Family Peace and Punishment

Pope Francis reminds us that true love—essential for peace—“is not irritable” or easily provoked.

[In St. Paul, irritable] refers to a violent reaction within, a hidden irritation that sets us on edge where others are concerned, as if they were troublesome or threatening and thus to be avoided. To nurture such interior hostility helps no one. It only causes hurt and alienation. Indignation is only healthy when it makes us react to a grave injustice; when it permeates our attitude towards others it is harmful (Amoris Lætitia 103).

A good mother doesn’t react harshly to the needs, weaknesses, or faults of her child, but senses the child’s needs as those of her own flesh, which she had nurtured as such for nine months. She doesn’t react violently with indignation as being imposed upon, but with gentle care and understanding, as being called to lovingly give of herself.

When we focus exclusively on ourselves, on our plans and activities, and on having time for ourselves, then we see others—even those we should easily love—as obstacles. We feel unjustly imposed upon, thinking we have done more than our share. This attitude, as the Pope mentions, produces interior hostility that hurt relationships. True love doesn’t keep score, but calls us to give our whole self to Christ through others, because Christ did so on the cross for us.

If we notice ourselves getting indignant, perhaps stirring up resentment and anger, then let’s think of Christ and ask for forgiveness, letting go of our anger. As Pope Francis says:

Christians cannot ignore the persistent admonition of God’s word not to nurture anger: “Do not be overcome by evil” (Romans 12:21). “Let us not grow weary in doing good” (Galatians 6:9). It is one thing to sense a sudden surge of hostility and another to give into it, letting it take root in our hearts: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family. “And how am I going to make peace? … Just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored. Just a little caress, no words are necessary. But do not let the day end without making peace in your family…” If we must fight evil, so be it; but we must always say “no” to violence in the home (Amoris Lætitia 104).

If tiredness or frustration makes you weak, then warn those you love: “Look, I’m a bit tired right now, and you know how sensitive I am when I’m tired. If I lose it with you I want you to know that I’m to blame, not you.” Humility to admit our weakness strengthens us to fight harder; if we do lose it then the warning makes it easier to apologize: “Oh, I’m sorry… I knew this might happen… Forgive me, because you deserve better…” Then we can start over with more love, dissolving resentments before they have a chance to hurt relationships.

Just as parents may punish their children, the state has the right to punish in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. The Church recognizes the right and duty of governments to protect human lives and safeguard the public order, the death penalty runs contrary to the dignity of the human person as a member of God’s (our) family. That is why the Church says:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes… [and] effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person” … (CCC 2267).

Going back to the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord reminds us of the ideal:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also… But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:38-45).

This is how love is lived in God’s family; it is what brings true peace!

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.