PHILADELPHIA (CCN) — People were surprised, at least the professional talkers on CNN were surprised, that Pope Francis tossed his script at the Festival of the Families Saturday night.
But on the subject of family, Pope Francis knows his heart and speaks from it. Remember the outdoor vigil last year, just before the extraordinary synod on the family? The pope spoke quietly, tenderly out of a deep well of wisdom and not from a prepared and approved text.
The pope told people then why the church needs to talk, debate, think and discern over the family in our time.
“In each person born of a woman, there remains alive an essential need for stability, for an open door, for someone with whom to weave and to share the story of life, a history to which to belong,” he said in 2014.
In that candle-lit garden behind the Vatican offices and apartments, the pope spoke of families and loneliness.
“It is also the most weighty hour for he who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of broken dreams and plans,” he said. “How many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes was the wine of joy less plenty, therefore, the zest ‘and the wisdom’ of life.”
The pope needs no guiding hand when the subject is families, and he showed it again when he addressed families “immigrant and non-immigrant, wholesome and broken” in Philadelphia. He knows that family is where love must happen and fears that it is where we are manufacturing loneliness.
“To look after grandparents, to look after children, is the expression of love,” he said as he emphasized the link between the two extremes of age and youth.
When the raw material of family life is love, then families become a “factory of hope.”
“Love is celebration. Love is joy. Love is moving forward,” he said.
Many have been looking to the pope’s appearance here at the World Meeting of the Families to set an agenda for the larger ordinary synod on the family coming up in a couple of weeks. The speakers invited to address 18,000 delegates here over the last week have been mostly conservative and mostly American, but not all. The pope won’t be put in a box and he has no desire to see the church in a box.
Francis structured his impromptu remarks (he is a Jesuit and therefore even impromptu remarks quite naturally have structure) around beauty, goodness and truth. He said he wouldn’t speak of mother-in-laws, but that was only to raise a laugh “to get his audience to recognize themselves.” He spoke of flying plates and the difficulties of married life and the heartbreak and exhaustion of raising children. He does not have an idealized view of family life, but he does have ideals.
He knows that modern life so often reduces us to less than a family and thus enforces loneliness. This is why the church has to talk about family “to help people find their way out of modern loneliness.”
“To search for that which today the Lord asks of his church, we must lend our ears to the beat of this time and perceive the “scent” of the people today, so as to remain permeated with their joys and hopes, by their sadness and distress, at which time we will know how to propose the good news of the family with credibility,” he said in 2014. “We know, in fact, as in the Gospel, there is a strength and tenderness capable of defeating that which is created by unhappiness and violence. In fact, every time we return to the source of Christian experience, new paths and un-thought-of possibilities open up.”
On Saturday night, after Sister Sledge triumphantly belted out “We are Family” and Jim Gaffigan so artfully poked fun at his audience, the pope demonstrated that he has not changed his opinion.