On Promises Made Between Husband and Wife
“Fidelity to promises is truly a masterpiece of humanity!” Pope Francis said at his general audience on October 21, 2015. As he moved from the promises of parents to children (the previous week’s topic), the Holy Father looked at the promise that husband and wife make to each other on the day of their marriage.
“The whole family reality,” said the pope, “is founded on a promise.” It “lives from” this promise that man and woman make of love and fidelity for their whole lives. The promise of fidelity is not limited to the two of them and their own children; it extends to the whole family, including their own parents, and the entire community. The promise of marriage opens that family up “to all that is related to human coexistence and the common good” because, “A family that is shut-in on itself is a contradiction, a mortification of the promise that made it be born and that makes it live.”
Pope Francis lamented that fidelity to promises is not honored today as it deserves to be. He attributed this, in part, to “a misunderstood right to seek one’s own satisfaction, at all cost and in any relationship.” In contrast, he said, fidelity to a promise is a source of freedom, not a limit on it. “Love, as well as friendship, owes its strength and beauty precisely to this fact: that it generates union without taking away freedom. Love is free; the promise of the family is free. And this is its beauty. Without freedom, there is no friendship; without freedom, there is no love; without freedom, there is no marriage. Therefore, freedom and fidelity are not opposed to one another, what is more, they support one another, both in personal as well as in social relations.”
The Holy Father continued to say that fidelity is “a promise of commitment that is self-fulfilling.” It is strengthened when it is shared and cultivated. He recalled that elderly people sometimes comment that when they were younger, a man’s word or handshake were enough to complete an agreement; people took that kind of “social event” seriously. How much more seriously should people take “the shaking of hands of man and woman to go forward together their whole life.”
The pope noted that because a lifelong promise of fidelity is “daring,” people may fear making it, but “No relation of love… reaches the height of our desire and our hope, if this miracle of the soul [fidelity] does not dwell in us.” He said that God’s grace and mercy accompany this promise that “never ends, delighting us and surprising us.”
The truth of love, said Pope Francis, must be taught in the family. “No other school can teach the truth of love if the family does not do it.”
The Holy Father called for cultures to “restore the social honor to fidelity of love.” The many, even “millions,” of people who are living examples of fidelity to this promise must not longer be “secret,” said the pope. In fact, “the Church herself finds here [in the family union] a blessing to look after and of which one always learns, even before teaching it.”
Pope Francis ended his weekly audience with a prayer for the Synod Fathers who would be finishing up their work.