September 26, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Family teaches us who we are and how to live

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinThe Church takes seriously the challenges facing today’s families. Under the leadership of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, we are committed to identifying and addressing the fundamental needs of families because we recognize that nothing is more important to the growth and development of individuals and of society itself than the family.

In recent columns, I’ve outlined some of the basic teachings about the meaning of marriage and family life from sacred Scripture and Church documents.

We Catholics believe that from the dawn of creation God’s plan for humanity has included marriage—the union of one man and one woman (“one flesh”) who make a commitment to each other for life.

This sacred union forms the family, the basic unit of society, which is then wholly dedicated to the transmission of new life (children) and to stewardship of all God’s creation.

The Church teaches that the family is a “school of humanity, love and hope for society.” It is the place where each of us learns who we are as individuals and as members of human society.

The family is also where we first learn how to live—how to take care of ourselves, how to share our gifts and talents with others, and how to collaborate and live in harmony with our neighbors whether close to home or far away.

Family teaches us who we are, and how we should live as mature men and women. Without the family, children cannot grow beyond their individualism, their isolation from others. Without family, unity among people and nations loses its most basic bond and becomes merely pragmatic—“conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of fear, but not on the goodness of living together, not on the joy that the mere presence of others can give” (Pope Francis, “Lumen Fidei,” #51).

Family teaches us that we are God’s children, brothers and sisters called to participate in the life of God himself, the Blessed Trinity. This is where we learn to recognize the sacredness of every human life and the beauty (and necessity) of living together in peace. This is where we discover the fundamental principle that grounds all human rights and dignity: Every person regardless of gender, race, religion, economic or social status is deserving of our respect. This is where we learn that the family is the only lasting, solid foundation on which healthy societies can be built.

Family teaches us how to live. In the family, we learn the basics of economy, the value of work, the meaning of sexuality, the joy of self-giving, the importance of breaking bread together and having fun with family members and friends. These are not small things. They have a huge impact on our quality of life and on our ability to interact with others—extended family, neighbors, fellow citizens and even strangers (including “aliens” or “enemies” who are unlike us and whose differences threaten our self-understanding).

Family teaches us to grow up and to reach out to others. It helps us be confident enough in our own identity that we are not afraid to venture beyond isolated individualism, and to build meaningful relationships based not on self-interest but on selfless love and service. That’s why we consider the family to be a school of love that teaches unity and that fosters harmony and peace among all peoples.

I’m keenly aware that this understanding of the meaning of the family represents an ideal that is rarely achieved in its fullness. There is a lot of brokenness in families today (as in every age), and every one of us can point to the ways that our families (all families) fail to live up to the grand vision that our Church proposes for the meaning of marriage and family life.

Still, we believe that the family is worth fighting for. We are convinced that our individual lives, and our world, are enriched by “the sanctuary of life and love” that good families provide. We believe that every child should grow up in the warmth and protective care of a loving family. We deeply regret that the challenges facing families today threaten the health and happiness of individuals and the common good of human society.

Next month, Pope Francis will convene an extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the topic “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” Please join me in praying for the success of this important gathering.

May the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) intercede for all families. May they help our Church do all that it can to strengthen marriage and family life today and always! †

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