As we prepare for Christmas, and this special time of more intense family interactions, we ought to focus on building up family relationships based on true love. Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13, Pope Francis tells us:
“Panta pisteúei. Love believes all things. Here ‘belief’ is not to be taken in its strict theological meaning, but more in the sense of what we mean by ‘trust.’ This goes beyond simply presuming that the other is not lying or cheating. Such basic trust recognizes God’s light shining beyond the darkness, like an ember glowing beneath the ash” (Amoris Lætitia 114).
It is impossible to have a relationship with someone you cannot trust. All relationships depend on trust. We need to be able to take the other person seriously, to know that the person is not just telling us what we want to hear, playing our emotions, and manipulating us in order to get what they want. No, we need the sense that we are safe, that the other person truly wants and seeks our good and the family’s well-being, not just their own whims.
To develop this trust and build up relationships, the Pope tells us that it is important to respect the freedom of others, whereas we destroy trust when we try to control, possess, and dominate others:
“This trust enables a relationship to be free. It means we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip. Love trusts, it sets free, it does not try to control, possess and dominate everything” (ibid, 115).
When we ask for something (a parent asks a child to do a chore, a child asks a parent for a gift, a spouse asks the other to do a favor, etc.) then it is important to respect the freedom of the one asked—they are not my slave! If a child does a chore in response to a request, then it should be because that child freely chose to do so out of love, not just to get mom or dad off their back. If a parent gives a child a gift, it should be due to the parent’s love and not just to stop the child’s tantrum. This requires trust, to believe that the other person will use his/her freedom wisely for the good of the relationship, especially the person does so in a way we didn’t expect. This builds up the relationship on trust.
Respecting the freedom of others is so key: “This freedom, which fosters independence, an openness to the world around us and to new experiences, can only enrich and expand relationships” (ibid.). Relationships thrive when people act with freedom and spontaneous creativity for the good of the others. Trust and respect for freedom foster transparency and does away with suspicion and fear since one doesn’t have to worry about protecting him/herself:
The spouses then share with one another the joy of all they have received and learned outside the family circle. At the same time, this freedom makes for sincerity and transparency, for those who know that they are trusted and appreciated can be open and hide nothing. Those who know that their spouse is always suspicious, judgmental and lacking unconditional love, will tend to keep secrets, conceal their failings and weaknesses, and pretend to be someone other than who they are. On the other hand, a family marked by loving trust, come what may, helps its members to be themselves and spontaneously to reject deceit, falsehood, and lies.
We all seek such transparency, closeness and intimacy in family relationships. Let’s strive for that and learn to apologize and forgive when we have failed to believe all things.
Fr. John R. Waiss
We are in this wonderful time of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas. It is a time for more intense family life, which we always need to work at to make that family life more enjoyable and fruitful for all. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Lætitia, certainly can give us some insights on how to do just that.
Love Is Not Boastful
Commenting on “love is not… boastful; it is not arrogant or rude” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). The word for boastful is perpereúetai, which the Pope tells us “denotes vainglory, the need to be haughty, pedantic and somewhat pushy. Those who love not only refrain from speaking too much about themselves, but are focused on others; they do not need to be the center of attention” (Amoris Lætitia, 97).
To enjoy family life, everyone needs to focus on others and not on themselves. The worse thing we can do during holidays and vacation is to focus on what I want. When we don’t get what we want we become disappointed, angry, feeling sorry for ourselves. We become miserable and make everyone else miserable. When we serve others and try to make their life easier—to make them happy—we become happy and anything we get becomes a joy filled surprise. This is how to get the most out of our more intense time with others.
Another danger that arises with intense family interactions is physioútai—arrogance— becoming “puffed up” before others. The Pope warns us of this dangerous obsession of:
“showing off and a loss of a sense of reality. Such people think that, because they are more ‘spiritual’ or ‘wise,’ they are more important than they really are… Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others; they want to lord it over them… but in fact [they] are filled more with empty words than the real ‘power’ of the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 4:19).” (Ibid.)
When there are discussions about politics or religion we may be tempted to push our opinions or even real knowledge on others, as though we were somehow better than they are. We don’t listen or let others speak; perhaps we are a bit afraid that we don’t have all the answers. As the Pope goes on to say:
“It is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions. At times the opposite occurs: the supposedly mature believers within the family become unbearably arrogant… The inner logic of Christian love is not about importance and power; rather, ‘whoever would be first among you must be your slave’ (Mt 20:27). In family life, the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love.” (Ibid. 98).
Listening and asking thought-provoking questions is a humbler and much more effective way, because love “is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase” (ibid. 98). This approach also shows that we respect the other person and that we listen to him or her, who makes us think, because “what really makes us important is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak” (Ibid. 97).
So, as we approach the holy of holy days, and as we gather with family members and friends, let us foster some wonderful interactions with them, having a spirit of thinking about them and their needs, and with a humble, attentive listening attitude based on love.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Today we begin Advent, that penitential season in preparation of Christmas, that glorious day when we recognize the moment when God—in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity—took human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. Children love Christmas, not just for all the bright lights and decorations, or for the gifts they will receive, but also because God becomes so real, tangible, and approachable to them. So, let’s take advantage of this.
As Pope Francis said in his interview with Fr. Spadaro, regarding the teachings of the Church:
“I say [that Church teaching cannot be the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently] thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation.”
Advent is a wonderful time to remind children that God loves us, that he became a little child to save us from sin. We can remind them what sin is all about, that we can be selfish and proud, and that when we do we hurt other people, and especially we hurt our relationship with God. Yet God doesn’t give up on us. He still loves us no matter how bad we have been. That is why he came into this world.
“But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives… [It] is the touchstone to measure the pastor’s proximity and ability to meet his people, because those who preach must recognize the heart of their community and must be able to see where the desire for God is lively and ardent.”
Like pastors, strong parents must come down to the level of their children, and meet them where they are in their spiritual journey, with the ability to see their children’s lively and ardent desire for God. Advent and Christmas is ideal for this, and a wonderful time to deepen the heart of their family.
Advent is a time of preparation, a preparation for the coming of our Savior. How do we best prepare for the coming of Christ who came to save us by becoming a little child? One very beautiful way is by going to confession. Even if the child is too young for this, seeing his mother or father going as a way to prepare for Christmas teaches the child the importance of saying, “I’m sorry” to God. Perhaps he too may wish to go into the confessional to ask for a blessing in preparation for Christmas.
Advent may also be a time to help children apologize for selfish acts they do to their siblings or friends, or for the disrespectful reactions they make do toward their mother or father. Taking a few moments at the end of the day to make an examination of conscience with your children before the Nativity scene (Crèche) can also be very beneficial to reach a child’s heart. Follow it up with a short Act of Contrition—we do this at the end of the school day with the children of St. Mary of the Angels School.
The Pope reminds us that the heart of the Gospel message that we must proclaim is Jesus Christ, a person who is God, who has become a little child. Ask the Virgin Mary to help us take good advantage of this special season to prepare well for the coming of her son, to prepare for him like she did.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Jesus Christ is our King, ruling the Catholic Church. Jesus Christ, the “image of the invisible God” makes God’s presence visible to us. Through our Baptism and Confirmation, we all share in Christ’s kingship, priesthood, and prophetic witness, but he does so in a special way through his sacred ministers.
Christ came to rule his Church, which he governs visibly through the bishops, with his priests and deacons. Deacons have a special sharing in Christ’s prophetic role with God-given authority to visibly proclaim and explain God’s word. In addition to that, priests offer the visible sacrifice of the Holy Mass and apply this sin-offering in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The bishops do all that but also visibly rule and govern that portion of the Church entrusted to them.
Here in Chicago, Archbishop Cupich visibly re-presents to us Christ the King. Just as fathers and mothers share Christ’s kingship by ruling the family, making sure that their children get to Mass and Confession, and their catechetical instruction, so too Archbishop Cupich governs the Church in Lake and Cook Counties to make sure all the Catholic faithful can receive the sacraments—the Mass, Reconciliation, Baptism, Marriage, the Anointing…—and the religious formation they need to fulfill their vocation to holiness. The bishop does this principally by ordaining priests and deacons, whom he assigns to parishes, schools, and hospitals.
In exercising his duties to care for the spiritual welfare of Chicago Catholics, Archbishop Cupich is leading us on a renewal—titled Renew My Church—to take up “that mission as disciples with fresh vigor and enthusiasm.” In doing so, he is reminding us that Christ reigns as king from the Cross, and that he calls us to share in this work—which is his work, not ours. To join Christ will involve “a dying, a leaving behind old patterns and pathways that have made us comfortable and even complacent.”
This weekend, Archbishop Cupich becomes a member of the College of Cardinals, taking on a greater share of the universal governance of the Roman Catholic Church. He is asking us all to become more “catholic” or universal, to “move beyond a view of Church that is defined only by my parish, or my needs, to one that includes the good of the entire Church of Chicagoland.” The first step, grouping parishes, is almost finished. Shortly we will come together to evaluate the needs of Catholics in the broader area of our group. The Archdiocese is putting together a team to facilitate this dialogue, giving us the demographic data and other “signs of the times” to aid in making recommendation for meeting our real spiritual needs with the limited resources now at our disposal.
Renew My Church will involve some dying—some parishes will combine with others or even closed—yet if each one of us, like the Good Thief, die alongside Christ we can hope for the Resurrection: “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Renew My Church has the “potential of having an historic and transformative impact on each of our lives and the entire Church.” Its success will be measured by “how it leaves us more united as a Church—united across racial, political, ethnic and social lines… to make sure that no one feels left behind but all are included.”
Last year in Philadelphia, Pope Francis reminded us Catholics in the United States:
“One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world. This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life” (Homily, September 26, 2015).
With immense hope we pray that Christ will inflame Chicago Catholics with a greater love for him, for their Faith, and for the souls of their neighbor. St. Mary of the Angels, pray for us!
Fr. John R. Waiss
It has been almost two months, but I thought it would be good to get back to our commentary on Pope Francis’ Amoris Lætitia where the Pope draws out the repercussions of true love in marriage.
Love Rejoices with Others
In his famous discourse on love, St. Paul says that love “does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (1 Corinthians 13:6). Beginning with the first phrase, love does not rejoice at wrong, Pope Francis comments:
“The expression chaírei epì te adikía has to do with a negativity lurking deep within a person’s heart. It is the toxic attitude of those who rejoice at seeing an injustice done to others… [Whereas rejoicing in the good of others] is impossible for those who must always be comparing and competing, even with their spouse, so that they secretly rejoice in their failures.” (Amoris Lætitia 109).
The world today seems to be filled with this toxic negativity, whether in politics, the business world, sports, or even in marriage and the family. It is this toxic competitive attitude that makes it impossible to congratulate the success and good works of others because somehow it implies that we have somehow failed. We tend to wish evil upon our opponents and rejoice over their demise, downfall, or injury because then we can prevail over them and come out on top. Or we simply gloat over the fact that others share our misery—misery loves company!
Negativity only breeds negativity and division, whereas love and mercy brings people together and fosters peace, moving us to rejoice in the good that others do and to view their success as our own. Even if they belong to the opposite team, we can congratulate them for making a good play or good shot because it is the fruit of their hard work.
True love for another person unites us to them and helps us view their success and good works as our own. We feel as though we are part of the same winning team working for the same goal. This is most especially true in marriage and family where we need to learn to rejoice in the good that a spouse or sibling has done and thus acknowledge their dignity and value as a person. As Pope Francis says, commenting on the second phrase:
“The following phrase expresses its opposite: sygchaírei te aletheía: ‘it rejoices in the right’. In other words, we rejoice at the good of others when we see their dignity and value their abilities and good works…
“When a loving person can do good for others, or sees that others are happy, they themselves live happily and in this way give glory to God, for ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9:7). Our Lord especially appreciates those who find joy in the happiness of others. If we fail to learn how to rejoice in the well-being of others, and focus primarily on our own needs, we condemn ourselves to a joyless existence, for, as Jesus said, ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35). The family must always be a place where, when something good happens to one of its members, they know that others will be there to celebrate it with them” (Amoris Lætitia 109-10).
When we rejoice in the happiness and success of others it brings us together and fosters peace. We saw this vividly when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series—it brought us all together.
So, let us become peacemakers with our rejoicing at one another successes.
Fr. John R. Waiss