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Around the dinner table

· At the General Audience the Pontiff speaks about conviviality ·

Conviviality is “a sure thermometer for measuring the health of relationships”, the Pontiff said, as he met with the faithful at the General Audience in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday, 11 November. Before beginning the catechesis Francis invited the faithful to pray for the conference of the Italian Church taking place in Florence. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis, which was delivered in Italian.

In these days the Church of Italy is celebrating its National Conference in Florence; cardinals, bishops, consecrated people, lay people, all together. I invite you to pray to Our Lady, a Hail Mary for them. [Hail Mary]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Good morning!

Today we will reflect upon a distinctive quality of family life which is learned in the very first years of life: conviviality, in other words the attitude of sharing life’s goods and being happy to be able to do so. Sharing and knowing how to share is a priceless virtue! It’s symbol, its “icon”, is the family gathered around the dinner table. The sharing of meals — and thus, in addition to food, also of affection, of stories, of events — is a basic experience. When there is a celebration, a birthday, an anniversary, we gather around the table. In some cultures it is also customary to do so in bereavement, to be close to those who are suffering the loss of a family member.

Conviviality is a sure thermometer for measuring the health of relationships: if in a family there is something gone awry, or some hidden wound, it is immediately understood at the table. A family that hardly ever eats together, or that does not talk at the table but watches television, or looks at a smartphone, is a “barely familial” family. When at the table children are attached to a computer, to a mobile phone, and do not listen to each other, this is not a family, it is a boarding house.

Christianity has a special vocation to conviviality, everyone knows this. The Lord Jesus gladly taught at the table, and sometimes portrayed the Kingdom of God as a festive banquet. Jesus also chose the table to consign to his disciples his spiritual testament — he did so at dinner — embodied in the memorial gesture of his Sacrifice: the gift of his Body and of his Blood as salvific Food and Drink, which nourish true and lasting love.

From this perspective we can well say that the family is “at home” at Mass, precisely because it brings to the Eucharist its own experience of conviviality and opens it up to the grace of universal conviviality, of God’s love for the world. By partaking in the Eucharist, the family is purified of the temptation to be closed within itself, strengthened in love and fidelity, and broadens the borders of its fraternity in accordance with the heart of Christ.

In our time, marked by so much closure and by too many walls, conviviality, created by the family and expanded by the Eucharist, becomes a crucial opportunity. The Eucharist and the families it nourishes can overcome closures and build bridges of acceptance and charity. Yes, the Eucharist of a Church of families, capable of restoring to the community the hardworking leaven of conviviality and mutual hospitality, is a school of human inclusion that does not fear confrontation! There are no little ones, orphans, defenseless, wounded and disappointed, desperate and abandoned, whom the eucharistic conviviality of the family cannot nourish, refresh, protect and harbour.

The memory of family virtues helps us to understand. We have known and still know, what miracles can happen when a mother fixes her gaze and attention, protection and care on the children of others, in addition to her own. Until recently, one mother was enough for all the children in the courtyard! And yet: we are well aware what strength is acquire by a people whose fathers are willing to make moves to protect everyone’s children, because they consider children an undivided gift, that they are happy and proud to protect.

Today many social contexts mount obstacles to familial conviviality. It’s true, today it isn’t easy. We have to find a way to recover it. At the table we talk, at the table we listen. No silence, that silence that is not the silence of monks, but the silence of selfishness, where each one does for himself, or the television, or the computer ... and they don’t talk. No, no silence. It is important to recover that familial conviviality and adapt it to the times. Conviviality seems to have become something that is bought and sold, however it is something else. Nutrition is not always the symbol of a fair sharing of goods, that can reach those who have neither bread nor affection. In wealthy countries we are prompted to spend on excessive food, and then we need to rectify it once again. And this senseless “business” diverts our attention from the true hunger of the body and of the soul. When there is no conviviality there is selfishness, everyone thinks of him- or herself. All the more so because advertising has reduced it to a languor for snacks and a desire for sweets. Meanwhile so many, too many brothers and sisters cannot reach the table. It is rather shameful!

Let us look to the mystery of the Eucharistic Banquet. The Lord breaks his Body and pours out his Blood for all. Truly no division can withstand this Sacrifice of communion; only the attitude of falsehood, of complicity with the evil one can exclude one from it. No other indefensible gap can withstand the power of this broken bread and this shed blood, the Sacrament of the One Body of the Lord. The living and vital covenant of Christian families, which precedes, supports and embraces in the dynamism of its hospitality the everyday toils and joys, co-operates with the grace of the Eucharist, which is able to create communion ever anew with its power which includes and saves.

Precisely in this way the Christian family will show its true horizons, which are the horizons of the Church, Mother of all mankind, of all the abandoned and the excluded, in all peoples. Let us pray that this familial conviviality may grow and mature in the time of grace of the coming Jubilee of Mercy.

Special greetings

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, including those from the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ghana, Japan, Korea and the United States of America. Upon you and your families I invoke the Lord’s blessings of joy and peace. God bless you all!

I direct a greeting to young people, to the sick and to newlyweds. May the Lord help you, dear young people, to be promoters of mercy and reconciliation; may he support you, dear sick people, so as not to lose trust, even in difficult moments of trial; and may he allow you, dear newlyweds, to find in the Gospel the joy to welcome every new human life, especially the weak and defenceless.

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