Today is my sister's birthday. The old 1950s photo portrays my sister and me a long time ago. I don't recall the particular occasion when that picture was taken, but I certainly do remember the day she was born. It was a Saturday morning when my mother went to the Bronx Lebanon Hospital on the famous Grand Concourse, but it was already Saturday evening by the time she gave birth and my father called to tell me and my grandmother that I had a sister. And I remember how thrilled I was by it all. Had I been in a position to do so, I would have celebrated with the same glorious gusto that John Adams famously prescribed for celebrating the birth of the American nation in 1776!
Completely coincidentally, yesterday Pope Francis devoted his Wednesday General Audience to the theme of Brothers and Sisters. He began by noting how Christianity loves the familial words Brother and Sister. "And, thanks to the family experience, they are words that all cultures and all times understand."
Such familial bonds are basic to human life as it has been lived by most people in most places at most times. In his Audience, Pope Francis identified the special place of the fraternal bond in the history of God's People as an instance of how God's revelation is received "in the midst of human experience."
"Human coexistence," the Pope continued, "is learned in the family among brothers and sisters, as one must coexist in society. Perhaps we are not always aware of it but it is in fact the family that introduces brotherhood in the world!"
That special familial relationship can be damaged, of course, as we all know, by individualism - as the sad story of humanity's first family famously testifies. But the powerful positive potential of the sibling bond remains as one of the human race's most precious personal resources - both for the unique relationship between the siblings themselves and as an analogous resource for the larger world. Thus, Pope Francis both celebrated that bond and related it to the larger Christian story: "To have a brother, a sister who loves you is an intense experience, invaluable, irreplaceable. ... In fact, when Christians go to encounter the poor and the weak they do so not to obey and ideological program, but because the Lord's word and example tell us that they are our brothers [and sisters]."
Fittingly, the Holy Father finished yesterday's address by inviting everyone present to "think of our brothers and sisters. Let's think in silence and, in the silence of our heart, let us pray for them - an instant of silence."