On March 19, 2021, the fifth anniversary of the Apostolic Exhortation "Amoris laetitia," his discussion of the beauty and joy of love, Pope Francis inaugurated the Year of the Family, to be observed until June 26, 2022, at which time the 10th World Meeting of Families will be held in Rome. The Holy Father invites us to rediscover the educational value of the family unit.

Written by Erika Jacinto, Director of communications for the Diocese of Montreal

In his letter of March 19, 2021, the Prelate of Opus Dei explains that he wants family love to have greater prominence and new ways to be proposed to accompany families on the path to holiness. This "Year of the Family" will overlap with the Year of St. Joseph for a few months, and it will be an opportunity to ask St. Joseph to watch over our families and to obtain for us abundant fruits for this year. Taking care of our own families and paying special attention to the sense and atmosphere of family, and reaching out to other families and people in need are goals that concern us all. In this way, we will be better witnesses of family love. We must take seriously this invitation by the Pope reread carefully the document "Amoris Laetitia," which you can find on the Vatican website 

Love in the family is at the heart of this exhortation, in which we find matter for some deep reflection on contemporary difficulties facing families today. It lays out some very concrete solutions to ensure that the family is grounded in love, regenerating all relations by opening up the horizons of hope.

I do not have time here to go through all the riches of this text, but I will share with you what most touched me, while inviting you to read it for yourself. Chapter 4 on love in marriage, which I particularly recommend to you, speaks to us of growing, strengthening and deepening conjugal and family love.

PATIENT: Love is "patient" as St. Paul’s beautiful hymn to love tells us, which is chosen by many couples for their wedding. Patience is understood here to be a love that is slow to anger...that is, that does not let itself be led by impulses and that avoids aggression. Problems arise when we require that our relationships be idyllic, that people be perfect, or when we centre everything around us and only care about getting what we want. Then everything makes us lose patience. But my patience is strengthened when I recognize that the other person has the right to live as they are beside me, even if they go against my plans or upset me with their way of doing things or with their ideas: in short, if he or she is not everything I had hoped for... Love always has a sense of deep compassion, accepting the other person even when he or she acts differently from how I would have liked.

SERVICE: Love is not just a feeling. It should be understood in the sense of "doing good." Love must be put into service, more in deeds than in words.

LOVEABLE: To love is to be pleasant. Gestures and words are pleasant, not rough and harsh. Love hates to make others suffer. Never end the day without making peace in the family, with small gestures, a caress. When the other person does something that upsets us, do not succumb to inner violence, but bless them in our hearts. Desire good for the other, ask God to heal and liberate them.

PARDON: To love is to understand the other’s weakness, to excuse it. The natural tendency is rather the opposite, to find more mistakes, faults and malice. Resentment then grows and takes root. We must avoid giving the same importance to everything, because we risk becoming implacable over mistakes. Forgiveness is one sign of love which is not easy and which requires a great spirit of sacrifice. But selfishness, tension and conflict do violence to family communion. Pray for your own history. Begin by understanding ourselves, forgiving ourselves, and then it will be possible to forgive others.

PARDON EVERYTHING: Love limits our judgment of the other, it remains silent. "Do not judge, and you will not be judged" (Lk 6:37). "Do not speak evil against one another" (Jas 4:11). Spouses do not point out each other’s weaknesses. The spouse is not only what bothers me, but is much more than that. Spouses do not demand that each other's love be perfect, which does not mean that it is false or unreal, merely of this world. In the Christian ideal, love in the family is love that overlooks everything. After the love that unites us to God, a spouse’s love is the greatest of all friendships. This love seeks good for the other’s sake, their intimacy, their tenderness and their stability. A resemblance grows up between these friends through their shared life. This love is called charity, when one appreciates and grasps the great value of the other as an end in themselves, even though it does not coincide with perceptible physical or psychological attractions. (sickness, old age) This allows one to contemplate the "sacredness" of one's being.

DIALOGUE: Dialogue is a special way of living, expressing and ripening love, in the couple and the family. In communication, an appreciative glance is very important, and if it is refused it can cause a great deal of harm. "Please look at me when I talk to you." "My husband doesn’t look at me, it seems I’m invisible to him." "My wife doesn't look at me, she only pays attention to the children now". These are sad complaints begging to feel loved in the eyes of the other. To communicate is to know how to listen to the end, so that the person feels they are understood. Cultivate the habit of giving real importance to the other person. Try to put yourself in their shoes, to understand what is in their hearts, to find out what drives them. Take this passion as a starting point for further dialogue.

IN GENERAL: Christian families cannot shut themselves up in their comfort and be indifferent to poor families in need. We must also consider the needs of our extended families, of those who need help, comfort, companionship and gestures of affection. In this time of pandemic we have become more aware of this. The family what brings brotherhood into the world. Growing up among siblings gives us the beautiful experience of protecting each other, of helping and being helped. This sometimes painful apprenticeship bears wonderful fruit throughout our lives; we learn how to live together as human beings. Marriage is a path of maturation, where each one is God's instrument to help the other grow. Everyone can learn about love.

One of the spouses may not be baptized, or does not want to live out their faith commitments. It is still possible to find common values which can be shared and cultivated with enthusiasm. In any case, loving our spouse, making them happy, alleviating their suffering, and sharing our lives with them is a true path to sanctification.

REINFORCING THE CHILDREN’S EDUCATION: Parents always affect their children’s moral development, for better or for worse. The family must always ask itself what it wants to expose its children to. Question who is in charge of their entertainment, their free time, who is entering their rooms through their screens. To whom do we entrust our children? Only the time we spend with them, talking with affection and simplicity about important things, and the healthy opportunities we create for them to occupy their time, can prevent harmful invasions. Let us be vigilant and not abandon them. The emotional and moral development of a person requires a fundamental experience of believing that their parents are trustworthy. Through affection and witnessing, we create trust in children, inspiring them with loving respect. Parents’ tasks include educating the will and developing good habits and the emotional inclination to do good. To act properly, it is not enough to judge correctly, to know what to do. As we know from experience, in some circumstances we are incoherent in our own convictions. It is also necessary to explain to what extent we should act properly and what good can result from it. We must create good habits and virtues by encouraging and stimulating the practice of free and valued acts of good behaviour.

Freedom is a wonderful gift and moral education is training for freedom.

VALUE OF PUNISHMENT AS ENCOURAGEMENT: It is essential that parents educate the child to realize that there are consequences for bad actions. The child must develop the ability to put himself in the other person's shoes and to sympathize with their suffering when one has caused them harm. Firmly direct the child to ask for forgiveness and to make amends for the harm done to the other. Correction is valued when the child recognizes that his or her parents maintain a patient trust. The child who is punished in love feels that they count, that they are someone, that their parents recognize their potential. Above all, the child needs his parents not to be led by anger. They are reprimanded, but never as an enemy on whom the parents unload their own aggression. The parent is realistic and does not ask for a disproportionate sacrifice considering the child’s age and abilities. Educate the child to be patient, especially in this age of anxiety and technological speed. They must learn to wait, delaying not denying the opportunities to play with electronic devices, but having to wait first. This is an important lesson, without which adolescents grow up to be impatient adults with the spoiled attitude of "I want it and I want it now".

CONCLUSION: Here are some ideas that can help us improve the atmosphere in our own families. Identify the things that need to be improved in our own homes. Choose one or two and make plans to accomplish realistic goals. Discuss strategies with your partner and be patient and loving in their application. Take small steps, don’t try to fix everything all at once.

Do not wait until you are a perfect family before helping other families. Be generous in our openness to other families, welcoming them into our homes, simply, with open hearts. We soon realize that in its own way and in spite of their limitations, every family can provide support to another family.