Family and its mission – The Gospel of Life & Love

– Fr. Kennet Teles

In his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II refers to the family as a Sanctuary of Life. A sanctuary is a sacred place dedicated to God. Pope calls family a ‘sanctuary of life’ because a family is the place in which life, a gift of God, can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed. Realizing the significance of family as the smallest but important dimension of the Catholic church, the first Sunday i.e. 7th day of November is celebrated as Family Day. As a domestic church, the family is called and sent out to proclaim celebrate and serve the Gospel of Life and Love.

Human life normally begins and ends in a family. So family is the basic cell of our society. We could generally say that whatever one plans and executes is for the benefit of one’s own family. Members of healthy families rooted in Christian values build good families for the future. The family is the miniature society in which growing children learn how to relate with others. Family is not only the basic unit of society; it is also the domestic Church.

The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of grandparents and grandchildren, of relatives. Its primary or basic task is to live with fidelity the reality of communion, a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons. There can be no substitute for the family as the basic unit of society, the cradle and school of human life and learning. Genuine relationships within the family, with parents, between siblings, and towards the aged, are essential if children are to grow into responsible adults. The family must draw its strength from its relationship with God. The health and vitality of the Church requires the health and wellbeing of families.

Parents are the primary educators of their children. They should be encouraged and equipped to impart to their children, in the atmosphere of home, a correct education in matters pertaining to love and life, with proper reference to marriage and family. Parents are to be helped by the parish community to impart faith and to give faith formation to their children.

Christian family

The basic social norm for the family is the divine ordinance on creation, stated at the beginning: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen.2:24). The commitment of a man and a woman to the unique relationship of marriage establishes a social unit that supersedes the existing parental structure and authorizes the couple to become themselves parents in fulfillment of the procreation blessing (Gen. 1:28). The Biblical idea of the family is distinctly conjugal, consisting essentially of husband and wife and their dependent children, with kinship relations forming a secondary network of resources and responsibilities.

According to Karl Rahner, if the Church becomes present in matrimony i.e. in conjugal society, then a valid marriage, sanctified by grace and lived in a holy manner, is the smallest society. It is the smallest, yet true community of those who are redeemed and sanctified. It is therefore the smallest but true Church – the domestic Church.

Marriage is a great mystery

Marital communion is a sacred covenant in which the husband and the wife “give themselves to each other and accept each other” (G.S. 48). From this communion-covenant originates the family. As the sacrament of their covenant, marriage is a “great mystery”. It expresses the spousal love of Christ for his Church: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Eph 5: 25-26). A matrimonial relationship, purified in divine love and established in faith, is enriched by the experience of God’s presence and power. In and through their relationship as husband and wife, married people express their intimacy with the Holy Trinity.

Family: called to live the Trinitarian spirituality

St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians says: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name”(Ef. 3; 14-15). Every family has its origin in God and this God is a triune God. He created man and woman in his own image, according to his likeness (Cf. Gen. 1:26) and this is the reason why the divine life is the centre and foundation of every family. Christian Family by its very vocation is called to partake of the life of the Most Holy Trinity. The spirituality of the Trinity, that is the spirituality of love and communion, is the daily sustenance of all Christian families and every liturgical celebration. More so, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is the communion with other families. The family prayer along with the sharing of love and communion within the family, deepens the Trinitarian spirituality of the Christian family.

Christian families need to deepen, through prayer, their relationship with the Most Holy Trinity. Prayer is indeed a covenant relationship between God and the human being. Daily family prayer, therefore, establishes and strengthens an intimate and lively relationship with the Trinity and, in turn, prayer that is rooted in the spirituality of the Trinity animates Christian living in a family.

God speaks to us through words that impart his divine life to us. This Word of God is Jesus himself: “The Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Jn. 1: 1, 14). God’s Word in the family is the presence of his only Son “if you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples”.

Husband and wife should build their family on the Word of God (Cf. Mt. 7: 24-26) and the Scripture reminds us that they should adorn their married life with virtuous love (Cf. Ef. 5: 25-33). Love is a relationship. In a loving relationship freedom of the other is respected and the other is valued as a person. Family cannot live without love, for love is the foundation of married life. Love helps to reconcile with God, which, in turn, helps to reconcile with one another. Genuine love is both sustaining and healing.

Another quality of love is that love is caring and serving. Love needs to be a gift, meaning offering oneself for the other and needs a sacrifice; so love is both “gift and sacrifice”. For this reason, the Church forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ by frequently reading the Sacred Scriptures.

Family: called to be a communion of persons

Communion of persons is established through fidelity and total self giving of one to the other. Couples should be aware of one’s own ability and limitation so also the ability and limitation of the other. Couples should constantly renew and relive the commitment given to God and to each other on the wedding day. As human beings they are prone to commit mistakes, but they should acquire strength from the Lord to change, convert and to forgive. These conditions will bring about the success and durability of the family communion. If the family is the first school of socialization, it is because marriage, the conjugal union of the spouses, is “the first expressions of the communion of the persons.” In a family where there is a communion of persons every person will be respected and honored. In fact, it is from this communion, that the influence of families is derived in view of building society.

Family: called to holiness – the praying family

Conjugal spirituality is born of faith, it lives in hope and grows and expresses itself in charity. God has deeply transformed humanity by becoming a human being in Jesus Christ. God, who created us in His own image and likeness, configured us with Christ in our baptism. The Word of God, repentance and the Eucharist are the framework of conjugal and family prayer. The Word of God enables the family and its individual members to recognize themselves as sinners, and introduces them to repentance and to trusting in Father’s love. Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul Vi say that prayer increases the strength and spiritual unity of the family, helping the family to partake of God’s own strength. Family rosary is one of the best and most efficacious prayers in common that the Christian family is invited to recite.

Parents have another duty towards their children, that is, to educate them. They are to be taught basic formulas like Our Father, Hail Mary, Angelus and other traditional short prayers. Basic truths of faith are to be taught in early days of their life so that they grow in the knowledge and love of God. Parents should introduce them to the liturgical life of the Church specially love for the Eucharist and other sacraments. Children are to be initiated into choosing their own vocation and to be formed in that direction.

Among the sacraments, it is the Eucharist that has a special bond with the sacrament of Marriage. The Eucharist sanctifies Christian marriage right from its beginning and its builds up the family in unity when the members share in Eucharistic sacrifice. In the Eucharistic gift of charity the Christian family finds the foundation and soul of its ‘communion’ and its ‘mission’.

The spiritual journey of the family can be sustained by sacramental life specially through the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ through the Holy Eucharist and in a very particular way, through family prayer.

Sanctity is not exclusively for monks or nuns or celibates. Christian spouses and parents are also included in the universal call to sanctity. Marriage is a sacrament and hence family life is a vocation to holiness. It is there that one learns the basic and essential virtues like faithfulness, truthfulness, honesty, tolerance, patience, kindness, co-operation, service, understanding, etc.

Family: parent-child relationship

Pope John Paul II points out that no living being on earth excepts human was created in the image and likeness of God. ” Human fatherhood and motherhood, while remaining biologically similar to that of other living beings in nature, contain in an essential and unique way a “likeness” to God which is the basis of the family as a community of human life, as a community of persons united in love. In “Familiaris Consortio” he writes “Fruitful married love expresses in serving life in many ways. Of these ways, begetting and educating children are the most immediate, specific and irreplaceable.

Transmission of life is the most precious service that the family can do to the society. Church teaches that life is precious and needs to be protected from conception to death. She urges couple to give all possible assistance – physical, intellectual, emotional, social, moral and spiritual to a new life and bring it to its full growth and maturity. Parents in the light of Scripture and teachings of the Church, should be able to guide or train their children so as to know what they should avoid and what they need to do to have a healthy growth.

In the face of the so called culture of death, the family is the heart of culture of life. Family has a decisive responsibility to build a people of life and a people for life in this world. As a domestic Church, the family is called and sent out to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of Life and Love.