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Posted by on May 18, 2015

Pope Francis – Three Words for Family Harmony

Pope Francis – Three Words for Family Harmony

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome – Public Domain CCO

On Wednesday May 13 at his General Audience in St Peter’s square Pope Francis gave a short address on the three words that are key to family happiness and well being. The three words in Spanish that are essential for health relationships are permiso, gracias, y perdón. In English they are phrases: “May I”,”Thank you!”, and “Forgive Me.”

The Pope said that sometimes in our culture these expressions are seen as a sign of weakness as opposed to a true statement of our respect and affection in our intimate relationships. He stressed the need for this respect for the dignity of our spouses, children and other family members as central to living our faith. Without this underlying bedrock respect and affection, these key relationships can rupture and damage everyone in the process.

Asking for permission is key to affirming others and makes our relationship more intimate and strong. Expressing our thanks is more than a social formality. It is a recognition and validation of our loved ones and an expression of our appreciation for their love. Most importantly, we are showing that we are aware of how important our loved ones are to us. The most difficult, according to the Pope, is “Forgive me.” Conflicts and disagreements — even arguments — are part of any honest relationship. Pope Francis even alludes to serious incidents in which “plates fly.” What is key is to ask forgiveness. Pope Francis advises us to be reconciled with each other before the end of the day. This might not always be possible since we might need more time to cool down. However, Pope Francis is making the point that being reconciled has to be done sooner rather than later to demonstrate that the strength of our love is greater than any disagreement or frustration we may have with each other.

A note on cultural differences may be helpful here. Latin cultures tend to deal with stress by externalizing it. Italian opera is a good example of this. Generally, upset and irritation are not internalized. Voices rise, arms start waving, and everything seems over the top by North Atlantic English-speaking standards. For non-Latin cultures, the expression of stress is usually more muted.  The feelings are not necessarily less intense. Sometimes they are more intense since they are being internalized. This type of culturally conditioned response to conflict requires a different, more low key response. The three expressions still apply but we need to be attentive to the way our families perceive and deal with conflict. Anger, dissension, and disillusionment provide opportunities to uncover and resolve deeper conflicts. Professional help from a skilled counselor can be very useful to avoid undermining and destroying our bonds of love and affection. Politeness, courtesy, and respect are important in our speech, but they also have to be accompanied by changed behavior. As St. Ignatius Loyola says in the Spiritual Exercises “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” These three expressions are important deeds. They are much more than words and can open the door to improved behavior and the mutual acceptance and loving response to challenges that are central to being happy and making a happy home.

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