June 15, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

Family and communion, the ‘driving force’ of human life

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Crises of different types are presently springing up in Europe, not least in the institution of the family. But crises are incentives to work harder and better, with trust and hope.”
(Pope Francis, address to the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe, June 2017).

A year ago, in his address to the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE), Pope Francis said that the family is “the interpersonal relationship par excellence, inasmuch as it is a communion of persons.”

Relationships among spouses, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins make it possible for every person to find a place in the human family. The way to live out these relationships, the pope says, “is dictated by communion, the driving force of true humanization and evangelization.”

Today more than ever, the pope believes, we see the need for a culture of encounter that can enhance unity in diversity, reciprocity and solidarity among generations. This “family capital” is needed to impregnate the economic, social and political relationships locally and globally.

The way of “being family” that we want to encourage is not subject to any contemporary or contingent ideology, but is grounded in the inviolable dignity of the person. On the basis of that dignity, all peoples will be able to be truly one family of peoples (cf. Pope Francis, address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 25, 2014).

Pope Francis outlines four crises that affect us at the present time: demographics, migration, employment and education. These crises might find positive outcomes precisely in the culture of encounter, if different social, economic and political actors were to join in shaping policies supportive of families.

In these family-oriented policies, as well as in others directly related to the legislative field, respect for the dignity of each person should always prevail.

As the pope sees it, the culture of encounter always includes an attitude of dialogue in which listening is always necessary. “May your dialogue be always based on actions, testimonies, experiences and lifestyles that speak more loudly than your speeches and programs,” the Holy Father says. “This is indispensable if families are to play the role of ‘protagonists’ to which my predecessor St. John Paul II called them” (“Familiaris Consortio,” #44).

The task of individuals and groups who advocate for the family’s role in society is to enter into a constructive dialogue with the various actors on the social and political scene, without concealing their Christian identity. Indeed, that identity will enable them always to look beyond appearances and the present moment, the pope says. The Christian family adds to its societal role a specifically religious or ecclesial dimension: to evangelize each of its members—and the whole world—by living and proclaiming in words and action the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“To carry out this demanding work, the family cannot remain isolated like a monad,” the Holy Father says. “Families need to go out from themselves; they need to dialogue and to encounter others, in order to build a unity that is not uniformity and that can generate progress and advance the common good.”

Here, Pope Francis repeats one of his most consistent themes: that we Christians have been commissioned by Jesus to get up from our comfortable couches, and to “go out to those on the peripheries of human society who are most in need of the Gospel message of hope and joy.”

Like his predecessors St. John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pope Francis urges us to see the family as active rather than passive. The family is not simply to be a receiver; it is to be a giver, an agent of change in the lives of individuals, communities and the world as a whole.

In order for families to truly be “a driving force” for human development, for the common good and for peace, respect for the dignity and rights of each member—and of the family itself as a communion of love—must be paramount. Any society that trivializes the importance of the family by relativising its value, or by trying to make it merely an instrument of “more important” state agencies or institutions, suffers a grave loss. The family—in collaboration with churches, schools and other social structures—makes us who we are. It builds up the human person, and it forms the model for all kinds of community.

Let’s pray for the family. Let’s always advocate for the kind of freedom and human dignity that true families make possible through their commitment to unity in diversity, reciprocity and solidarity among generations. †

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