The Best of Pope Francis on Family Life, Engagement and Illness

By: Erin Healy

One of the things I love most about the Holy Father is that as a man who has been ordained to the priesthood for 45 years, he has not forgotten the struggles of family life. From his April 2, 2014 Audience speaking to married couples acknowledging, “sometimes the plates even fly,” to his more recent audiences addressing children and care of the elderly, Pope Francis is speaking right to the heart of it all.

That said, I would like to share with you a few of his recent Audiences centering on education, engagement, poverty and illness.

On education of children:

This is a wise rule: children should be raised to listen to their parents and obey their parents, who, in turn, should not order them around in a negative way, so as not to discourage the children.

At the foundation of everything is love, that which God gives us, which “is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but … bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:5-7). Even the best families need support, and it takes a lot of patience to support one another!

How many astounding examples we have of Christian parents filled with human wisdom! They show that a good family upbringing is the backbone of humanity. Its radiance in society is the source that allows us to fill in the gaps, wounds and voids in parenthood that affect less fortunate children.

It is time for fathers and mothers to return from their exile — for they have exiled themselves from their children’s upbringing — and to fully resume their educational role. We hope that the Lord gives this grace to parents: to not exile themselves from the education of their children. And this can only be done with love, tenderness and patience.

On preparing for marriage:

Engagement, in other words, is the time when the two are called to perform a real labour of love, an involved and shared work that delves deep.

The covenant of love between man and woman — a covenant for life — cannot be improvised. It isn’t made up one day to the next. There is no marriage express: one needs to work on love, one needs to walk. The covenant of love between man and woman is something learned and refined.

Engagement focuses on the will to care for something together that must never be bought or sold, betrayed or abandoned, however tempting the offer may be.

The Church, in her wisdom, guards the distinction between being engaged and being spouses — it’s not the same — especially in view of the delicateness and depth of this test. Let us be careful not to disregard lightheartedly the wisdom of this teaching, which also comes from the experience of happy married life. The powerful symbols of the body hold the keys to the soul: We cannot treat the bonds of the flesh lightly, without opening some lasting wound in the spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:15-20).

On war and poverty in the family:

Truly, war is the “mother of all poverty”, war impoverishes the family, a great predator of lives, souls and of the most sacred and beloved bonds.

What do we have left if we yield to the extortion of Caesar and Mammon, to violence and to money, and renounce even family ties? A new civil ethic will arrive only when the leaders of public life reorganize the social bond beginning with the perverse struggle that spirals between the family and poverty, which leads us into the abyss.

The lack, loss or strong instability of employment weigh heavily upon family life, imposing a substantial strain on relationships. Living conditions in the poorest neighbourhoods, with housing and transportation problems, as well as reduced social, health and educational services, bring about further difficulties. Adding to these material factors is the damage caused to the family by the pseudo-models spread by the mass media on the basis of consumerism and the cult of appearances, which influence the poorest social classes and increase the breakdown of family ties. Take care of families, attend to the attachment, when destitution puts the family to the test!

The Church is mother, and must not forget this drama of her children. She too must be poor, to become fruitful and respond to so much poverty. A poor Church is a Church that practices voluntary simplicity in her life — in her very institutions, in the lifestyle of her members — to break down every dividing wall, especially to the poor.

Let us not forget that the judgement of the needy, of the small and of the poor prefigures the judgment of God (Mt 25:31-46). Let’s not forget this and let’s do all we can to help families to go forward in the trial of poverty and destitution which strikes attachments and family bonds.

On illness in the family:

The illness of one person can be a severe trial for all family members. As followers of Christ, we are called to pray without ceasing for the sick and dying, and to support families where this is being experienced.

So too we must educate children to solidarity with the sick so that they are not anesthetized to the sufferings of others, but rather are capable of helping the ill and of living fully each human experience.

For more on Pope Francis’ wisdom on marriage, family life, parenthood and to young adults seeking to be married, click here.

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