Here is the translation of the Holy Father’s address during his weekly General Audience on 13 May in St Peter’s Square:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Today’s catechesis is like an entrance door to a series of reflections on the life of the family, its real life, with its times and its circumstances. Written above this entrance door are three words, which I have already used several times. And these words are: may I, thank you, pardon. In fact, these words open the way to live well in the family. They are simple words, but not so simple to put into practice. They enclose a great strength: the strength to take care of the home, including through thousands of difficulties and trials. However, its absence opens cracks that can even make it collapse.
We generally understand them as words of “good manners.” That’s fine. A polite person asks for permission, gives thanks and asks for pardon if he makes a mistake, because politeness is very important. A great Bishop, Saint Francis of Sales, used to say that “politeness is already half of holiness.” However, beware, in history we have also known a formalism of good manners that can become a mask that hides aridity of soul and indifference to the other. There is a saying: “behind many good manners bad customs hide.” Not even religion is immune to this risk, which sees a formal fulfilment slide into spiritual worldliness.
The devil that tempts Jesus shows good manners – he is a real lord, a gentleman – and quotes the Sacred Scriptures; he seems to be a theologian. His style seems correct, but his intention is to divert from the truth of the love of God. We, however, understand politeness in its authentic term, where the style of good relations is firmly rooted in love of the good and respect of the other. The family lives from this fineness of loving well.
The first word is “may I”. When we are concerned to ask politely for what we think we deserve, we put a real defense in the spirit of marital and family coexistence. To enter into the life of the other, also when he forms part of our life, calls for the delicacy of a non-invasive attitude, which renews trust and respect. Trust does not authorize to take everything for granted. And, the more intimate and profound love is, the more it calls for respect of the freedom of the other and the capacity to wait for him to open the door of his heart. In this connection, we recall Jesus’ word in the Book of Revelation: ”See that I stand at the door and knock. If someone hears my voice and opens the door to me, I will go with him, eat with him and he with me.” The Lord also asks for permission to enter! Let us not forget this. Before doing something in the family, permission, may I do so? Do you like me to do it this way? It is truly polite language, but full of love. And this does much good to families.
The second word is thank you. Often we can think that we are becoming a civilization of bad manners and bad words, as if it were a sign of emancipation. We hear them said also publicly. Politeness and the capacity to give thanks are seen as a sign of weakness, and sometimes they even arouse mistrust.
This tendency is contrasted in the very heart of the family. We must be intransigent when it comes to education in gratitude, in recognition: both the dignity of persons and social justice pass through here. If family life neglects this style, social life will also lose it. For a believer, moreover, gratitude is at the very heart of the faith: a Christian who does not give thanks is one who has forgotten God’s language. Listen well, I say! A Christian who does not give thanks is one who has forgotten God’s language. Hey, this is ugly!
Let us recall Jesus’ question when he healed the ten lepers and only one returned to thank him. I once heard an elderly person say, very wise, very good and simple, but with that wisdom of piety, of life … “Gratitude is a plant that grows only in the earth of noble souls,” – that nobility of soul, that grace of God in the soul that drives one to say: Thank you for gratitude. It is the flower of a noble soul. This is something lovely.
And the third word is “pardon,” – a difficult word, yes, but also necessary. When it is lacking small cracks are enlarged – even without wishing it – until they become wide gaps.
Not for nothing, in the “Our Father,” the prayer taught by Jesus that summarizes all the essential questions of our life, we find this expression: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We must admit we have done wrong, and be anxious to restore what we have taken – respect, sincerity, love – makes us worthy of forgiveness. And thus the infection stops. If we do not have the capacity to be sorry, it means that we are also incapable of forgiving. In a home where pardon is not requested, air begins to lack, the waters become stagnant. Many emotional wounds, many lacerations in families begin with the lost of this precious word: pardon. In marital life there are often quarrels, “plates” also “fly,” but I give this advice: do not end the day without making peace. Listen well. Husband and wife, have you quarrelled? – Children with parents? Did you quarrel intensely? It’s not right, but it isn’t the problem: the problem is that this sentiment must not be there the next day. Therefore, if you have quarrelled, the day must never end without making peace in the family. And how do I make peace? Do I kneel down? No! – just a small gesture, a little thing. And, hey, family harmony returns! A caress suffices, without words, but never end the day without making peace in the family. Understood? Hey, it’s not easy! But it must be done. And with this life will be more beautiful.
These three key-words of the family are simple words, and perhaps initially they make us smile. However, when we forget them, there’s nothing to laugh about, no? Perhaps our education neglects them too much. May the Lord help us to put them back in the exact place, in our heart, in our home, and also in our civil co-existence … They are three words to enter really in the love of the family, so that the family will be well … Thank you.