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One of the most intense highlights of Amoris Laetitia is that the Church recognises the family as ‘the principal SUBJECT of family ministry’. In the marriage celebration, the bride and the groom are the ministers. The deacon or the priest only receive and ratify the consent they exchange. It is the core of the 'sacrament', the 'yes' between Christ and the Church.

200. “The Synod Fathers emphasized that Christian families, by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, are the principal agents of the family apostolate, above all through ‘their joy-filled witness as domestic churches’.

Chapter VI asks the family, as the subject of family pastoral care, to ACCOMPANY: it is the family that becomes close to other families, in all the stages of their formation, stability and growth, above all, in moments of crisis, in difficult moments and in painful situations, the old-age or the moment of facing the mystery of death.

The family is the GOOD SHEPHERD: like Mary at Cana, it is attentive to the needs of others; like the Good Samaritan - on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho - it is ready to help its suffering neighbours; it is the One who sits at the well where the Samaritan woman comes to draw water and gives words of salvation; it is the One who writes on the ground and does not judge but invites you to change your life while those around you already have stones in their hands ready to stone you; it is the One who walks beside you on Easter Sunday evening and restores hope and joy to those who are disappointed and dismayed.

Pope Francis insists on this closeness, on the presence to walk together from the very beginning of the life of a new family:

“I encourage Christian communities to recognise the great benefit that they themselves receive from supporting engaged couples as they grow in love.” (AL 207)

If it is a commitment for the whole Church community, it is all the more a ministry, a gift/service, especially for families and spouses.

208. With the help of missionary families, the couple’s own families and a variety of pastoral resources, ways should also be found to offer a remote preparation that, by example and good advice…For every couple, marriage preparation begins at birth. What they received from their family should prepare them to know themselves and to make a full and definitive commitment. Those best prepared for marriage are probably those who learned what Christian marriage is from their own parents, who chose each other unconditionally and daily renew this decision. In this sense, pastoral initiatives aimed at helping married couples to grow in love and in the Gospel of the family also help their children, by preparing them for their future married life.

‘Presence’ is a fundamental dimension of the pedagogy/spirituality we have inherited from Don Bosco, to the point that Fr. Ángel Fernández Artime, the Rector Major, did not hesitate to use the concept of the

‘sacrament of presence’, to say how important and life-giving it is to be and walk alongside young people, just as Don Bosco did and taught us to do.

The same language and above all the same reality comes into play in the accompaniment of families and of married couples. It is a formidable support at the beginning of the journey but it is all the more so at various stages in which each couple and family lives.

211. Both short-term and long-term marriage preparation should ensure that the couple do not view the wedding ceremony as the end of the road, but instead embark upon marriage as a life-long calling based on a firm and realistic decision to face all trials and difficult moments together. The pastoral care of engaged and married couples should be centred on the marriage bond, assisting couples not only to deepen their love but also to overcome problems and difficulties.

Cultivating love and overcoming hardships is a learning process that one never ends, both on a personal level, as couples and in bringing up children.

There is an old-fashioned word that captures well this learning and acquiring skills: training. The reference to sports is not out of place, because already in Paul's letters, this ‘concept’ used athletes as an example: "Whoever is an athlete is temperate in all things" (1 Cor: 9:25).

Temperance was so important to Don Bosco that in his writings to the Salesians he used as his motto both ‘Da mihi animas cetera tolle’ and ‘Work and temperance’. For him, they had the same weight.

Being moderate, inspired by knowing how to sacrifice oneself for the good of others, is an indispensable factor for growing in love as a family, whatever our position in it may be, husband or wife, parent or child, brother or sister. Not being a family as it should be leads to crises that backtrack and divide, instead of making us unite and walk ahead.

In the Charter of the Charismatic Identity of the Salesian Family, there is an article that carries as the title the motto of Don Bosco: Work and Temperance (art. 34)

“The exercise of apostolic charity includes the need for conversion and purification, in other words, the death of the old man/woman so that the new man/woman may be born, live and grow, who in the image of Jesus, the Apostle of the Father, is ready to sacrifice himself/herself every day in apostolic work. Giving oneself means emptying oneself and allowing oneself to be filled by God so as to give Him to others. Detachment, renunciation, sacrifice are essential elements, not only because of any taste for asceticism, but fundamentally by the logic of love.”

This character of love, which is communicated first of all by example both in the family and among families, gives the energy and strength needed for the journey, with its seasons and stages, outlined by Pope Francis in a precise way in 7 stages (numbered within the quote to identify them more easily):

220. This process occurs in various stages that call for generosity and sacrifice. (1) The first powerful feelings of attraction give way to the realization (2) that the other is now a part of my life. (3) The pleasure of belonging to one another (4) leads to seeing life as a common project, (5) putting the other’s happiness ahead of my own, (6) and realizing with joy that this marriage enriches society. As love matures, (7) it also learns to ‘negotiate’.

Far from anything selfish or calculating, such negotiation is an exercise of mutual love, an interplay of give and take, for the good of the family.

At each new stage of married life, there is a need to sit down and renegotiate agreements, so that there will be no winners and losers, but rather two winners.

In the home, decisions cannot be made unilaterally, since each spouse shares responsibility for the family; yet each home is unique and each marriage will find an arrangement that works best.

It is important to take note of the last sentence: ‘each home is unique and each marriage will find an arrangement that works best.’

Accompanying is never a substitute for the other, whether it be an individual, a married couple or a family. Here we come back to what we discussed last month:

Fostering growth means helping a person to shape his or her own identity. Love is thus a kind of craftsmanship” (AL 221).

In the life of a family, there is a sacred moment when discernment and choice in love is experienced in a unique way with an openness to the mystery that goes far beyond the mere life of the couple: the choice to communicate life to a new creature who will be first and foremost a child of God.

“The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God” (AL 222).

Children make us feel one with the Salesian spirit that Don Bosco communicated to us: "It is enough that you are young for me to love you".

Pope Francis asks us to give them absolute priority and the fullest accompaniment in love, all the more so when they find themselves in difficult situations for which they are not responsible but have to carry/suffer the greatest burden.

246. The Church, while appreciating the situations of conflict that are part of marriage, cannot fail to speak out on behalf of those who are most vulnerable: the children who often suffer in silence. Today, “despite our seemingly evolved sensibilities and all our refined psychological analyses, I ask myself if we are not becoming numb to the hurt in children’s souls... Do we feel the immense psychological burden borne by children in families where the members mistreat and hurt one another, to the point of breaking the bonds of marital fidelity?” Such harmful experiences do not help children to grow in the maturity needed to make definitive commitments. For this reason, Christian communities must not abandon divorced parents who have entered a new union, but should include and support them in their efforts to bring up their children. “How can we encourage those parents to do everything possible to raise their children in the Christian life, to give them an example of committed and practical faith, if we keep them at arm’s length from the life of the community, as if they were somehow excommunicated? We must keep from acting in a way that adds even more to the burdens that children in these situations already have to bear!”

Helping heal the wounds of parents and supporting them spiritually is also beneficial for children, who need the familiar face of the Church to see them through this traumatic experience.

This is an appeal made to everyone. It must be lived all the more fully by those who are inspired by the charism of Don Bosco and his mission. He made the choice of the neediest young people the driving force behind all his tireless apostolic activity.

Points for personal reflection and sharing

- To be a GOOD SHEPHERD as a couple and as a family: how much is this mission part of my/our way of understanding our life at home? Is there any couple or family ‘on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho’ near my house, waiting for us, to reach out as a good shepherd dressed as a good Samaritan?

- ‘Sacrament of presence’ as a family. Reflecting on my/our life story, can I/we go back to those couples/families who have left an important mark on my/our path? What can I learn from them and imitate in my/our life today?

- ‘Work and TEMPERANCE’: what ‘practices of self-giving’, in the daily rhythm of life within the confines of the home could help me/us become more and more capable of loving?

- Be welcoming towards all children, especially those from families in difficult situations. How much is already being done, and what else can be done?

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