On the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis encouraged married couples to rely on the strength of Christ and his graces as they weather the storms of life together.
In a letter to spouses Dec. 26, Pope Francis wrote that “marriage, as a vocation, calls you to steer a tiny boat — wave-tossed yet sturdy, thanks to the reality of the sacrament — across a sometimes stormy sea.”
“Let us never forget, though, that by virtue of the sacrament of matrimony, Jesus is present in that boat,” the pope added. “He is concerned for you and he remains at your side amid the tempest.”
Pope Francis’ letter was written for the Amoris Laetitia Family Year, which began on March 19, 2021, the Solemnity of St. Joseph. The celebration will conclude in June 2022 with the 10th edition of the World Meeting of Families, which will be held in Rome.
In his letter, Francis addressed the challenges, and in some cases crises, that families are facing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: “Families have always been in my thoughts and prayers, but especially so during the pandemic, which has severely tested everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us.”
“The present situation has made me want to accompany with humility, affection and openness each individual, married couple and family in all those situations in which you find yourselves,” he said.
The pope recalled the importance of forgiveness as “the fruit of an interior resolve that comes to maturity in prayer, in our relationship with God.”
Forgiveness, he said, “is a gift born of the grace poured out by Christ upon married couples whenever they turn to him and allow him to act.”
“Christ ‘dwells’ in your marriage and he is always waiting for you to open your hearts to him, so that he can sustain you, as he did the disciples in the boat, by the power of his love. Our human love is weak; it needs the strength of Jesus’ faithful love. With him, you can truly build your ‘house on rock’ (Mt 7:24),” he said.
Pope Francis also spoke about children and their need to see a strong and reliable love between their parents.
Raising children is not easy, he said, but they are “always a gift; they change the history of every family. They are thirsty for love, gratitude, esteem and trust. Being parents calls you to pass on to your children the joy of realizing that they are God’s children, children of a Father who has always loved them tenderly and who takes them by the hand each new day.”
Throughout the letter, the pope emphasized that husbands and wives need to have a relationship with God, who never leaves them alone.
He also pointed to the calling that Abraham received from the Lord to set out from his father’s home and go to a foreign land as an example for spouses.
“Like Abraham, all husbands and wives ‘set out’ from their own land at the moment when, in response to the vocation to conjugal love, they decide to give themselves to each other without reserve,” he said.
He explained that “different situations in life, the passage of time, the arrival of children, work and illness, all challenge couples to embrace anew their commitment to one another, to leave behind settled habits, certainties and security, and to set out towards the land that God promises: to be two in Christ, two in one.”
Francis reminded spouses that their “lives become a single life; you become a ‘we’ in loving communion with Jesus, alive and present at every moment of your existence. God is always at your side; he loves you unconditionally. You are not alone!”
The pope also addressed young adults preparing for marriage, encouraging them to have the “creative courage” of St. Joseph, especially if they are trying to find stable employment. He urged engaged couples to “always trust in God’s providence,” even if money is tight, because “difficulties can bring out resources we did not even think we had.”
“Do not hesitate to rely on your families and friends, on the ecclesial community, on your parish, to help you prepare for marriage and family life by learning from those who have already advanced along the path on which you are now setting out,” he stated.
Recognizing the importance of the identity and mission of the laity both in the Church and in society, he stated that married couples “have the mission of transforming society by your presence in the workplace and ensuring that the needs of families are taken into due account.”
“May Saint Joseph inspire in all families a creative courage, so essential for these times of epochal change,” Pope Francis said. “May Our Lady help you to foster in your married lives the culture of encounter that we so urgently need in order to face today’s problems and troubles.”
“No amount of difficulty can take away the joy of those who know that they are walking with the Lord ever at their side. Live out your vocation with enthusiasm,” he urged. “Never allow your faces to grow sad or gloomy; your husband or wife needs your smile. Your children need your looks of encouragement. Your priests and other families need your presence and your joy: the joy that comes from the Lord!”