support of the family is a matter of urgency. I would like to emphasize here his focus on ‘pastoral care after marriage’.
Our experience has shown that the first initial years of marriage for newly married couples or young families are becoming very challenging and stressful in certain situations. Especially, finding themselves in a context of new environment with new values and responsibilities and difficulties, it appears to be of paramount need to accompany them. In her pastoral care of the young families, the Church must also pay special attention to helping them to live married love responsibly in relationship with its demands of communion and service to life.
Strengthening the commitment of the Church to accompany the families, Pope Francis in ‘Amoris Laetitia’ says that the Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and troubled love, by restoring in them hope and confidence like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way or who are in the midst of a storm. Very importantly, he says that Priests should not forget the Church’s task is often like that of a field hospital. Stressing on the importance of accompaniment, Pope Francis says that Priests have the duty to accompany focussing the (the divorced and remarried) in helping them to understand their situation according to the teachings of the Church and the guidelines of the Bishop. Useful in this process is an examination of conscience through moments of reflection and repentance. These families should ask themselves; how did they act towards their children when their conjugal union entered into crises, whether they made attempts at reconciliation, what has become of the abandoned party, what consequences the new relationship has on the rest of the family, what example is being set for the young people who are preparing for marriage. A sincere reflection can strengthen trust in the mercy of God which is not denied to anyone. Along with the process of accompaniment, discernment is also important which guides the faithful to an awareness of their situation before God.
Keeping in mind the effects and consequences of this global pandemic, our Archbishop has expressed his concerns about those families who have found themselves in perplexing situations. Familial life and values are under threat. In many families, the relationship between spouses, parents and children is strained; some families are divided as a result of international migration; the rich culture of families praying together, having meals together, making time for one another and spending time with each other is on decline; having wavered from the path of life and having succumbed to various vices and addictions, may young people live in despair; due to Covid 19 pandemic many families are facing a financial crisis; animosity and bitterness in the family and neighbours due to various disputes and resolved issues. In the midst of undue suffering in our families, he fervently calls upon each family to say to Jesus ‘Stay with us’ through prayer.
Our Priests are called upon to be with the families under their care in helping them to come closer to Jesus and experience His consoling presence by inviting Him to stay with their families. When life’s difficulties are heavy to bear and everything seems shattered, the families can tend to lose their belief in the treasure they possess and can fail to understand the value of the love that they share with one another. Our priests can play an important role in accompanying such families and give reassurance of their support and help, not just financially but also spiritually and emotionally by strengthening the community bonds. In all these, I don’t mean to say that our Priests are not accompanying their flock. I must acknowledge and esteem our Priest who has selflessly sacrificed themselves in multiple ways to accompany their flock during the times of crises, helplessness, sorrow and disappointments. Our Priest have shown and are continuing to show indomitable courage and love to express their solidarity and support to their people in need, specially the poor and deserving. Many even forgot that their safety and security were important. Let us pray for our Priests that they may remain united to Jesus everyday by inviting Him to stay with them to help them serve their flock like the Good Shepherd.
I would like to conclude my presentation in the concluding words of our Archbishop who said that by emulating the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth and through its intercession, let us, in this Pastoral Year, strive to make each of our families an ‘Amoris Laetitia Family’ appreciating the beauty of family life and protecting it.
- Brochures for the Family (PY 15-16)
- Family Life Education Department
- Family Social Issues
- From the Director's Desk
- Kuttumbik Jivitak Series
- Parish Family Service Cells
- Pastoral Counselling Services
- Pastoral Letter 2015-16
- Pastoral Letter 2016-17
- Pastoral Letter 2022-23
- Pastoral Year 2015-16 FAMILY, BECOME WHAT YOU ARE
- Pastoral Year 2017-18
- Pastoral Year 2021-22
- Pro Life Department
- Proceedings of the XIV Ordinary Synod on the Family
- Responsible Parenthood Department
- X World Meeting of Families
- XIV ORDINARY SYNOD OF BISHOPS ON FAMILY