“Waste time with families” was the fatherly advice Pope Francis gave to bishops, and by extension to all priests, on the final day of the World Meeting of Families held recently in Philadelphia. For many years “wasting time with God” has been my own approach to God and time with him in prayer so I was delighted to hear the Holy Father say we must approach families and the time we spend with them in the same way.
When in the presence of those we love we are happy just to be with them; we don’t have to be doing anything in particular, we simply ‘hang out’ and spend time with each other. From this “quantity time” as opposed to “quality time” there emerges a deepening of relationships, mutual understanding and appreciation, and growth in love. It also provides the opportunity to accompany and support each other through difficulties. We know from experience that simply “being there” for somebody is often all that’s needed. “Wasting time with families” is not just good advice for bishops and priests; it’s good advice for everybody.
For me one of the highlights of the Australian pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families was being with and wasting time with the nine couples and families who made up the Australian delegation. It was wonderful to see how the parents and children quickly became friends and supported each other in faith and love. I certainly benefited greatly from being with them and hopefully they benefited from my presence too.
As well as hearing Pope Francis’ inspirational messages the World Meeting of Families provided the participants the opportunity to hear many world-renowned speakers: cardinals, bishops, married couples and single people. A theme which emerged in a number of the talks was “love”, no surprise given that the theme of the week was “Love is our Mission”. We were encouraged to grow in the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally by God the Father, no matter what our circumstances. Only when we are open to the Father’s love for us can we sufficiently love those around us beginning with our own family members. As one speaker put it: “If God’s going to teach you to love he’s going to put you with some unlovely people”! It’s in our families that we receive love and learn to love.
One comment made early in the week that resonated with me throughout the whole conference and remains with me still now was that “every family is broken”. Sure, some may be more broken than others but every family has its trials, divisions, sufferings, and need for mutual forgiveness. Being broken and wounded does not stop my family from being a family and does not stop my family from fulfilling its God-given mission in the Church and in the world which is to love: “Love is our mission”.
So the message I bring home with me from the World Meeting of Families is that wasting time with our own families and wasting time with those families who may be more wounded or broken than our own is the only way we will learn to love and fulfil our mission as families.