1 March 2021

Putting Families First

Bishop Paul Bird CSsR

Bishop Paul Bird CSsR

A Redemptorist, Bishop Bird is the Eighth Bishop of Ballarat

Most years there are large crowds in St Peter’s Square at midday on Sundays when the Pope comes to a window to lead the Angelus. For the past year, though, the square has been almost empty. Because of the Covid pandemic, people have not been gathering. This was the case on December 27. Apart from a few security guards, there was no one in the square. Yet this did not stop Pope Francis from leading the Angelus and offering a reflection.

Instead of coming to the window, he stood before a camera inside the apostolic palace and spoke to people via television and online. To his right was a Christmas tree and to his left a Christmas crib, reflecting the Christmas season. The Christmas crib included only the figures of the baby Jesus, together with Mary and Joseph. The focus was on the Holy Family. It was the feast of the Holy Family.

In his reflection for the feast, Pope Francis spoke of the child Jesus being surrounded by the motherly affection of Mary and the fatherly care of Joseph. Through their love, he said, Jesus felt the warmth of God’s tenderness. The pope then spoke of the importance of affection and tenderness in our own families.

Pope Francis acknowledged that all families have their problems and tensions. In the face of conflict, he underlined the importance of being ready to forgive and make peace. He recalled the advice of Scripture, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” He observed that if we do not make peace, the tensions will continue. He referred to the ongoing tensions as a “Cold War”. If we do not make peace by the evening, “the Cold War the day after is dangerous.”

Pope Francis highlighted three phrases that are very valuable in family life: “Please”, “Thank you” and “I’m sorry”. He said that these expressions will help to keep the family in good shape. 

In offering these reflections, Pope Francis was echoing some of the passages in a document he had written in 2016, called ‘Amoris Laetitia’, “The Joy of Love”, about love in the family. He noted that we are approaching the fifth anniversary of this document and he proposed that we celebrate a special “Year of the Family” in which we focus again on family issues. He nominated March 19, the anniversary of “Amoris Laetitia” as the starting date. This “year” will be somewhat longer than twelve months. Pope Francis explained that the year will be extended until June 2022, when the Tenth World Meeting of Families is due to be held in Rome.

In “Amoris Laetitia”, Pope Francis addressed a wide range of topics related to the family. He noted various views about family life in society in our time. He recalled some key teachings of Scripture and recent Church documents. He reflected on the qualities of love in marriage and encouraged support for those preparing for marriage and for couples as they live out their married life. He referred to the fruitfulness of married love in the birth and nurturing of children. He discussed the education of children in the context of the family. He encouraged ongoing pastoral care for families, particularly when they are facing challenges.

Throughout the coming year, I expect that there will be a number of conferences on such topics.  Some of these meetings might be in person. In view of the pandemic, some might be online, particularly the international conferences. However, whether in person or online, such gatherings will provide opportunities for people to share their experiences of family life and their reflections on the challenges and opportunities of family life today.

This year will also provide an occasion to review the services that are available to support families. These include marriage preparation services, marriage and family counselling services and services that support parents in their care for children.

This Year of the Family will be of particular interest to readers of the Majellan, which has such a strong focus on family issues. I offer my best wishes to the Majellan writers and to all the Majellan readers. May the reflections that will be offered in the articles of the Majellan this year bring us great encouragement. May they inspire us to live our family lives in a truly Christian spirit, rejoicing in the blessings that we share and supporting one another when trials come. Through this year, may our families experience anew the joy of love.

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