Luisana Puocci and Elise Natale, 10, attend an Oct. 4 prayer vigil led by Pope Francis for the extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The pope called for “sincere, open and fraternal” debate during the two-week long synod, which opens Oct. […]
Saint Pope John Paul called the family the “first school of love.” Pope Francis echoed this truth about the importance of the family in a statement he gave before World Communication Day. Pope Francis’ statement offers a lot of insight into how to make our families – and other relationships – more effective schools of love.
“The womb which hosts us is the first ‘school’ of communication,” the pope writes. “This encounter between two persons, so intimately related while still distant from each other, an encounter so full of promise, is our first experience of communication. It is an experience which we all share, since each of us was born of a mother.”
Not only does Pope Francis give honor to human life in the womb, this statement also shares an important point about human communication. In the information age we all fall into the error of believing that communication is primarily about exchanging information. My wife is a very organized person. As a result of her “down to business” attitude, much of our communication has the feel of a business meeting. These discussions are good and necessary for the smooth running of our household – especially since her husband is a little less organized than she is . . . but if we’re not careful they can become the extent of our spousal communication. That’s why my wife needs me to step in sometimes with my more “creative” approach to communication. Pope Francis reminds us that true human communication is really about the encounter between two persons – an encounter of intimacy.
While social communication, instant messaging, email, and other modern methods of communication can be great tools to help people stay in touch with each other, learn form each other, and organize activity, they lack the level of connection necessary for true intimacy. We cannot let quick, efficient modes of communication replace modes of communication that foster true intimacy. Face-t0-face communication is the primary method of building intimacy. Phone calls and letter writing (or even email) are good additions, since they allow for longer and deeper communications. Let us never sacrifice intimacy for the sake of convenience!
Pope Francis also said:
After birth, “the family is where we learn to live with others despite our differences,” Pope Francis writes. “In the family we realize that others have preceded us, they made it possible for us to exist and, in our turn, to generate life and to do something good and beautiful. We can give because we have received. This virtuous circle is at the heart of the family’s ability to communicate among its members and with others. More generally, it is the model for all communication.”
Here is the family as the school of love. When people have trouble with the legitimate differences that make us unique, it can often be a sign of self-centeredness. Until we are drawn out of ourselves, we can assume that our perspective on life is the “norm” for all of humanity. Anyone who is different from us can be seen as “wrong.” Once we are drawn out of ourselves by love we can see the beauty of “unity in diversity.” We see that the saints are uniform in truth and holiness, but are very unique in personality, style and focus. These lessons of legitimate diversity are best learned in the family, where differences rub against each other and even cause friction within the protective environment of family love and commitment.
Pope Francis also reminds us of a very important part of family life. We are united not only with the living members of our family. To be a member of a family means that we are united to all family members throughout time as well. This is an important lesson in the Communion of Saints. What is true of our biological or adoptive families is even more true of the Family of God. When this realization sinks in, it draws us out of ourselves just a little more. It helps us to realize that life isn’t all about us. That we are part of a bigger community, and that we owe a debt of love and honor to the entire family.
Finally, Pope Francis said,
Because the “family is where we daily experience our own limits and those of others,” the pope writes, it is also a “school of forgiveness. Forgiveness is itself a process of communication. When contrition is expressed and accepted, it becomes possible to restore and rebuild the communication which broke down.”
In a modernist society, we must remember that love calls us to accept and even celebrate legitimate diversity. But some differences need to be negotiated in a different way. Sometimes differences occur because someone has strayed form the truth. Other times someone may have fallen into sin or fallen into vice. These are examples of “differences” that need to be corrected. But they should be corrected in love. Forgiveness is a key skill in any relationship in a fallen world. As Pope Francis points out forgiveness (and perhaps more accurately reconciliation – the healing of relationships after forgiveness has been offered) is a process of healing. Just as true communication and intimacy are a communion of persons, forgiveness is a healing of that communion. It requires real human connection and communication. Like all lessons in connection and communication, forgiveness is best learned within the family.
The Pope’s words give us a lot to think about:
- The importance of family as the first school of love
- How that school of love is extended from family life into other close relationships
- The importance of real communication that builds intimacy through a communion of persons
- The importance conflict resolution and forgiveness as key relationship skills for building healthy relationships.
Let’s seriously think about these lessons and begin applying them to our own lives.Bottom Line:
Fortunately for us, the love of friendship is a skill that we can learn - and learning that skill opens us to the grace of Charity that in turn empowers us to love even more completely. That’s called cooperating with grace.
Creating habits that strengthen relationships is the main subject of the "Cafeteria" area of the "Keys to Spiritual Growth" program. Opening the Cafeteria of your "Inner Abbey" means to develop habits that can strengthen any relationship, from friendships to marriage to parenting. To get you started, I want to invite you to get started rebuilding the Cafeteria of your Inner Abbey by receiving the free Cafeteria toolkit. By the end of 2018 (if not sooner), I'll be adding to the toolkit an interactive diagram, videos, and articles that will introduce you to the pathway of true friendship, the process that each relationship must undergo to grow properly toward true charity.
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Also published on Medium.