Pope writes to 'dear married couples' during the pandemic

In the Angelus on the feast of the Holy Family, Francis urges married couples “To protect harmony in the family,” and that “the dictatorship of the ‘I’ needs to be fought”. In his “Letter to married couples for the Amoris Laetitia family Year”, he calls on them to reflect together about the COVID-019 experience at home, and heed “The Lord Jesus, [who] in his infinite mercy, will inspire you to carry on” and “Remember also that forgiveness heals every wound.”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis today spoke to the faithful gathered in St Peter's Square for the Angelus prayer on the feast of the Holy Family. In his address, he called on them “To protect harmony in the family,” and fight “the dictatorship of the ‘I’”.

“It is dangerous,” he said, “when, instead of listening to each other, we blame each other for mistakes; when, rather than showing care for each other, we are fixated on our own needs; when instead of dialoguing, we isolate ourselves with our mobile phones – [. . .] when we mutually accuse each other, always repeating the same phrases, restaging an old scene in which each person wants to be right and that always ends in cold silence”.

This reflects what the pontiff says in a letter he wrote for married couples for the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, which the Church is currently celebrating. The year-long event is set to end with the 10th World Meeting of Families on 22 June 2022 in Rome.

This, Francis said after the Angelus, “is my Christmas gift to you, married couples – an encouragement, a sign of my nearness, and also an opportunity for meditation. It is important to reflect and experience God’s goodness and tenderness who, with His fatherly hand, guides the footsteps of spouses on the path of goodness.”

In the letter, the Pope urges married couples to reflect on their experience during the months of COVID-19. “Families have always been in my thoughts and prayers, but especially so during the pandemic, which has severely tested everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us. The present situation has made me want to accompany with humility, affection and openness each individual, married couple and family in all those situations in which you find yourselves.”

Pope Francis starts from the words with which the Lord calls on Abraham to leave his homeland and his father's house to travel to an unknown country (Cfr. Gen 12:1). “We too have experienced uncertainty, loneliness, the loss of loved ones; we too have been forced to leave behind our certainties, our ‘comfort zones’, our familiar ways of doing things and our ambitions, and to work for the welfare of our families and that of society as a whole, which also depends on us and our actions.

Ultimately, this situation has led each family back to its original vocation. “Like Abraham, all husbands and wives ‘set out’ from their own land at the moment when, in response to the vocation to conjugal love, they decide to give themselves to each other without reserve. Becoming engaged already means setting out from your land, since it calls you to walk together along the road that leads to marriage.

“Different situations in life, the passage of time, the arrival of children, work and illness, all challenge couples to embrace anew their commitment to one another, to leave behind settled habits, certainties and security, and to set out towards the land that God promises: to be two in Christ, two in one. Your lives become a single life; you become a ‘we’ in loving communion with Jesus, alive and present at every moment of your existence.”

The pontiff notes that children look at their parents for “signs of a strong and reliable love.” Acknowledging that educating children is not easy, he warns, “let us not forget that they also ‘raise’ us.” In addition, families share co-responsibility in the life of the Church in which they are called to inject all their creativity so that they can “bridge generations in passing on the values that forge true humanity.”

“Marriage, as a vocation, calls you to steer a tiny boat – wave-tossed yet sturdy, thanks to the reality of the sacrament – across a sometimes stormy sea. How often do you want to say, or better, cry out, like the apostles: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ (Mk 4:38). Let us never forget, though, that by virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, Jesus is present in that boat; he is concerned for you and he remains at your side amid the tempest.”

Indeed, “It is important that, together, you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Only in this way, will you find peace, overcome conflicts and discover solutions to many of your problems. Those problems, of course, will not disappear, but you will be able to see them from a different perspective.”

Francis points to “some of the difficulties and opportunities that families have experienced during the current pandemic”; for example, “the lockdown has meant that there was more time to be together, and this proved a unique opportunity for strengthening communication within families. Naturally, this demands a particular exercise of patience. It is not easy to be together all day long, when everyone has to work, study, recreate and rest in the same house. Don’t let tiredness get the better of you”.

Focusing on three words – “please, thanks, sorry” – which he suggests several times to married couple, Francis adds: “Don’t be ashamed to kneel together before Jesus in the Eucharist, in order to find a few moments of peace and to look at each other with tenderness and goodness. Or when one of you is a little angry, take him or her by the hand and force a complicit smile. You might also recite together a brief prayer each evening before going to bed, with Jesus at your side.”

The Pope is conscious that for some couples, the quarantine was particularly difficult, “creating conflicts that in some cases became almost unbearable. Many even experienced the breakup of a relationship that had to deal with a crisis that they found hard or impossible to manage. I would like them, too, to sense my closeness and my affection.”

“The breakdown of a marriage causes immense suffering, since many hopes are dashed, and misunderstandings can lead to arguments and hurts not easily healed. Children end up having to suffer the pain of seeing their parents no longer together. Keep seeking help, then, so that you can overcome conflicts and prevent even more hurt for you and your children. The Lord Jesus, in his infinite mercy, will inspire you to carry on amid your many difficulties and sorrows.”

Nevertheless, “Remember also that forgiveness heals every wound. Mutual forgiveness is the fruit of an interior resolve that comes to maturity in prayer, in our relationship with God. It is a gift born of the grace poured out by Christ upon married couples whenever they turn to him and allow him to act. Christ ‘dwells’ in your marriage and he is always waiting for you to open your hearts to him, so that he can sustain you, as he did the disciples in the boat, by the power of his love.”

In his reflection, the pontiff also notes the difficulties young betrothed face in the pandemic. “Now that the labour market is even more insecure. I urge engaged couples not to feel discouraged, but to have the ‘creative courage’ shown by Saint Joseph, whose memory I wanted to honour in this Year dedicated to him. In your journey towards marriage, always trust in God’s providence, however limited your means, since ‘at times, difficulties can bring out resources we did not even think we had’”.

Francis reserves a special greeting for “grandparents, who during the lockdown were unable to see or spend time with their grandchildren, and all those elderly persons who felt isolated and alone during those months. Families greatly need grandparents, for they are humanity’s living memory”.

Finally, “May Saint Joseph inspire in all families a creative courage, so essential for these times of epochal change. May Our Lady help you to foster in your married lives the culture of encounter that we so urgently need in order to face today’s problems and troubles. No amount of difficulty can take away the joy of those who know that they are walking with the Lord ever at their side. Live out your vocation with enthusiasm. Never allow your faces to grow sad or gloomy; your husband or wife needs your smile. Your children need your looks of encouragement. Your priests and other families need your presence and your joy: the joy that comes from the Lord!”