As we gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day and in the weeks ahead at a multitude of Christmas and Advent celebrations, let us pray that we gather with the sense of “conviviality” — sharing of life — that Pope Francis spoke about in mid-November.
Addressing thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 11, Pope Francis said conviviality involves sharing the “goods of life” and being “happy to do so.”
“Its symbol, its icon is the family gathered around the table, partaking of a meal together — and therefore not merely food, but also sentiments, stories and events,” he said. “Conviviality is a sure thermometer for measuring the health of relations: If in the family there is a problem or a hidden trouble, you understand immediately at the table.”
Conviviality is a big word for those moments at the table when all seems well — when we’re laughing, taking comfort in the company of those we love and passing the gravy.
Unfortunately, that’s only part of the story. As Pope Francis points out, sometimes there is trouble at the table. Families are composed of people, and people are imperfect creatures.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz recognizes this and has urged the church to embrace both the “wounds” and the joys found in today’s families.
During the Synod of Bishops on the family, held in October at the Vatican, Archbishop Kurtz suggested something wonderful. He recommended that families become “active agents” in the church’s mission to evangelize, despite of and because of their struggles.
“Families face challenges and are wounded, yes, but they also possess incredible vitality and strength,” he said during his brief address. “As the synod seeks to offer concrete solutions to the many difficulties families face, we must enlist the help of the family itself in a very deliberate way and provide families with the formation they need to be active agents of evangelization.
“We need families who can witness — even through their own wounds and difficulties — to the beauty of marriage and family life,” he said.
This notion, that we can minister in our brokenness, because of our brokenness, should be inspiring to all of us. It’s a relief, really.
It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to heal our wounds. Reconciliation must be central to this endeavor. And there is no better time to consider reconciliation than now, as Pope Francis prepares for the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will begin on Dec. 8, the day we celebrate the Immaculate Conception. During this year, he hopes we will return to the sacrament of reconciliation and attend to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. (For more information, visit the Vatican’s official Year of Mercy website at www.im.va.)
Let us approach this season of family gatherings and the coming year as one family, seeking and sharing God’s mercy as we pray the Holy Father’s prayer for the Year of Mercy:
Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us your face and we will be saved. Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief. Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified. You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.