Pope Francis has begun the new liturgical year with an exhortation so very full that we can spend the entire year slowly unpacking it and prayerfully making it come alive in our own lives. I look forward to this being the year of “The Joy of the Gospel.” Goodness knows, we’re all ready for some joy.
As the liturgical year begins and we step along the Advent path toward Christmas, I am looking carefully at a passage that addresses families. The Holy Father writes, “The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born “of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life”.
There will be office parties and Christmas pageants, Nutcracker performances and visits to the mall. When will there be time for nurturing marriage? Where does that number on the prioritized to-do list? Make time. That’s it; just make the time.
Pope Francis exhorts us to enter into a total communion of life. That doesn’t happen with a peck on the cheek in the morning before work and a tired consultation of the calendar together before the lights go out. Total communion is living it all together, sharing in the moments and the details. It’s a lunchtime phone call and dinner for two by candlelight after the kids are in bed. It’s caring about the details of the daily life of one’s beloved. And it’s about choosing to love every single day.
A marriage committed to total communion looks different from the marriage of newsstand tabloids and Hollywood sitcoms. To be so committed means we need to be together, to communicate often, to look one another in the eyes and speak late into the night. We need to pray together, for each other, with each other, and as the first step in sharing the faith with our children. We are called to eschew the lifestyle that strains the bond and choose something better.
Pope Francis emphasizes, “The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favours a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds. Pastoral activity needs to bring out more clearly the fact that our relationship with the Father demands and encourages a communion which heals, promotes, and reinforces interpersonal bonds. ... We Christians remain steadfast in our intention to respect others, to heal wounds, to build bridges, to strengthen relationships and to ‘bear one another’s burdens’” (Gal 6:2).
It’s no accident that we hear this clarion call at the beginning of Advent. Pope Francis is an astute observer of society. He sees clearly how the current culture frays the fibers of the family. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the gross distortion of the celebration of Christmas. Advent must be a time to wonder together as a couple and then as a family at the great gift that is Jesus. When we consider our Christmas lists, let’s first consider together — as a couple — how to heal wounds and build bridges in our own families. Let’s commit this season of waiting and wondering to strengthening family relationships and cheerfully bearing one another’s burdens.
Mostly, let’s carve time to be with one another and to share what God has done in our own hearts. Let’s not be shy about speaking Christ into the spaces of our day, earnestly telling our children, “from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known Him, not the same thing to walk with Him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear His word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate Him, to worship Him, to find our peace in Him, as not to.”
That’s the great gift to give.