The family – 5. Siblings
Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,
In our continuing catechesis on the family, after having considered the roles of the mother, the father, the children, today we shall reflect on siblings. “Brother” and “sister” are words that Christianity really loves. And, thanks to the family experience, they are words that all cultures and all times comprehend.
The fraternal bond holds a special place in the history of the People of God, who received his revelation at the core of the human experience. The Psalmist sings of the beauty of the fraternal bond: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps 133:1). And this is true, brotherhood is beautiful! Jesus Christ also brought to its fullness this human experience of being brothers and sisters, embracing it in Trinitarian love and thereby empowering it to go well beyond the ties of kinship and enabling it to surmount every barrier of extraneousness.
We know that when the fraternal relationship is destroyed, when the relationship between siblings is destroyed, the road is open to painful experiences of conflict, of betrayal, of hate. The biblical account of Cain and Abel is an example of this negative outcome. After the killing of Abel, God asks Cain: “Where is Abel your brother?” (Gen 4:9a). It is a question that the Lord continues to repeat to every generation. And unfortunately, in every generation, Cain’s dramatic answer never fails to be repeated: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (ibid., 4:9b). The rupture of the bond between siblings is a nasty, bad thing for humanity. In the family too, how many siblings quarrel over little things, or over an inheritance, and then they no longer speak to each other, they no longer greet one another. This is terrible! Brotherhood is a great thing, when we consider that all our brothers and sisters lived in the womb of the same mother for nine months, came from the mother’s flesh! Brotherhood cannot be broken. Let us consider: we all know families that have divided siblings, who have quarrelled; let us ask the Lord — perhaps in our family there are a few cases — to help these families to reunite their siblings, to rebuild the family. Brotherhood must not be broken and when it breaks, what happened to Cain and Abel occurs. When the Lord asks Cain where his brother is, he replies: “I do not know, my brother does not matter to me”. This is terrible, it is a very, very painful thing to hear. In our prayers let us always pray for siblings who are at odds.
Should the bond of fraternity which forms in the family between children arise in an educational atmosphere of openness to others, it is the great school of freedom and peace. In the family, among siblings, human coexistence is learned, how one must live in society. Perhaps we are not always aware of it, but the family itself introduces fraternity into the world! Beginning with this first experience of fraternity, nourished by affection and education at home, the style of fraternity radiates like a promise upon the whole of society and on its relations among peoples.
The blessing that God, in Jesus Christ, pours out on this bond of fraternity, expands in an unimaginable way. He renders it capable of overcoming all differences of nationality, language, culture and even religion.
Consider what becomes of the bond between men and women, even when completely different from each other, when they are able to say of another: “He is truly like a brother, she is just like a sister to me!”. This is beautiful! History has shown well enough, after all, that even freedom and equality, without brotherhood, can be full of individualism and conformism, and even personal interests.
Familial fraternity shines in a special way when we see the care, the patience, the affection that envelop the weakest little brother or sister, sick or physically challenged. There are countless brothers and sisters who do this, throughout the world, and perhaps we do not appreciate their generosity enough. And when there are many siblings in a family — today, I greeted a family that has nine children? — the eldest boy or girl helps the dad, the mom, to take care of the younger children. This work of helping among siblings is beautiful.
Having a brother, a sister, who loves you is a deep, precious, irreplaceable experience. Christian fraternity happens in the same way. The smallest, the weakest, the poorest soften us: they have the “right” to take our heart and soul. Yes, they are our brothers and sisters and as such we must love and care for them. When this happens, when the poor are like family members, our own Christian fraternity comes to life again. Christians, in fact, go to meet the poor and the weak not to obey an ideological programme, but because the word and the example of the Lord tell us that we are all brothers and sisters. This is the principle of God’s love and of all justice among men. I should like to suggest something: before concluding, just a few words, in silence each of us, let us think of our brothers, our sisters, and from our heart let us pray in silence for them. A moment of silence.
Here then, with this prayer we have brought all, brothers and sisters, with our thoughts, with our hearts, here to the Square to receive the blessing.
Today more than ever it is necessary to place fraternity back at the centre of our technocratic and bureaucratic society: then even freedom and equality will find the correct balance. Therefore, let us not thoughtlessly deprive our families, out of criticism or fear, of the beauty of a bountiful fraternal experience of sons and daughters. And let us not lose our trust in the broad horizon faith is able to draw from this experience, enlightened by God’s blessing.