I have been reading lots of different articles over the past few days about Pope Francis’ Exhortation, “AMORIS LÆTITIA”, I have read 36 pages so far. I am so amazed by the love and compassion that Pope Francis has for all of humanity. I listened to a podcast this morning by Father Robert Barron (now Bishop), about his thoughts on the popularity of Pope Francis across all denominations and religions. He said, and I am paraphrasing, that Pope Francis has this compassion and instinct to give compassion and love to the marginalized, the poor, and the vulnerable. That Pope Francis is so similar to Jesus Christ and his compassion and love for others that it tends to cross over different beliefs. Pope Francis has stated many times, especially in this exhortation, the importance of the family. The key to solidarity, community, peace, and love all starts with the family. It is such an elementary thought that we rarely explore it.
It starts with two people who love each other and decide to commit their lives to one another. Hopefully at this juncture of their lives each person entering into the lifetime commitment and sacrament of marriage understands and believes that marriage is not a romantic encounter meant to be self-gratifying, but instead understands that it is about self-sacrifice – love – willing the good of another. If they enter into this commitment for a lifetime and have children then those values will be passed down through example and through actions.
My spouse and I were both raised by practicing Catholic parents who are still married to each other, one for over 40 years and the other 50 years. We both witnessed committed selfless love, spouses who struggled financially, but always emphasized the greater importance of love, family, and faith. We were both raised in the Catholic school system and made all of our sacraments. The lessons we were taught at school were reinforced by parents who lived their faith through word and action, Mass every Sunday, service to others, giving when there was little to give. We also witnessed disagreements and hard times but there was never a time that the word divorce was ever mentioned. We were able to recognize later in life that marriage is a commitment for a lifetime.
We have been married for almost nineteen years and are raising four amazing children; ages 17, 14, 13, and 11. It is not easy to keep our children in the Catholic school system. We are paying tuition for two in high school and two in grade school. We take our roles as parents very seriously. We are trying to give them our values, raise them with faith, kindness, service to others, and the ability to love selflessly. We pray as a family and I pray with each of my children every night. As a family we do service together and attend Mass every Sunday. My students have commented that my children must complain about attending Mass. My children have never complained about attending Mass. They have been going since before they were born. We have a great priest who delivers excellent homilies, they see some of their friends at Church and they, in their own ways, understand the importance of Church. I talk with my children about faith and God as much as we talk about school, sports, and the weather. It is not always easy raising my children with faith in a world that is so selfish. We look for the good in others and when we see the pain and hurt we discuss how we can make it better. It’s a constant open conversation.
Pope Francis is so right the family is the building block of everything. It starts with the values that were instilled from a young age and then those values are passed on, regardless of the good or the bad. I have three siblings and two of them have them are divorced, neither are part of the Catholic Church anymore. Myself and my sister are still married and are practicing Catholics. My family has the 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce statistic. However, all four of us were raised by my parents. The spouses of my brothers were raised in broken families, one Catholic, one not. My daughter looked at me with her big blue eyes and asked me recently, who do you think it will be mom? There are four of us, which two do you think will get divorced? I said, it doesn’t have to be that way. I told her to look for a spouse who is from parents who are still married, try to find a spouse who shares your faith, it makes it much less stressful if you actually find a spouse with the same religion or belief system. One of the most important factors is that you both commit yourself to the marriage for a lifetime. Make sure that neither of you enter thinking if it gets tough we will get out. Know each other well enough to know that you want to spend the bad and the good times with that person until you die. Make sure your spouse wants children and to raise them with your faith. Make sure you hold the same values and fundamental ideals about life and how to raise children. The Pope is right it all begins with family. We are doing the best we can with ours, with God’s guidance. Praying our way through it! Marriage and family are the best vocations of my life, I can’t thank God enough for both of them.