How Family Teaches Us

By Elise Harris

Vatican City, CNA/EWTN News — Pope Francis chose the family as his theme for this year’s World Communications Day, saying that, as the first place we learn to communicate, families teach us to go out of ourselves and encounter others.

“In the family, we learn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together,” the Pope said in his Jan. 23 message for the 49th World Day of Communications.

To be able to do this with people that we didn’t choose and are yet so important to us “greatly helps us to understand the meaning of communication as recognizing and creating closeness,” he said.

In his message, entitled “Communicating the Family:  A Privileged Place of Encounter with the Gift of Love,” the pontiff recalled how John the Baptist leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb after hearing Mary’s greeting.

What this show us, he noted, is that the joy of meeting others is something we learn even before our birth.

To encounter others means “to open doors, not remaining closed in our little world, but rather going out to others,” the Pope said, noting that the family “becomes alive as it reaches beyond itself.”

“Families who do so communicate their message of life and communication, giving comfort and hope to more fragile families, and thus build up the Church herself, which is the family of families.”

He also stressed the fact that perfect families don’t exist, and said that we shouldn’t be afraid of imperfections, weakness or even conflict in family life, but instead should learn to deal with them constructively.

As the primary context in which human beings learn to communicate, the family is a key model for how to relate to others. Focusing on family life in terms of communication, the Pope said, will help to make our interactions “more authentic and humane,” and enable us to see the family in a new light.

In a world immersed in violence and in which many frequently curse, use foul language, speak poorly of others, and “sow discord and poison” through gossip, the family teaches us that “communication is a blessing,” the bishop of Rome observed.

“In situations apparently dominated by hatred and violence, where families are separated by stone walls or the impenetrable walls of prejudice and resentment … it is only by blessing rather than cursing, by visiting rather that repelling, that we can break the spiral of evil (and) show that goodness is always possible,” he said.

Pope Francis then turned to the media, saying that they can be both a help and a hindrance to authentic communication.

Media can be a hindrance to the extent that they become a way of avoiding others and evading physical contact, the Roman Pontiff noted. He spoke of the importance of having silence and rest as an essential part of each day.

On the other hand, media can help communication when they are geared toward helping people share stories, stay in contact, thanking others or asking forgiveness, he said, observing how media can also lead to new personal encounters.

“The great challenge facing us today is to learn once again how to talk to one another” rather than simply generating and consuming information, the pontiff explained.

Although information is important, “it is not enough,” he said, noting that often times what we see becomes simplified, and frequently positions and persons are pitted against each other.

Family life, the pontiff said, “is not a subject of debate or a terrain for ideological skirmishes, (but) rather an environment in which we learn to communicate in an experience of closeness.”

He noted how media can have the tendency to portray the family as “abstract” or as something that needs to be “accepted or rejected” or “defended or attacked” rather than as a living reality.

However, as a community that provides help and celebrates life, the family “continues to be a rich human resource, as opposed to a problem or an institution in crisis,” he said.

The Roman Pontiff concluded his message by affirming that families should be seen as a resource rather than societal problem, and said that when at their best, families actively communicate to the world the “beauty and richness” of the love between a man and a woman, and between parents and children.

“We are not fighting to defend the past, (but) rather, with patience and trust, we are working to build a better future for the world in which we live,” he observed.