Pope Francis opened his Nov. 4th Wednesday General Address by spotlighting real families who witness daily to the great gift of marriage and family. Essential Christian families revitalize modern life by living out the humanizing values of the Gospel. When Christian families practice forgiveness in their homes, their actions have a ripple effect, reconstituting the social fabric of the larger society because families are the building blocks of society.
The pope stressed family life is a training ground for mutual forgiveness. Since love cannot last for long unless we give of ourselves and forgive one another, Jesus himself taught us the Our Father. He instructed us to ask the Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” At the end of the prayer, Jesus reveals a startling, eternal truth which should shake us to our core: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:12.14-15). Since our fragility and egoism are at the root of our sin against each other, we wrong one another every day. We cannot live without forgiving one another.
If we wait too long, everything becomes more difficult. And there is a simple secret to heal the wounds and to break off the accusations: not to let the day end without apologizing to one another, without making peace between husband and wife, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters … between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law! If we learn to apologize immediately and to forgive one another, the wounds heal, the marriage is strengthened, and the family becomes an ever more solid home, which resist the knocks of our little and great spiteful acts. And for this, a great speech is not necessary; a caress is enough and everything begins again. But do not end the day in war!
If we learn to live out forgiveness in the family, we can also do so in society. Many skeptics think it this is an exaggeration. However, it is precisely by receiving forgiveness from God that we are capable of forgiving others. Jesus has us repeat these words every time we recite the Our Father. It is indispensable we learn to forgive one another in the family because the society which surrounds us can be merciless.
The capacity to forgive is part of the vocation and mission of the family. The practice of forgiveness not only saves families from division but renders them capable of helping society to be less evil and less cruel. Every gesture of forgiveness repairs the cracks of the home and consolidates its walls. The Church will always help build homes on the rock of which Jesus spoke.
Pope Francis reminds the faithful, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father.” Christ adds, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you’” (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). It is a strong statement which has the purpose to shake us and to call us to conversion.
If we are capable of walking in the way of the Beatitudes, learning and teaching forgiveness, the capacity will grow in us to give witness to the renewing strength of God’s forgiveness. Granting forgiveness is a pathway to salvation; it allows Christians to set an example for their loved ones, especially for the children in the family. Otherwise, we might engage in beautiful preaching, even cast out a devil, but at the end the Lord will not recognize us as his disciples because we did not have the capacity to forgive and to be forgiven by others.
Christian families can help modern society and the Church. In the Jubilee of Mercy, families can rediscover the treasure of mutual forgiveness. Pope Francis prays:
“Let us pray families are increasingly capable of living and building concrete ways of reconciliation, where no one feels abandoned to the weight of his debts. “Our Father, forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who trespass against us.”
Family harmony seeks to restore broken bonds with God through Christ. In the Fall, we ruptured our relationship with God our Father but in Jesus, we seek to restore it. Every time we break bonds of love in the family, we shatter our bond with God a little more. When we forgive in the family, we are putting the egg back together, piece by piece, bit by bit.
“We cannot live without forgiving one another, or at least we cannot live well, especially in the family. Every day we wrong one another. … What we are asked, however, is to heal immediately the wounds we cause, to reweave the threads that we break in the family”