love in the family and between families


“A Big Heart”

In addition to the small circle of the couple and their children, there is the larger family …Friends and other families are part of this larger family, as well as communities of families who support one another in their difficulties, their social com- mitments and their faith. AL,196

The English title of Amoris Laetitia, the post-synodal exhortation by Pope Francis, is On love in the family. The basis of the document are the two recent synods on the family. Bishops, consultants and lay observers gathered from around the world to discuss modern realities facing families and how the church can help them.

But, perhaps it is time to move beyond the model of the church (and her male leadership) as an all-knowing body to turn to for answers to life’s questions and crises. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that, for most families, wisdom and support is more readily found among family and friends; in the love between families.

Last week-end, hubby and I spent a glorious evening with our faith community of friends. We are part of a Marianist lay community that has been meeting in one form or another for almost 40 years. Our life journeys have intertwined through university years, to newlyweds, and the parenting years. Our children are all adults now, and many of us are grand-parents.

We sat on the deck, enjoying the first warm evening of spring. Good food, good drink, good conversation, good friends…a touch of heaven! Talk came around to how our community was truly church for us.

Over these many years, we’ve celebrated the joys of family life, and found support for the many struggles and challenges. We talk of faith easily and naturally. We sing and we pray from the heart. We swap stories of parish and diocese. Many of us have had close ties and connections to the local church. Some still do. We never did “suffer fools gladly”, and do so less and less as we age.

Our faith community and many other long time friends have been both gift and life-saver over the years. Weekly Mom’s and Tot’s tea-times, rowdy multi-family dinners and gloriously chaotic weekend family sleep-overs; these are the “big heart” moments that fed and nourished us.

It is natural to look to peers for support. Newlywed couples seek other couples. Young Moms seek other young Moms. Empty-nesters seek other empty-nesters. Families facing health crises seek others travelling the same difficult journey.

We look for mentors among those who are further along in the family adventure. Mentors can be found a generation or two ahead or simply a few months or years. Parents of a three month old or a toddler can be great mentors for friends with a colicky new-born.

We see our children forming these same bonds of friendship and support. After long work-weeks and sleepless nights, they will schedule family time with their friends despite the extra work of travel or hosting.

When family life is discussed in the church, well-meaning souls wave the Catechism of the Catholic Church while deploring the present state of families, blaming it on a lack of catechesis. The simple and obvious solution, then, is to provide more adult education in parishes – preferably from the “official” teachers in the church.

Debate the theology of family all you want, but experiential wisdom will usually trump ivory tower pronouncements. Black and white rules no longer speak to many of us who are living in the messiness of the grey in-between. We learn more from personal stories than doctrinal diatribes.

Families are often best qualified to minister to other families. Churches could support this ministry by encouraging and empowering existing family networks and small communities, and provide opportunities for encounters where none exist.

love is patient

Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. (Pope Francis, AL 92)

I know how to love deeply. My life is over-flowing with family and friends whom I love, and who love me in return. I can sit down at this computer and spout profusely on the beauty of love; on the other-worldliness of love. Yet, it’s the earthiness of day to day love that tests me.

I am not a patient person. I do not suffer fools gladly. On a really bad day, fools are all persons who are not me. And, God help them if they cross me!

Pope Francis addresses the issue of patience in Amoris Laetitia, On love in the family. First of all,

Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. (AL 92)

These are welcome words and important to keep in mind. A dear friend, who was a priest and bishop, used to preach that “being a Christian does not mean being a door-mat”. And, yet, how often were we taught to “suffer patiently”, or to simply “offer up our sufferings in prayer and sacrifice”? Bullies should not be ignored. Bullies need to be challenged, whether they come from within the family, school, work-place or even our churches.

So, patience is NOT merely suffering in silence.

Patience, according to Francis, is also not simply tolerating, or putting up with someone who annoys us.

Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. (AL 92)

I might feel proud of myself for smiling sweetly and keeping the nasty retort in my mind and off my lips, but this does not change my attitude toward the other. Keeping outward signs in check is easier than changing attitudes.

Recognizing and accepting the right of others to think, act, dress, and speak differently from us takes an enormous amount of effort. It takes us out of the present (annoying) moment of encounter, and nudges us to look at the bigger reality. It challenges us to go beyond tolerance. It challenges us to put aside superficial judgment and open our minds and hearts to love.

Unconditional love.

francis speaks out against clericalism…again!

Pope Francis continues to make daily head-lines that excite this liberal heart. Here’s one from yesterday, written by NCR’s Joshua J. McElwee,

Francis: Spirit works in laypeople, ‘is not property of the hierarchy’

On the one hand, it’s sad that this announcement makes head line news. Shouldn’t it be obvious that the Holy Spirit isn’t an exclusive gift to priests, bishops and popes? And, yet, how many times have we been led to believe that those with the sacred oils of ordination have a direct line to the Divine while we, the great unwashed in the pews, are wallowing in ignorance?

Ongoing Vatican reports on Pope Francis, like the one above, provide a path-way to a deeper understanding of Amoris Laetitia. As much as I have would have loved Francis to single-handedly sweep away all church teachings that have caused women and men to feel excluded from the Body of Christ, I also know that I would not want other popes to have this kind of power.

What Francis is doing is greater than simply changing laws. He is challenging minds and hearts to prepare the way for a more participatory, egalitarian and inclusive church.

Clericalism is the antithesis of a participatory, egalitarian and inclusive spirit. In the NCR story above, Francis called clericalism “one of the greatest deformations that Latin America must confront”. The context was a letter written to Cardinal Marc Ouellet in his role as head of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America. The pope is obviously well acquainted with the church in Latin America, and feels strongly about the issues that he is addressing.

Francis speaks often about the evils of clericalism, and the damage it has imposed on the church. In the letter , he writes,

Clericalism, far from giving impulse to diverse contributions and proposals, turns off, little by little, the prophetic fire from which the entire Church is called to give testimony in the heart of its peoples…Clericalism forgets that the visibility and the sacramentality of the Church belongs to all the people of God and not only an elect or illuminated few.

One of the most quoted lines from Amoris Laetitia is,

We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them. AL, 37.

In the letter to Cardinal Ouellet, He writes,

We trust in our people, in their memory and in their ‘sense of smell,’ we trust that the Holy Spirit works in and with them, and that this Spirit is not only the ‘property’ of the ecclesial hierarchy.

The Holy Spirit works in each of us? We might have better knowledge than a priest of what is right and wrong in our own situation? Who would have known!

Clericalism IS at the heart of much that is wrong with our church. Clericalism feeds, supports and shelters the power and control that has been associated with the hierarchy for centuries. Clericalism wraps itself in finery and surrounds itself with symbols of prestige. Clericalism demands to be served rather than to serve.

Francis is nudging the People of God to an adult faith, a faith that sheds an unhealthy and dysfunctional dependence on “Father”. Father does not always know best. Clericalism stifles the independence and freedom needed to be formed into spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually mature women and men.