Where there is no family meal together, there is no family, Pope Francis told the thousands gathered in Saint Peter’s Square Wednesday, urging his hearers to put away their cell phones and protect family dinners as a precious way to bind the family together.
In his weekly General Audience, Francis reflected on the quality of family life, noting that it is based on “conviviality,” or the ability to joyfully share in the life of those around you.
The symbol, or “icon,” of family life, Francis said, “is the family gathered around the table.”
“Sharing a meal together—and along with the food, also affection, stories and news—is a fundamental experience,” the Pope said. “When there’s a party, a birthday or an anniversary, we meet around the table,” he said.
This conviviality “is a sure thermometer to measure the health of our relationships,” he said. “If your family has something wrong, or some hidden wound, at the table, it soon becomes clear. A family that almost never eats together, or watches television or the smartphone instead of talking at the table, is hardly a family.”
“When the children at the table are attached to the computer or their phones, and do not listen to each other, this is not the family; it is a hotel,” he said.
Francis said that Christians have a special vocation to conviviality. “The Lord Jesus taught while sitting at the table, and sometimes represented the kingdom of God as a festive banquet,” he said. “Jesus also chose the table as the place to offer His disciples His spiritual testament, distilled in a memorial gesture of His sacrifice: the gift of His Body and Blood as food and drink of salvation,” he added.
In this perspective, Francis added, we can say that the family is at home at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper because the Eucharist brings us the experience of conviviality and God’s universal love for the world. “By participating in the Eucharist, the family is purified from the temptation to turn in on itself, fortified in love and fidelity, and extends the reach of its fraternity,” he said.
In our day, society poses obstacles–cell phones, for example–to family conviviality, Francis stated. “We must find a way to recover it. At the dinner table, we talk and we listen.” If there is silence, he said, it signals a problem because this silence “is not the silence of monks, but the silence of selfishness, where every man is for himself, or the television or the computer keeps us from talking.”
“Where there is no conviviality, there is only selfishness,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.