Every year, on New Year's Day, the Pope gives the world a message for the World Day of Peace. Pope Francis gave us his first this year which is entitled, Fraternity, The Foundation and Pathway to Peace. In his message, the Pope stresses many of the messages which he has given to us in the relatively short time of his ministry. These messages are ones which have been eagerly accepted by the world because they are ones which we long to hear. They are also readily accepted from the Pope because the world sees that he lives the message he proclaims. These messages of peace, hope, love, acceptance, forgiveness, the need to reach out to the poor, the need to share our resources with others, and the desire to live a joyful life are all in the Pope’s message for World Day of Peace this year.
Pope Francis begins his message by reminding us that fraternity is a fundamental quality of human life since we are relational beings. When God created us in His image and likeness, He created us to live in the relationship of the love that He is in the Trinity. Fraternity draws us into a fellowship with one another allowing us to live as brothers and sisters. The Pope reflects that it is in the family that true fraternity is fostered and from the family fraternity goes out to all the world. Pope Francis says, "The family is the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to all the world around it." It is easy to understand the Pope’s words in the context of the Trinity which is the wellspring of all love.
Having just celebrated Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Family as well as the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God on New Year's Day, we realize how important family life is to all of us. During the season of Christmas, we gathered with our families, traveled to be with them and experienced many happy times with them. The celebration of Christmas also brought some painful experiences that are part of family life. Perhaps the memories of the loss of loved ones affected us or maybe the tensions and misunderstandings that occur among families were heightened during the holiday season. We all know that the Christmas season brings many images of the perfect family and experiencing that our families are far from the perfect family, but striving for it, can also bring feelings of discouragement. However, it is in the family, with all its imperfections and even failures, that we are ultimately accepted as who we are with all of our own faults and imperfections. It is especially this message of love and acceptance in the family which shines forth to the world as the meaning of true fraternity which brings peace to our lives and to the world.
As we continue to celebrate this joyful time of the year, there is a perfect family that stands before us. It is that of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This family had many difficulties in regard to sufferings, challenges, poverty and even not being accepted. Mary and Joseph could not find lodging during the census and ultimately the Son of God was born in the most imperfect situation of a manger. However, it was the love that shone from that manger which is the perfection of the Holy Family. It was this love, in fraternity, which enabled Jesus, Mary and Joseph to face the hardships of their lives, supporting each other, and to transcend them in joyful hope. As Mary stood beneath the Cross of her beloved Son, unjustly crucified as a criminal, it was love that enabled her to believe in the promise of her Son.
As we begin this New Year, it is good for us to reflect upon the importance of family life for each of us. We need to take more time to be with our families and to nurture each other in love. We need to strive to give our families what is best for them which may not always be the best of material goods but unconditional love. Such love can only be fostered in the context of being with each other. As we make New Year's resolutions, we can think about resolutions that will help our families to grow in love by spending more time with them. Many times, because of the many demands in our lives, it is difficult for families to have regular meals together. We should take every opportunity to eat with our families. We especially should take every opportunity to pray with our families and to participate in the Eucharist as a family. The fraternity of the family is what will bring more joy to our lives and enable us to share that joy with others. In this regard, the Holy Family stands as a perfect model for us.
The message of Pope Francis for the World Day of Peace centers on the importance of building fraternity within the world and society. All of us are especially aware of this need which manifests itself in so many ways. By realizing our dependence on each other as brothers and sisters, made in the image and likeness of God, in the human family we are able to build a world of peace and justice. However, we learn the importance of fraternity from our own families where it is lived most fully. As we begin this New Year, let us look to the Holy Family as a model of perfect family life in the midst of many trials and tribulations. Let us learn from their prayer, silence, labor and fraternity of what the meaning of life is all about. Let us especially be resolved to take more time to be with and to pray with our families for in them we live the meaning of love.
A blessed New Year to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 3, 2014