The Pope and the Family


I have followed Pope Francis’ trip to the United States with great interest. Such great interest in fact, that I barely got any work done this week, as I watched practically all the speeches, Masses and Papal events. And though I loved each and every single one of the Pope’s speeches, there was one that overshadowed the rest. I mean the rousing speech that the Holy Father delivered at the Festival of the Families. Having ditched his prepared remarks, the Pope went on to speak directly to all the families present, and the energy and passion he poured into it were something we had not seen on this trip. His entire demeanor changed and the weariness he showed in some of his other speeches completely disappeared. Perhaps it was because he spoke in his native Spanish instead of English which he barely knows; perhaps it was because he did not have to worry about leaving behind a political or diplomatic mess.

All these are possibilities. But I think there is something else. And I suspect that that something else is the Pope’s belief that the real fashioners of history are not the power brokers in Washington and New York, but the millions of men and women who start, provide for, and care for their families. I think he believes that there is more power to change the course of human events in the millions of families across the globe than in any assembly of the world’s leaders. This might seem naive but allow me to plead me case.

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One thing the Pope did, and what began to suggest this idea to me, was when he came out to the balcony of the Capitol, after addressing the joint session of Congress. Accompanied by the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the Minority and Majority Leaders, that is, some of the most powerful men and women in the world, Pope Francis said something along these lines: “It is a great pleasure for me to be among such important personages,” then after a brief pause, he pointed to the crowd and added: “the children.” Everybody laughed, of course, but the Pope seemed to mean this as something more than a joke. He is Catholic, after all, and if there is something the Church has learned from the way God likes to act, it is that He relies on the lowly and the weak to execute His great work of salvation: “God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

To doubt this is to doubt the power of God’s grace, which reveals its power in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). As the Pope said, the greatest event in all of human history, the very salvation of mankind, began in the bosom of a family, hidden away in a manger in a remote corner of the world, not in the Roman Senate or in the imperial palace. In the words of His Holiness:

“He began to walk with His people, until the fullness of time arrived, and He gave the greatest sign of His love, His Son. And His Son, where did He send Him? To a palace? To a city, to start a business? He sent Him to a family! God came into the world in a family.”

More grace enters the world by parents teaching their children to pray, than by all government decrees. The openness of a family to God’s call is more important than anything any of the powers of the world can do:

“And he was able to do this because this family was a family that had its heart open to love, that had the doors open to love. Let’s think of Mary, this young woman. She couldn’t believe it. “How can this be?” And when it was explained to her, she obeyed. Let’s think of Joseph, full of dreams to form a household. He finds himself with this surprise that he doesn’t understand. He accepts. He obeys. And in the obedience of love of this woman, Mary, and of this man, Joseph, a family is created into which comes God.”

All other forms of power pale in comparison with the power of the family. All other forms of power exist for its sake. “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live,” said Pope Saint John Paul II. It does because God poured out His creative power into the family, He bestowed on it His Goodness, His Truth and His Beauty. And why would He do this? Because God Himself is a family.

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