Fraternity and the Family
by Emily Macke
Pope Francis spent much of the Christmas season discussing the importance of familial relationships for the world. While we might first think of the bond of spouses or parents when considering the family, the Holy Father focused his 2014 World Day of Peace message, given January 1, on the fraternal dimension.
In his message entitled, “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace,” Pope Francis reflected on the importance of seeing others as brothers and sisters in humanity. “Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings,” the Holy Father said. “A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace” (no. 1).
Where is this fraternity learned? Pope Francis said that generally the family is the first school of fraternity. In a unique way, father and mother witness to the complementary roles of the members of a family. He explained, “The family is the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it” (no. 1).
It is not only human fatherhood and motherhood that teach about fraternity. More fundamentally, the Holy Father said, “The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood. We are not speaking of a generic fatherhood, indistinct and historically ineffectual, but rather of the specific and extraordinarily concrete personal love of God for each man and woman (cf. Mt 6:25-30). It is a fatherhood, then, which effectively generates fraternity, because the love of God, once welcomed, becomes the most formidable means of transforming our lives and relationships with others, opening us to solidarity and to genuine sharing” (no. 3).
Pope Francis continued, explaining that as sons and daughters in the Son, “there are no ‘disposable lives.’ All men and women enjoy an equal and inviolable dignity. All are loved by God. All have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, who died on the Cross and rose for all. This is the reason why no one can remain indifferent before the lot of our brothers and sisters” (no. 3).
During Pope Francis’ Angelus address on December 29, the Feast of the Holy Family, he dealt practically with this point, asking how well we care for those who may be “exiled” within our own families. “I often think that a good indicator for knowing how a family is doing is seeing how their children and elderly are treated,” he said.
Fraternity is at the heart of peace because of the recognition of the common fatherhood of God over all, the Holy Father said in his World Day of Peace message. If each person is a child of God, then each person is called to love others as a neighbor, as a brother or a sister.
Pope Francis not only spoke of the necessity of fraternity for peace in the world, but also of its requirement for social and economic reform. A world that treats each person according to his innate dignity as a son or daughter of God will have a different approach toward economics, politics, crime and punishment, and poverty.
How does one grow in fraternal charity? To begin, the Holy Father suggests that a conversion of heart is needed in order to recognize others as brother or sister.
The Holy Father continues that relational poverty “can be overcome only through the rediscovery and valuing of fraternal relationships in the heart of families and communities, through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of the hardships and triumphs that are a part of human life” (no. 5).
Rather than amassing technical know-how in order to improve political and economic endeavors, Pope Francis said an openness to God and corresponding understanding that the human person is not an object to be exploited is necessary. “Fraternity needs to be discovered, loved, experienced, proclaimed and witnessed to. But only love, bestowed as a gift from God, enables us to accept and fully experience fraternity” (no. 10).
He continued, “This entails weaving a fabric of fraternal relationships marked by reciprocity, forgiveness and complete self-giving, according to the breadth and the depth of the love of God offered to humanity in the One who, crucified and risen, draws all to himself” (no. 10). To fail to recognize this reciprocity, forgiveness and self-giving is to selfishly treat others not as brother or sister but as objects for my gain.
Making spontaneous remarks at the Angelus address on the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis gave practical advice. “Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: ‘may I’, ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’. In our family, when we are not intrusive and ask ‘may I’, in our family when we are not selfish and learn to say ‘thank you’, and when in a family one realizes he has done something wrong and knows how to say ‘sorry’, in that family there is peace and joy.”
If fraternity is vital for a transformation of the world, and the family is the prime place where fraternity is learned, then the family’s importance in the Church and the world is further revealed by the pontiff’s address.
During his Dec. 29 Angelus address, Pope Francis encouraged families to become aware of their importance in preaching the Gospel, adding, “Let us ask [the Holy Family] to enlighten, comfort and guide every family in the world, so that they may fulfil with dignity and peace the mission which God has entrusted them.”
About the author
Emily Macke serves as Theology of the Body Education Coordinator at Ruah Woods in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her Master’s in Theological Studies at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC, and her undergraduate degree in Theology and Journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Emily shares the good news of the Catholic faith through writing, media appearances and speaking opportunities, which she has done on three continents. She and her husband Brad live in southeast Indiana.