Thursday, February 13, 2014

"If Plates Fly, So Be It" – For the Engaged, Francis As Valentine

Tomorrow brings another of the tender moments which have become the calling-card of this pontificate: at Roman Noon, the Pope will arrive in St Peter's Square for a meeting with over 20,000 engaged couples to mark Valentine's Day.

Organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the event – titled "The Joy of Yes Forever" – was initially slated to be held in the Paul VI Hall, but publication of the encounter quickly saw enough requests to overwhelm the 6,000 seats in the audience hall, hence the move outside.

All told, the couples will represent some 28 countries. According to the Family council, Francis will offer a specially-composed prayer for the engaged, and all the couples present are to receive a gift commemorating their marriage.

Along the way, of course, Papa Bergoglio will speak, answering questions from three couples, adding more to what's already become the papal magisterium's most extensive treatment of marriage since the early days of John Paul II. The renewed focus hasn't just been limited to words, either – after his election, Francis quickly restored John Paul's custom of individually greeting and blessing newly-married couples at every Wednesday audience. A place in the weekly "sposi novelli" group is available to any newlyweds within two months of their Nuptial Mass, upon the request of the couple's diocesan bishop. (The couple shown above in their November turn with the Pope donned clown noses – and obviously brought an extra – to highlight their involvement with an Italian charity which supports "clown-therapy" for the sick and disabled.)

As the days around 14 February are always marked as the church's World Marriage Week, some of Francis' prior words on the sacrament are worth repeating. Among the bunch, during his October trip to Assisi, in a brief aside to representatives of St Francis' diocese in the city's cathedral, the Pope talked married life as a key part of the journey of the entire local church....

[T]he most important thing is to walk together by working together, by helping one another, by asking forgiveness, by acknowledging one's mistakes and asking for forgiveness, and also by accepting the apologies of others by forgiving — how important this is! Sometimes I think of married people who separate after many years. “Oh ... no, we didn't understand each other, we drifted apart”. Perhaps at times they didn't know how to ask for forgiveness at the right time. Perhaps at times they did not know how to forgive. And I always give this advice to newly weds: “Argue as much as you like. If the plates fly, let them! But never end the day without making peace! Never!” And if married people learn to say: “excuse me, I was tired”, or even a little gesture, this is peace. Then carry on with life the next day. This is a beautiful secret, and it prevents these painful separations. It is important to walk in unity, without running ahead, without nostalgia for the past. And while you walk you talk, you get to know one another, you tell one other about yourself, you grow as a family. Here let us ask ourselves: how do we walk? How does our diocese walk? Does it together? And what am I doing so that it may truly walk in unity?
Later that day, meanwhile – responding to a question from newlyweds at a Q&A with the region's youth, Francis expounded on the sacrament, and the question of commitment in general, in the context of his own life (emphases original):
I am glad that the first question came from a young married couple. What a beautiful witness! Two young people who have chosen, who have joyfully and courageously decided to form a family. Yes, it is so true that it takes courage to form a family. It takes courage! And your question, young spouses, is linked to the question of vocation. What is marriage? It is a true and authentic vocation, as are the priesthood and the religious life. Two Christians who marry have recognized the call of the Lord in their own love story, the vocation to form one flesh and one life from two, male and female. And the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony envelops this love in the grace of God, it roots it in God himself. By this gift, and by the certainty of this call, you can continue on assured; you have nothing to fear; you can face everything together!

Let us think about our parents, about our grandparents and great grandparents: they married in much poorer conditions than our own. Some married during wartime or just after a war. Some like my own parents emigrated. Where did they find the strength? They found it in the certainty that the Lord was with them, that their families were blessed by God through the Sacrament of Matrimony, and that the mission of bringing children into the world and educating them is also blessed. With this assurance they overcame even the most difficult trials. These were simple certainties, but they were real; they were the pillars that supported their love. Their lives were not easy; there were problems, many, many problems. However, these simple assurances helped them to go forward. And they succeeded in having beautiful families, and in giving life and in raising their children.

Dear friends, this moral and spiritual foundation is necessary in order to build well in a lasting way! Today, this foundation is no longer guaranteed by family life and the social tradition. Indeed, the society in which you were raised favours individual rights rather than the family — these individual rights. It favours relationships that last until difficulties arise, and this is why it sometimes speaks about relationships between couples, within families and between spouses in a superficial and misleading way. It is enough to watch certain television programs to see these values on display! How many times parish priests — sometimes I myself also heard it — hear a couple that comes to get married say: “But you both know that marriage is for life?” “Ah, we love each other so much, but... we'll stay together as long as the love lasts. When it ends, we’ll each go our separate way”. This is selfishness: when I feel like it, I'll end the marriage and forget the “one flesh” that cannot be separated. It is risky to get married: it is risky! It is this egoism which threatens it, because we each have within us this possibility of a dual personality: the one that says, “I am free, I want this ...” and the other which says, “I, me, to me, with me, for me ...”. Selfishness always returns and does not know how to open up to others. The other difficulty is this culture of the temporary: it seems as though nothing is definitive. Everything is provisional. As I said before: love, as long as it lasts. I once heard a seminarian — a good person — say: “I want to become a priest, but for ten years. Then I’ll rethink it.” This is the culture of the temporary, and Jesus didn't save us temporarily: he saved us definitively!

However, the Holy Spirit is always stirring up new answers to new needs! Thus, programs for engaged couples, marriage preparation courses, parish groups for young couples and family movements have been multiplying in the Church. They are an immense wealth! They are reference points for everyone: young people searching, couples in crisis, parents having difficulties with their children or vice versa. They help everyone! And then there are the different forms of acceptance: foster care, adoption, family homes of various kinds. The imagination — if I may use that word — the imagination of the Holy Spirit is infinite but very practical! And so I wish to tell you to not be afraid to take definitive steps: do not be afraid to take them. How many times I have heard mothers tell me: “But, Father, I have a son who is 30 years old and he won’t get married. I don’t know what to do! He has a beautiful girlfriend, but he won’t make up his mind”. Well, Madame, stop ironing his shirts! That’s how it is! Do not be afraid to take steps which are permanent, like getting married: deepen your love by respecting its seasons and expressions, pray, prepare yourselves well; and then trust that the Lord will not leave you alone! Let him come into your home like one of the family, He will always sustain you!
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As the new pontificate begins its 12th month, tomorrow's event is just the kickoff to an extraordinarily busy week at the Vatican, much of which will focus on the pastoral realities facing the "domestic church."

Monday brings the start of the third meeting of Francis' "C-8" Council of Cardinals, with a further drilling into the Pope's intended reform of the Roman Curia set to top the agenda, and a further elaboration of the announced pontifical commission on sex-abuse likewise expected. The "Super 8" summit will run through Wednesday.

Then, for the first time since his election, next Thursday and Friday will see a papal consultation with the entire, 216-member College of Cardinals, at which Bergoglio has indicated his intent to look primarily toward October's Extraordinary Synod on the Family, whose unprecedented broad consultation was due to the Holy See by January's end.

Following next weekend's Consistory and Francis' conferral of his first 19 red hats, a meeting of the newly-amplified Synod Council will return to discussions on the October gathering with an eye to preparing the fall gathering's working document.

In the Pope's long-ball plan, this October's Synod is intended to serve as just the first major stage of a conversation which will culminate with a second global assembly in late 2015, marking the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II.