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For Your Marriage

Marriage Today covers current trends and research pertaining to marriage and family life in today's world.

Perspectives for Families: The Interview with Pope Francis

Note: This will be the last “Marriage in the News” column by David Gibson. After six years of writing for the For Your Marriage website, David looks forward to spending more time with his wife, children, and grandchildren. We are grateful for David’s contributions to the site! He plans to continue writing periodic book reviews, and his archived columns will remain a valuable source of information and inspiration.

In the now-famous interview with him published in the United States Sept. 19 by America magazine and simultaneously in several major Jesuit publications around the world, Pope Francis shared some insights that couples and families in all sorts of circumstances will find uplifting and hopeful.

The pope covered much more ground in the lengthy interview than many realize. The interview was conducted by Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of La Civilta Cattolica, a Rome-based Jesuit journal.

A point the pope made entirely clear is that he enjoys living with others. Naturally, I should note, this is precisely what family members do: live with others. Notably, God enters into “the web of human relationships,” the pope insisted at one point.

“I cannot live without people. I need to live my life with others,” Pope Francis said to Father Spadaro.

His desire to be with others came up when the pope mentioned his choice at a young age to join the Jesuit order. “I did not see myself as a priest on my own. I need a community,” he said.

Pope Francis’ desire to have others in his life also is witnessed by his decision not to live in the usual papal apartment in the Vatican Apostolic Palace but instead to reside in a much smaller suite in the Vatican guesthouse, he indicated.

The pope observed that the Apostolic Palace is “tastefully decorated and large, but not luxurious.”Apparently he saw it as an issue for him, however, that the entrance at the palace “is really tight; people can come only in dribs and drabs.”

Common Sanctity

The busy couples and parents of our times who wonder how they possibly could attain holiness or anything approximating it, given the pace and stress of their lives, can take heart in Pope Francis’ discussion of “daily sanctity” in the interview.

“I see the sanctity of God’s people, this daily sanctity,” the pope said. He spoke of “a ‘holy middle class,’ which we can all be part of.”

Pope Francis sees this holiness “in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread.”

He sees this, too, in “the sick, the elderly priests who have so many wounds but have a smile on their faces because they served the Lord, the sisters who work hard and live a hidden sanctity.”

That, for him, is “the common sanctity,” the pope said.

Sanctity, he continued, often is associated with patience, a vital dimension of which is found in “a constancy in going forward, day by day.” Pope Francis said, “This was the sanctity of my parents: my dad, my mom, my grandmother Rosa who loved me so much.”

He keeps his grandmother’s last will in his breviary, the pope acknowledged. “I read it often. For me it is like a prayer,” he said. He described his grandmother as “a saint who has suffered so much, also spiritually, and yet always went forward with courage.”

Pope Francis’s discussion of the virtue of magnanimity is another point that surely deserves a hearing. He calls magnanimity a virtue “of the large and small.” Here he offered a perspective that I suspect many couples and families will welcome.

“Thanks to magnanimity we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are,” he said. This virtue of the large and small implies “being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others.” Moreover, it “means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God.”

I freely admit that my own life as husband, father and grandfather is filled with many activities that seem small in import at the moment but are rewarding nonetheless. So I, for one, am happy to consider the pope’s recommendation that these smaller activities of daily life be viewed against a much larger horizon of meaning.

Convictions and Attitudes

Many families feel at a loss, at least sometimes, when it comes to how they should regard a troubled member – a spouse or youth addicted to alcohol or drugs, perhaps. These families may be heartened by the pope’s firm conviction that God is present even when a person’s life appears to be a “disaster.”

Speaking with Father Spadaro, Pope Francis said:

“I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. … Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life.”

The pope advised trying “to seek God in every human life.” He said: “Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

Finally, in the interview the pope spoke about a parental role. A parent’s role is one of “generativity” in ongoing ways, he seemed to suggest.

The point arose after the pope referred to the church as a “mother” and said that the church must be “fruitful.” He then recalled a phone call he made recently to a young man. The pope’s phone calls to people who write to him are the topic of countless news reports these days.

The pope did not tell precisely which young man he telephoned. What the pope said is that he called the young man “because that letter was so beautiful, so simple. For me this was an act of generativity.” Pope Francis added:

“I realized that he was a young man who is growing, that he saw in me a father and that the letter tells something of his life to that father. The father cannot say, ‘I do not care.’ This type of fruitfulness is so good for me.”

About the author 
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.