We’ve just heard from the Gospel how the Holy Family visited Jerusalem. Here’s another story about a family who did that:
A man, his wife and his mother-in-law went on vacation to the Holy Land, but tragically, at the end of the holiday, the mother-in-law died. The family were told they could bury her there for €200, but it would cost €5,000 to bring her back to Ireland.
The man thought about it for a while and decided to have her brought back.
The undertaker was surprised and asked the man why he was willing to spend so much money, when it would be so much easier to bury her in Jerusalem?
“Well,” said the man, “because it’s my mother-in-law, I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks. I mean, people say that someone buried here rose from the dead!”
It’s easy to become cynical about family life. Mother-in-law jokes are bread-and-butter for many comedians. The weekly diet of drama and entertainment served up by our TV channels revolves around broken families, adultery, and violence. None of us come from a home where everything is happy all the time. Pope Francis knows that all of this tempts us to see the family as a problem. (Amoris Laetitia 7) But families are not a problem! They are a daily invitation for us to choose to “bear with one another in love”!
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” That’s wrong!
Now, it’s true that we can’t choose the mother and father we’re born to. The parents we’ve got are the parents we’ve got.
But in one very important way, we do choose our family. Every new household is based on the choice which two people make, to come together for life.
Out of that choice comes other factors which are beyond our control. Certainly, you might marry someone you find adorable, but they do come with in-laws. Pope Francis says this: “Your in-laws are not a threat! You are called to be generous to them – because this is also an act of love towards your husband or wife.” The Pope also acknowledges that each household is entitled to its own privacy. Respecting your mother-in-law doesn’t mean running your house by her rules!
Family doesn’t only mean the people who live under your roof. Some of us might live alone, but we all come from families, and we’re all part of wider families. Even if we have no living blood-relatives, if we belong to the Church we are part of God’s family.
There’s a clue in the very word family. F.A.M.I.L.Y. – Forget About Me – I Love You! [If that sounds like a rap to you, you’re not wrong – the rapping Franciscan priest, Stan Fortuna, sang this at World Youth Day Sydney in 2008.] True family only happens where your needs are more important than mine – and at the same time, you believe that my needs are more important than yours. That’s how we can meet in the middle.
I once met a young mother who’d spent a year studying Catholic teaching on the family. I asked her what the one most important message was that she would want the world to know. Her answer? “The best way to love your children is to love your spouse.”
Sometimes, when a married person comes to me for confession, I ask them, “When was the last time you went on a date with your husband or wife?” If they’ve had children for any length of time, they often struggle to remember. Even if all their children have grown up and flown the nest, they often haven’t got back into the habit of enjoying each other’s company. I’ve got news for you. In marriage, dating is not an optional extra! That means taking time to communicate anew that you love one another – but also to listen to one another.
Pope Francis knows that the way we do family is changing. In past ages, it would have been normal for a husband to go out to work and make the big decisions, and for a wife to do all the housework. Now, the Pope notes, there’s a more equal sharing of responsibility, and better communication between husband and wife. And communication is key! No matter how much you think you’re in the right, take time to listen to the other person’s point of view. Don’t raise awkward ideas needlessly, or speak in a tone of voice which could cause offence. And since you also have to live with the person you’re disagreeing with, never forget to use the words “please”, “thank you”, and “sorry” every day!
Remember, you can choose your family. You can choose your husband or wife! You can choose to give time and attention to your children! You can choose to say, “I love you” in whichever way works best for you! And as often as you can carve out the time, you can choose to go on a date! If something is important, we choose to make time for it – and at the heart of every marriage is your declaration that nothing is more important than your significant other. The Lord is calling you to true love – to make that effort.
I’m not married, so I want to borrow a final thought from George Dalton, a Christian writer who is:
I never look at my wife without saying a prayer of thanksgiving for her wonderful parents. Have I always been the perfect son-in-law? No, do you think the apostle Peter was the perfect son-in law? Probably not, because he was human just like we are, but we know he had a mother –in-law, and I’ll bet he loved her and honoured her.
Dalton invites each one of you to make a decision to show God’s love to all of your in-laws and awkward relatives. He notes that at first, if you change your behaviour, they’ll think you’re taking the mickey – but if you love them for long enough, they’ll realize that you really mean it!