This month’s teaching editorials will explore vital aspects of the richness of marriage and family life in preparation for the October 2015 Synod: “The Vocation and Mission of the Family for the Church and Contemporary Society.”
Psychologists tell us that we discover ourselves in the family. Growing up, I did not think I came from a special family. I did not choose my family and cannot recall when I became aware that I was part of a family. I must say, however, that I daily thank God for my family and remember the influence of my mom and dad, my brother and sisters. My parents, one of my sisters, and my brother have now gone to the Lord, but they remain in my heart, as do my two living sisters.
What a tremendous effect my family had on me — everything from learning to be generous to having confidence in my gifts. In my family, I learned to pray and received the first inkling that God has a plan for me and gave me the gifts to uncover that plan in a creative way. Here I learned intimacy and fidelity — lifelong tasks that form the core of our character.
In short, I see clearly what St. John Paul II said in “Familiaris Consortio” almost 35 years ago: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (86). This is why I am so pleased about this series of guest editorial writers who will feature the Church’s beautiful teaching on the family.
The Church really cares about the family. In fact, it is better to say — as reflected in the title of this editorial — that Christ looks on your family with love. Your family is vital for your growth, for the life of the Church, and for the good of our society as a whole.
First, as Vatican II’s “Gaudium et Spes” states, the family serves as a “school of deeper humanity” (52). In the family, we learn to be human. Every family is imperfect, and some have special struggles, but even in the most wounded family, Christ reaches out to heal and help. I saw this gospel of the family in my first assignment as a student-priest working for Catholic Charities as I assisted young adults who had been adopted as babies to search for and come to know their natural parents.
Second, the family has a special role in the life of the Church. The blessing for fathers at the end of the baptismal ceremony reminds us that mom and dad are the first teachers, and we pray they will be the best of teachers. The word “church” (ecclesia in Greek) means not a building but an assembly of people. Vatican II got it right in calling the Church the “people of God.” It is through the Church that the love of Jesus comes into the world in every age.
Blessed Paul VI was fond of saying that it is not so much that the Church has Jesus Christ but that Jesus has a Church to act in this world. Jesus acts in the sacrament of matrimony and through the presence and witness of strong and generous families through which He is present to each family member in a love that overflows into neighborhoods and into the world. Each family is a “domestic” or little Church — an assembly with Christ at its heart. We might say that the Church is a family of families.
Third, Church teaching has long recognized that the family is the building block of society. If you want a healthy and prosperous society or culture, then cultivate strong families. It is in the family that a person learns to live in society, to be generous with every neighbor, to use talents for the common good and to be a good citizen.
Of course, there is no perfect family, but every family has a great potential. As always, Christ accepts us where we are and accompanies us into the richness of the vocation and mission that is ours as a family. The theme of this year’s synod on the family reflects this reality: Each family is called (vocation) and sent forth (mission) to do great things.
Near the beginning of St. John Paul II’s historic apostolic exhortation on the family, “Familiaris Consortio,” he says, “The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. … Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: Family, become what you are” (17).
Pray for your family and for all families that we might together become what we are!
Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville