Mutual understanding, respect, dialogue, communication, correction and forgiveness are some of the key attributes to raising a family in holiness, says Fr. Charbel

Nobody wants to hurt those whom he or she loves, and nobody wants to be hurt; but the fact is: we hurt only the people who love us, and are hurt only by those whom we love. To love is to make oneself vulnerable, to accept to depend on the other. For this simple reason, ‘family’ if it is the place of many joys and happiness, it is also the place where most of us get the greatest sufferings and some of our deepest wounds. Now, how to deal with that?

The art to stand in the other’s shoes…

Love cannot grow if mutual understanding and respect does not grow. Love demands to be interested in the other, in his or her way of thinking, feeling, reacting; to try to understand him or her more and more deeply. When a relationship breaks down, the root of the problem is usually not a lack of love but a lack of understanding. This growing in understanding, especially between man and woman in a married couple, is a never-ending process. The day one of the two thinks, that he or she has nothing to learn about, or from the other, the relationship is dead.

This understanding demands to be able to stand in the other’s shoe, to consider things and events not only as revolving around me but to go out of myself, to de-center myself and see things with the other’s eyes. The ancient philosopher Aristotle wrote that in friendship, my friend becomes for me, another self. This is it ! The one I love is for me another self because I search for his or her happiness and good, as for mine. But let us be careful, that which is good for him or her might not be identical to that which is good for me and that is where love needs to develop its own insight.

We all know people who present their friends or family members with a gift that would have pleased their own self, but in fact does not please the one who receives it. We often fall in that kind of trap in many ways.

Simplicity and trust

Genuine communication and dialogue demands simplicity and trust; the knowledge, that I will be received and not judged, welcomed and listened to. “Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life. Yet it can only be the fruit of a long and demanding apprenticeship. Men and women, young people and adults, communicate differently. They speak different languages and they act in different ways. Our way of asking and responding to questions, the tone we use, our timing and any number of other factors condition how well we communicate. We need to develop certain attitudes that express love and encourage authentic dialogue.” 1Pope Francis lists a few of these: to take time for each other, to be able to put aside my own worries in order to really listen to the other, to value other’s point of view, to learn to take advantage of differences in opinions, feelings, to love and share deep things. All this fosters an atmosphere of trust and simple sharing, which is necessary for love to grow. In case of crisis, these will give the necessary foundation to overcome difficulties and misunderstanding.

Correcting each other?

Sometimes corrections have to be given: “you have hurt me” “Please could you avoid doing this?” But, these, should always be done in humility and not in anger, always having at heart the good of the person to whom I speak, and not the satisfaction of my feeling or venting of my irritation, not even the efficient result. The first motivation for correcting someone should be his or her own good. It demands great finesse, and in order to make a correction acceptable and useful, we need to find the right time, the right way and the right words. None of us are perfect and we are all here to help each other on our walk towards holiness, and married people especially, are companions and helpers on that path. However, it does not mean that they have to try to educate each other. “I have to change him or her”. No! They need to receive and love each other as they are but help each other to walk closer to Christ. Pestering each other is usually not the best way for that.

To forgive and to ask for forgiveness

To forgive is not to forget or to give a clean slate. It is much more than that. It means making use of the evil done, to love more than before. This is a miracle realised by God’s mercy, for example when we go to confession. But this is also what we are called to practice among ourselves. Everything and everyone can be forgiven, 70 times 7 times with the help of God’s grace. But for forgiveness to bear all its fruits of reconciliation and a greater love, it has to be asked and then, given. It also has to be mutual, because only then the grace of God can bear all its fruits. To ask forgiveness from one’s spouse, one’s parents, one’s children, one’s siblings, etc., demands humility. But it is also an immense source of joy! A family should be a place where we wash each other’s feet, following the example and commandment of Jesus at the last supper. Then, it will be a place of peace and joy, growing in holiness.

Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 136


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Fr Charbel, originally from France and from the community of St John, is currently living in Pondicherry, India. He goes around preaching retreats and actively supporting youth and young families, especially with marriage issues and discerning vocation. He is currently the Chaplain for JY Tamilnadu.