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.”
This is the time of year when high school seniors and their families are anxiously watching the mail to find out which colleges have accepted their applications and what scholarships or financial assistance will be available. It is a time when the school they attend seems very important.
Yet we may fail to realize that they have spent a lifetime attending a school whose lessons have been shaping their lives, their beliefs and their character: their Christian family. The teachings of the church on the family are a rich treasure, contained especially in two documents of the Second Vatican Council: “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” and “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.” St. John Paul II expanded these teachings in his apostolic exhortation on the family.
The church speaks of the family as the foundation of society and of Christian marriage as an intimate partnership of life and love. The Christian family is seen as the domestic church and as a school of deeper humanity, where couples participate in the mystery of God and experience the divine redemptive power of Christ. These lofty phrases may suggest a very idealized picture of life in the Christian home. But the reality of the Christian family is perhaps best captured by the image “a school of love.”
The family is a school of love for all its members, not just for the children. From the earliest days of their marriage, before children enter their lives or even if they never do, spouses learn from one another in a relationship of unique intimacy.
They learn gentleness and gratitude, patience and forgiveness. They learn to listen, to share and to give and receive pleasure and care. Once children enter the picture, the real learning begins. No one is quite as expert at teaching us to love as a newborn bundle of joy, who helps us learn up close and personal what it means to empty yourself in love for someone else.
In the family, we are daily challenged to live the great command of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). Every day parents lay down their lives in love to feed, clothe, teach and nurture those in their care. And where else but in the family are we challenged every day to live the Lord’s commandment to forgive each other seventy times seven times. (One mother commented that in her home that was about a week’s supply!) The rhythm of hurting and healing, of alienation and reconciliation, becomes a part of everyday life in a Christian household.
Jesus said, “Whatever you did to these little ones, you did to me” (Mt 25:45). Yet moms might be surprised to hear Jesus say, “I was hungry, and you fixed me lasagna. I was thirsty, and you made us Kool-Aid.” Dad might not be expecting, “I was naked, and you bought me jeans and a new pair of sneakers.”
Yet in the family, you visit the sick when you soothe the brow of a feverish child or make chicken soup for an ailing spouse. The imprisoned may simply be someone homebound or residing in a nursing home, and you visit them. If we can recognize the power and presence of Christ in our family, then we will learn to believe in his presence and power at work in the neighborhood, the marketplace and the far corners of the world.
Once we recognize the sacred in the ordinary, we will find countless opportunities at home to enflesh the teachings of Christ and our faith. In the school of love, as in the Divine Mystery, relationships come first. And mealtimes provide an opportunity for storytelling, for exploring life lessons from the day about fairness, tolerance, justice and forgiveness. In table-talk we can unpack the values that anchor the family and recall that relationships are more important than possessions.
Let’s not forget the teachers emeritus in this family school of love, the grandparents. They can continue to teach by the witness of their faith, their support and their non-judgmental love. And at some point, when they face decline and dependency, they offer the next generation a chance to show their true colors in providing them loving care and assistance.
The Christian family is indeed called to build a community of life in which each member is known, accepted and unconditionally loved. For when we abide in love, we abide in God.
Reverend Thomas L. Boland