by Elise Harris
– Family wounds that aren’t dealt with in a healthy and timely manner can have devastating effects on both spouses and children, Pope Francis has said, and encouraged wounded families to work toward healing without letting bitterness build up.
“We know well that every family on occasion suffers moments when one family member offends another,” the Pope told pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his June 24 general audience.
The resulting wounds “come from words, actions and omissions which instead of expressing love, hurt those nearest and dearest, causing deep divisions among family members, above all between husband and wife,” he noted.
Hiding these hurts “only deepens such wounds,” and can lead to a buildup of anger and friction between loved ones, the Pope continued.
“If these wounds are not healed in time, they worsen and turn into resentment and hostility, which (then) fall to the children,” he cautioned, adding that when the wounds are particularly deep, “they can even lead a spouse to search for understanding elsewhere, to the detriment of the family.”
Pope Francis’ address was the latest in a series of catechesis dedicated to the family. Since late last fall, the Pope has been centering his Wednesday addresses on this theme as part of the lead-up to the World Meeting of Families in September, as well as October’s Synod of Bishops on the Family.
His most recent speeches have focused on the fragility of the human condition, poverty, illness in the family, and the death of family members.
In today’s address on family wounds, Francis noted how when one family member offends another it’s easy to get lost in the hurt and think only about oneself. Those who suffer the most from this are the children, he said.
“When parents hurt each other, the soul of the children suffers and they are deeply marked,” he said, explaining that “In the family everything is intertwined.”
“Spouses are ‘one flesh’ in such a way that all wounds and abandonments affect the living flesh which is their children,” the Pope continued. He said Jesus’ words on the “serious responsibility” of guarding the marital bond are proof of this.
Pope Francis continued with the topic of children in wounded families, saying that despite all of our “refined psychological analysis” and our “apparent advanced sensitivity” toward children, we have become “anesthetized” to the wounds often inflicted on children’s souls.
He said that the more one tries to compensate for hurt with “gifts and snacks,” the more one loses their awareness of the deepest and most painful wounds that children can suffer.
“We speak a lot about behavioral problems, mental health, the well-being of the child, the anxiety of the parents and the children – but do we even know what a wound of the soul is?” he asked.
“Do we feel the weight of the mountain that crushes the soul of a child in families where there is wrongdoing and it does harm up to the point of breaking the bond of marital fidelity? What effect do our choices – often poor choices – have on the soul of children?”
When parents hurt and do wrong to each other, their children greatly suffer and can even feel a sense “of despair,” which leaves deep wounds that mark them for life, Francis observed.
He noted how there are some situations in which separation of families is “inevitable” and even “morally necessary” due to severe problems caused by arrogance, violence, humiliation, exploitation, extraneousness, and indifference.
Although he said he doesn’t like the term “irregular” family situations, the Pope stressed that persons involved in these cases need to be helped, and that the Church and community of believers must reflect on ways to accompany them.
Francis also acknowledged that despite the many broken and wounded families in the world, there are also many cases in which spouses, “out of faith and love for their children, continue giving witness of their fidelity to the bond in which they have believed.”
The Pope concluded by praying for both a “strong faith” in order to see the reality of family life with God’s eyes, and for “a deep love to approach all families with his merciful heart.”
He also offered prayers for all families passing through difficulties, asking that they learn how to overcome and heal their wounds without causing division and bitterness.
“May Jesus Christ heal every wound present in the life of your families, and may he make you witnesses of his mercy and love.”