Pope Francis in Assisi: Advice to young people about marriage
During Pope Francis’ recent visit to Assisi on the feast day of the village’s most famous saint, the Holy Father’s namesake, one would have expected speeches concerning peace, ecumenism, poverty and creation, all topics commonly associated with St. Francis. Yet, when Pope Francis met with youth on the evening of October 4, marriage and family came to the forefront of the conversation.
A young married couple approached the Holy Father with this question: “We live in a society where well-being is at the center, to amuse oneself and think of oneself. To live matrimony as young Christians is complex; to open oneself to life is a challenge and a frequent fear. As a young couple we feel the joy of living our marriage, but we experience the daily effort and challenges. How can the Church help us, how can our pastors support us, what steps are we also called to take?”
Pope Francis spent the first half of his address to the young people addressing the gift of marriage and the virtues needed to live this vocation well in our society.
Courage is necessary for marriage, counseled the Holy Father. With the lack of commitment expressed by many today, courage is needed to take the risk of marriage. Pope Francis said that marriage is “risky” because of our own egoism and the provisional nature of our times. He talked about the common experience of couples who, rather than say marriage is forever, promise to stay together while their love lasts. “It is egoism: when I don’t feel it, I break the marriage and forget that ‘one flesh,’ which cannot be divided,” he said.
Pope Francis also cautioned the young people that the attitude of our current culture tends to favor the provisional over the definitive: a “culture of the temporary.” This, however, is not our supreme calling. “Jesus didn’t save us provisionally, he saved us definitively!” the Holy Father said.
Opening oneself to a lifetime commitment is another challenge among young people today. Pope Francis provided an example with typical humor and candor: “How many times I’ve heard mothers say to me: ‘But, Father, I have a 30-year-old son who isn’t married: I don’t know what to do! He has a beautiful girlfriend, but he doesn’t decide.’ But, Madam, don’t iron his shirts anymore!”
He continued with advice for dating couples, echoing the “Be not afraid” of his predecessor, Bl. John Paul II – “Don’t be afraid to take definitive steps, such as that of marriage: deepen your love, respecting the times and expressions, pray, prepare yourselves well, but then trust that the Lord doesn’t leave you alone! Make him come into your home as one of the family. He will always support you.”
To those who may question the sanity of committing one’s entire life to another person without fear, Pope Francis explained the foundation of his confidence: “Two Christians who marry have recognized in their history of love the call of the Lord, the vocation of two, male and female, to become only one flesh, only one life. And the Sacrament of Matrimony envelops this love with the grace of God, it roots it in God Himself. With this gift, with the certainty of this call, one can begin with certainty, there is no fear of anything, everything can be faced together!”
Marriage is also a path that today’s young people can undertake with the witness of their parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Pope Francis reminded the youth that their ancestors faced difficult challenges within marriage and family life and yet found strength to embrace and live their vocation. “They found it in the certainty that the Lord was with them, that the family is blessed by God with the Sacrament of Matrimony, and that the mission is blessed to bring children into the world and to educate them,” he said. “With these certainties they surmounted even the hardest tests. They were simple but true certainties; they were the columns that supported their love.”
He continued, saying that these simple certainties allowed the married couples of the last 100 years to succeed in creating beautiful family life.
The Holy Father reminded those present of the many programs created to assist different situations related to marriage and the family. From marriage preparation to ongoing support for couples to family community, Pope Francis praised the “huge richness” of these opportunities for young people today.
During his remarks to the young people of Assisi, the Holy Father affirmed both the vocation to marriage and the vocation to celibacy for the kingdom of God. His words underscored the way in which both calls are responses to God’s love and require courage and commitment.
Shortly after Pope Francis returned to the Vatican from his pilgrimage to Assisi, he announced the convening of an Extraordinary Synod on “The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization” in October 2014. This is only the third such synod since Pope Paul VI instituted the first in 1969 to discuss the relationship between the Holy See and episcopal conferences around the world. Pope John Paul II convened the last Extraordinary Synod on the 20th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in 1985. The Code of Canon Law says that Extraordinary Synods are called when the matter at hand requires a rapid response.
Pope Francis’ words and actions indicate an eagerness to assist married couples and families as they navigate their vocation in an increasingly challenging world.