October 24, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Families are source of life, schools of love and joy

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin“We are called to acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today. … We are called to make known God’s magnificent plan for the family … as we accompany them amidst so many difficulties.” (Pope Francis)

I’ve been writing about the family for the past two months, but I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. There are so many things to be talked about, so many challenges facing families today!

As I look back on what I’ve written about the family, I worry about how successful I’ve been at meeting the challenge issued by Pope Francis earlier this year to “acknowledge how beautiful, true and good it is to start a family, to be a family today.” Have I fallen into the trap of focusing too much on the problems families face? Have I said too little about the laughter, joy and goodness of family life?

Now that the synod of bishops and lay experts on “The Pastoral Challenges of Families in the Context of Evangelization” led by Pope Francis this month has concluded, this will be my final article in this series. But before I move on to other topics, I want to make sure I call attention to the beauty and the joy of family life without in any way denying (or minimizing) the real challenges that contemporary families face.

Families are God’s instrument for the generation of human life. What could be more beautiful? They are the foundation for all human community. What could be more important? Families are also “domestic Churches” which means they are the place where we first come to know, love and serve God. What could be greater, or more awesome in the fullest sense of that word, than a family blessed by God!

Families are schools of love and joy. It is in the family that we should first learn what it means to be loved (which is why the absence of love in a family is so devastating). We also learn to laugh, to sing and dance, and to play in the family. Not all families are happy—for a variety of reasons—but most of us first experience happiness in our families. Indeed, there is an intimate connection between experiencing the fullness of life (its meaning and purpose) and learning what it means to be truly happy in a good family.

To start a family, to be a family, is a huge commitment, a risky undertaking today. It requires great sacrifice and a radical unselfishness. But it is also a source of great joy and fulfillment.

When a married couple is open to life (to being a family), they participate directly in God’s work of creation. Mothers tell me that in spite of the pain of childbirth, there is no greater joy than the birth of a child. Fathers say that their anxious cares about the future all dissolve the moment they behold their child. There are tragic exceptions, of course, but goodness and beauty, life and love, are the very essence of what it means to be a family.

Young people who hesitate to make the commitment to marry and start a family are depriving themselves of (or at least delaying) the opportunity to experience the happiness that can only come from the genuine self-giving that is at the heart of marriage and family life. When a woman and a man love each other so much that they fully commit themselves to each other and to the children who will be the fruit of their union, something absolutely wonderful happens. A family is born! A community of life and love is established, and a domestic Church is formed to praise God, to teach the truth, and to serve the needs of others. This is truly a beautiful thing, a magnificent gift of God to this couple and to the entire human family.

Let’s embrace Pope Francis’ invitation to celebrate the beauty and goodness of family life. While working hard to address the many challenges that families face, let’s never lose sight of what a wonderful, joy-filled gift the family is to each of us and to our world.

We Christians revere the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph) as the model for family life. Their openness to God’s will even when they didn’t understand it, their devotion to one another in good times and bad, and their compassion and service to others, including strangers, are all signs of what authentic family life should be.

May we follow their example and, so, find real happiness and joy.

May God bless the family! †

Local site Links: