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General Audience: three key expressions for family life

General Audience: three key expressions for family life

“May I?”, “thank you”,
“pardon me”. The “three key expressions for family life” were proposed
by Francis to the faithful who
took part in the General Audience of Wednesday, 13 May, in St Peter’s Square. They are the
expressions of someone who is “well-mannered”, the Pope explained, specifying
that this is not “a kind of formalism that masks a dryness of soul and indifference
toward the other person”, but a habit of relating that is “rooted in love for
the good and respect for the other”. The following is a translation of the
catechesis, which was delivered in Italian.

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

Today’s catechesis will
serve as a doorway to a series of reflections on family life and what it’s
really like to live in a family, day in and day out. Imagine three expressions
written above the doorway; expressions I’ve already mentioned here in Saint
Peter’s Square several times before. The expressions are: “may I?”, “thank
you”, and “pardon me”. Indeed, these expressions open up the way to living well
in your family, to living in peace. They are simple expressions, but not so
simple to put into practice! They hold much power: the power to keep the home
life intact even when tested with a thousand problems. But if they are absent,
little holes can start to crack open and the whole thing may even

We usually include these
expressions under the general category of being “well-mannered”. Okay, a
well-mannered person asks permission, says thanks, and asks to be excused after
making a mistake. Very well. But good manners really are that important. A
great Bishop, Francis de Sales, used to say that “good manners are are already
half the way to holiness”. But be careful: history has shown that good manners
also can become a kind of formalism that masks a dryness of soul and
indifference toward the other person. It is often said, “behind a lot of good
manners lurk a lot of bad habits”. Not even religion is immune from the risk of
having formal observance sink into spiritual worldliness. The Devil, tempting
Jesus, boasts of good manners. Indeed, he presents himself as a gentleman, a
knight in shining armor. He even presents himself as a theologian by quoting
Holy Scripture. He appears to have everything right and neat on the outside,
but his intent is always to lead others astray from the truth of God’s love.
We, however, mean “good manners” only in the most authentic way, according to which the habit of
cultivating good relations is firmly rooted in a love for the good and a
respect for the other person. The family lives according to this refined sense
of loving.

Let’s look at these
expressions: the first expression is, “may I?” When we take care to ask for
something kindly – even something we think we have a rightful claim to – we
help to strengthen the common life that undergirds marriage and the family. To
enter into the life of another, even when that person already has a part to
play in our life, demands the sensitivity of a non-invasive attitude which
renews trust and respect. Indeed, the deeper and more intimate love is, the
more it calls for a respect for the freedom of the other and the ability to wait
until he or she opens the door to the heart. At this point, we can remember the
words of Jesus in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door
and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him
and eat with him, and he with me” (3:20). Even the Lord asks permission to
enter! Let us not forget that. Before doing anything in your family, ask: “Do
you mind if I do this? Would you like me to do this?” This way of asking is
well-mannered indeed, but it is also full of love. This does so much good for

The second expression is
“thank you”. Sometimes we have to wonder if we are turning into a civilization
of bad manners and bad words, as if this were a sign of self-liberation. It’s
not uncommon to hear these bad words publicly. Kindness and the ability to say
thanks are often considered a sign of weakness and raise the suspicion of
others. This tendency is encountered even within the nucleus of the family. We
must become firmly determined to educate others to be grateful and
appreciative: the dignity of the person and social justice must both pass
through the portal of the family. If family life neglects this style of living,
social life will also reject it. Gratitude, however, stands at the very core of
the faith of the believer. A Christian who does not know how to thank has lost
the very “language” of God. This is terrible! Let’s not forget Jesus’s question
after he heals the ten lepers and only one of them returns to thank him (Luke
17:18). I remember once listening to a very wise, old person; very simple, but
with that uncommon wisdom of life and piety: “Gratitude is a plant that grows
only in the soil of noble souls”. That nobility of soul, that grace of God in
the soul compels us to say “thanks” in gratitude. It is the flower of a noble
soul. This really is something beautiful.

The third expression is “excuse me”. Granted, it’s not always easy to
say, but it is so necessary. Whenever it is lacking, the little cracks begin to
open up – even when we don’t want them to – and they can even become enormous
sinkholes. It’s hardly insignificant that in the “Our Father” that Jesus
teaches us – a prayer that sums up all of life’s essential questions – we find
this expression: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass
against us” (Matt 6:16). To acknowledge that we have fallen short, to be
desirous of returning that which has been taken away – respect, sincerity, love
– these make us worthy of pardon. This is how we heal the infection. If we are
not able to forgive ourselves, then we are no longer able to forgive period. A house in which the words “I’m
sorry” are never uttered begins to lack air, and the flood waters begin to
choke those who live inside. So many wounds, so many cuts and bruises are the
result of a lack of these precious words: “I am sorry”. Marriage life is so
often torn apart by fights … the “plates will even start flying”, but let me
give you a word of advice: never finish the day without making peace with one
another. Listen to me carefully: have you fought with your wife or husband?
Kids – have you fought with your parents? Did you fight hard? That’s not a good thing, but that’s not really the problem:
the problem arises only if this feeling hangs over into the next day. So if
you’ve fought, do not let the day end without making peace with your family.
And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No! Just by a
small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be
restored. Just a little caress, no words necessary. But don’t let the sun go
down on your family without having made your peace. Do you understand me? It’s
not easy, but you have to do it. It will help to make life so much more

So these are three key expressions for family life are really simple
words; so simple that perhaps they even bring a grin to our face. But when we
forget them, it’s no laughing matter, right? Perhaps we overlook our good
manners too often. May the Lord help us to put them back where they belong: in
our hearts, in our houses, and in our civic life. These are the words that
truly enter into the love of a family.

Special Groups

I offer an affectionate greeting to all the English-speaking pilgrims
and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Sweden,
Taiwan, Cameroon and the United States.
May Jesus Christ strengthen you and your families in faith, so that you
may be a sign to the world of his love and mercy. May God bless you all!

I address a special thought to young people, to the sick and to
newlyweds. Today is the liturgical memory of the Blessed Virgin of Fatima. Dear
young people, learn to cultivate a devotion to the Mother of God with the daily
recitation of the Rosary; dear sick people, feel Mary present at the hour of
the Cross and you, dear newlyweds, pray to her that love and mutual respect
never be lacking in your home.

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