The memories of my first born getting to know his baby sister are forever etched in my mind. From the second she arrived home from the hospital, he watched her in awe and stood proudly beside her. He tried to include her in his games and delighted when she began to smile and giggle at his antics.
I had been warned by friends and parenting magazines that just-under- 2 year olds boys do not always react kindly to the intrusion of a baby sister into their world. I was prepared for the worst. To my delight, I spent those first few months of my daughter’s life witnessing a beautiful bond of love develop between my two children. Those same friends who had issued dire warnings now commented on how much my children loved each other.
Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the family at last week’s Wednesday audience by focusing on the unique bond shared by siblings. The Pope exalted the dynamics of ordinary family life by explaining how the “bond of brotherhood that is formed in the family between children happens in a climate of education of openness to others; it is the great school of freedom and peace. Human coexistence is learned in the family among brothers (and sisters).”
He highlighted the spirit of service which exists within a family, with children helping their parents and older siblings caring for younger ones. The Pope paid special attention to families with members who have special needs saying: “Brotherhood shines in a family in a special way when we see the solicitude, the patience, the affection with which the weaker little brother or the little sister, the sick, or bearers of handicaps are surrounded.”
Noting the damage done when the bonds of brotherhood are broken due to sin and selfishness, the Holy Father cited the story of Cain and Abel from the book of Genesis remarking that this is “something awful and also evil for humanity.” He urged his audience to pray for a healing of divisions within their own families.
Echoing the words of Jesus in the Gospels and the perennial teaching of the church, Pope Francis also likened the natural bond between siblings to the experience of Christian brotherhood: “To have a brother, a sister who loves you is an intense experience, invaluable, irreplaceable. The same thing happens with Christian brotherhood.” The Pope marveled at the fact “that all brothers have dwelt in the womb of the same mother during nine months. They come from the mother’s flesh! And brotherhood cannot be broken.” It is the same with Christian brotherhood.
Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, describes the early church’s view of Christian brotherhood: “Thus it is baptism which is now regarded as the precise moment at which one becomes a “brother”. It represents, as rebirth, the acceptance into the Christian “brotherhood” as the community calls itself. In this rebirth the Church is the Mother and God is the Father.” He goes on to say: “Christian brotherhood is ultimately founded on the faith that gives us our assurance of our real sonship in relation to the heavenly Father and of our brotherhood among one another.”
It is in the “womb” of the Church that we share this bond brotherhood with other believers. Together, through our life in the Church, we are taught the truths of our faith, are both confronted and comforted in our struggles, forgiven our sins and fed with the true food of our Lord in the Eucharist. “Two by two” we are sent out as brothers to witness to the world the salvation our Heavenly Father offers to all mankind.
Visible displays of Christian brotherhood have long stood as a witness to the world at large. Around 200AD, Tertullian wrote the following quote as an expression of the astonishment the pagans of the day had when they witnessed the love and caring among the Christians: “See how they love one another.”
The early Christians’ love for each other went far beyond pious sentimentality. Their love was tangible and practical: they took care of the sick, the widows, the orphans and the strangers both materially and spiritually. Those who witnessed their love could not help but be moved by what they saw. The witness of authentic Christian brotherhood had the power to bring people to conversion in Christ.
As my children continue to grow, those initial months of blissful sibling love have given way to the usual squabbles of childhood. In spite of these, my husband and I try to foster true Christian love among our children, encouraging them to help one another, to ask for forgiveness humbly, to forgive each other generously, and be of service to others both inside and outside our home.
Above all, reflecting Pope Francis’ teaching, we strive to instruct them that in the family of God they are part of a much larger brotherhood and that “the blessing that God, in Jesus Christ, pours down on this bond of brotherhood.”