I don’t know if you all have noticed but there have been no tweets from Pope Francis in November. I posted on his twitter account today (@pontifex) that I missed his frequent mini- catecheses.
I did not write a column yesterday nor did I post on Facebook because I spent the morning researching information about Pope Francis’ trip to Prato and Florence for my afternoon commentary in English for EWTN’s coverage of the papal Mass in a Florentine stadium. I had to translate the homily into English and that took some time as well. It was only a day trip but it was certainly a fascinating one and, as one bishop said after the papal address to the 2,500 participants in the Fifth National Ecclesial Congress – the reason for the Pope’s visit – “Pope Francis, with his address, just gave the Italian church an encyclical!”
In his speech to the Convention members the Holy Father truly defined what he felt the Catholic Church – and not just in Italy – should be. I posted that talk on Facebook as well as his speech in the morning in Prato, not far from Florence, where he spoke of the “cancer of corruption” and appealed against the exploitation of workers.
Today I want to focus on the great catechesis of the general audience where Pope Francis, in some very serious moments and a few amusing ones as well, spoke of the importance of family “togetherness,” especially around the dinner table, something, he said, that seems to be disappearing from many cultures.
Right now I can just picture many of you nodding your heads at that sentence, sonething you’ll do when you read the catechesis as well! You are thinking of the after school events that go so late your kids have to either forfeit a sport event or some club or forfeit dinner. And guess who wins? Most of the time it is the school, the extra-curricular event! Or the cell phone, the tablet or the TV – they are also big “winners” for attention. I’d actually call them interlopers!
A subtitle for the following story could be the headline used by one Italian publication: “Silence the cell phone, not the family members.”
THE FAMILY THAT EATS TOGETHER, STAYS TOGETHER
A dense fog enveloped Rome this morning but had pretty much lifted by the time Pope Francis arrived in St. Peter’s Square to start the general audience. The dome of St. Peter’s basilica gradually came into view as the faithful gathered to hear the Pope talk about family “togetherness,” especially at mealtime, a trait that seems to be disappearing from so many homes. His catechesis could be summarized by paraphrasing Fr. Peyton’s famous “The family that prays together stays together” as “the family that eats together, stays together.”
Francis said that the unity – or lack thereof – in a family can be seen at table. A sure measurement, a barometer, of healthy relations in a family, occurs when, around the family table, all or most of the children are gathered, the father has the pleasure of looking his childrenn in the face rather than looking at TV, and the children are looking at their parents with pleasure instead of looking at their tablets.
Family conviviality is essential not only to the family, said Francis, but to society as a whole. It is a precious virtue whose practice does not seem to be too widespread today.
“A family who hardly ever eats together,” said the Pope, “or where no one at the table speaks but only looks at television or their smart phone is barely a family, when the children at the table are attached to the computer to their cell phone and don’t even listen to each other, this is not a family these are pensioners, retired people. We must find a way to recover things at table. People should speak, people should listen, There must be no silences, when there is silence, it is not the silence of monks but the silence of ego. Each one has their own television or computer and no one is speaking. No, No, no silences. Please, let’s recover that family conviviality even if we have to adapt it to the times.”
The Holy Father also noted that rich countries so often spend a great deal for excessive nourishment and then they spend a lot again to remedy that excess. And this, he said, “takes away our attention from true hunger, hunger of the body and the soul. When there is no conviviality, there’s egoism, each one thinking of themselves: We forget to reflect on how too many brothers and sisters do not even get to the table. It’s a shame, it really is shameful, right!”
Francis said, “Christianity has a special vocation to conviviality, as we all know. The Lord Jesus taught at the table, and represented the Kingdom of God as a festive banquet. Jesus also chose to consign to the disciples His spiritual testament at the table, condensed in the memorial gesture of His Sacrifice.” He explained that from the model of the Eucharist of Christ’s sharing at the Last Supper comes the most beautiful icon of the family, a family united around a “domestic dinner table” that we feel where we feel the sharing of the lives of family members.
“The symbol of conviviality, its icon,” noted the Pope, “is the family gathered around the table, partaking of a meal together – and therefore not merely food, but also sentiments, stories, and events. It is a fundamental experience. When there is a celebration – a birthday, an anniversary – the family gathers around the table. In some cultures it is customary to do so also following bereavement, to stay close to those who suffer for the loss of a family member.”
The Holy Father explained that, “the togetherness we experience in our families is meant, in the family of the Church, to extend to all as a sign of God’s universal love. In this way the Eucharist becomes a school of inclusion, in which we learn to be attentive to the needs of everyone. Sadly, the family meal, this great symbol of togetherness, is disappearing in some societies. Food itself, the very sign of our sharing with other, is wantonly wasted in some places, while our brothers and sisters go hungry in others. The Eucharist reminds us that our bread is meant to be shared with all.”