What Still Matters for St. John Paul II?

The Family matters.

This small unit of community can be compared to a packet of light, a photon, for all who witness the love it fosters and the fruit it produces. It has the particular gift of reflecting the Holy Trinity, itself the original family. In the document authored by Saint Pope John Paul II the Great (that’s one heck of a name!) “Familiaris Consortio”, translated “On the Family,” four tasks are laid out by the synod fathers to represent the ideal for the Christian family:

  1. Forming a Community of Persons

  2. Serving Life

  3. Participating in the Development of Society

  4. Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church

However, we do not live in an ideal world. The family is facing attacks that attempt to strip away its dignity and its responsibility of being fruitful. Divorce rates are climbing, more and more children are being raised in single-parent households, and the widespread use of contraception has become a social pandemic.

Politicians, bestowed with the God-given role of protecting and fostering the family, have turned their backs on these Christian ideals, fearing their implications will leave an unsavory taste in the mouths of voters. But the problems do not end at politics; they have also wiggled their way into the universal Church.

Organizations such as “Nuns for Choice” outright reject Catholic teaching, and many other priests, deacons, religious leaders, and members of the laity are fully for gay-marriage and the use of contraception.

In a society that is moving ever further down the road of consumerism and “quick fixes," the ideals of the Christian family seem archaic and unrealistic. So what is the family left to do?  

Returning once again to JPII’s Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” we find our answer. What follows here are the highlights from this document.

The first mission of the family is to build a community where God is both the center and purpose for its existence. In order to do this, all the faithful must first recognize the sacredness of marriage. The innate dignity of this sacrament is reflected in the love Christ has for his bride, the Church.

Forming a Community of Persons

As seen in the relationship between Christ and His Church, true love is always fruitful. So must be the love between spouses. Thus, the dignity of marriage does not spring from its human aspect, but from its reflection of the divine love of Jesus for His bride. 

It is clear to see that a call to marriage and family life is a tremendous gift. Such a lofty calling comes with many responsibilities, the first of which is the task of building community.

To do this, spouses must first recognize that marriage is indissoluble. Christ tells the Church, “I am yours and you are mine.” Spouses take a similar oath to each other, which is why this sacrament is considered to be indissoluble.

Secondly, the family builds communion by recognizing the special role of each of its members (man, woman, child, and the elderly) and the respect each member deserves due to his or her innate dignity as a child of God. Even as we recognize the contribution of each member, we recognize that the family is more than the sum of its parts. In fact, looking deeply into the structure of the family unit, we see something beautiful.  

In each family we see three components: 1) parent, 2) child, and 3) love. When we look at the Trinity as a whole, rather than each member separately, we again see these components: God the Father (parent), God the Son (child), and the Holy Spirit who is the essence of love.

So, when we look to the family, what we see is more than a mere human invention, but a divine reflection. In marriage and family life, the first role of the family is to be a human reflection of God on Earth. 

Once practicing Christians have started to recognize the beauty of marriage, it is easier to see how the family, the smallest functional unit of Christian community, has a similar dignity.

Serving Life

The family also has the task of serving life, especially as it applies to bearing and raising children, then to educate them as they grow and develop, nurture them with love and care, and encourage them to build a relationship with God through regular prayer.

For spouses, this task of fruitfulness is essential. Remember that the marital act is a gift, a share in God’s creative love. To refuse this gift by partaking in abortion, sterilization, and contraception is an insult to the Creator himself. To reject the Church’s teachings is an affront to the Holy Spirit, who himself crafted these decrees. Because of the gift the family has received, the family also has the responsibility of living in a way worthy of that gift.

As children begin to grow and develop past infancy, a nurturing home environment becomes ever more important. Parents have the responsibility for creating this environment where their children feel accepted. According to Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs,” the third step on the pyramid toward self-actualization (a state an individual can reach characterized by an awareness of his or her great potential) is “Love and Belonging” (Maslow).

In this stage, individuals begin to associate with each other searching for something to satisfy their deep thirst for agape love (unconditional, sacrificial love; the love God has for each of His children). How appropriate that God’s plan for the family seeks to satisfy this deep desire. Yet, understanding that each of us did not have this environment as children, it could also illuminate many facets of family wounds.

Participating in the Development of Society

The third responsibility of the family is to participate in society. Though the family unit is able to exist separately from society as a self-reliant “island," God is not calling it to do so. Rather, he is calling it to a life of social justice and political involvement.

God is calling Christian families to serve. So families must always seek to exemplify the beatitudes and to find Jesus in all people including the poor, sick, and abandoned. In carrying out this responsibility of service, Christian families both experience a closer union between their members and reflect God’s love by carrying out His commands.

But, the responsibility doesn’t end there. Christian families across the globe are also called to have an active voice in government, fighting for the rights and dignity of all families all over the world. In saying that, I recognize that for many people, this just isn’t feasible. For whatever reason, the social situation has created a hostile environment for Christian families to be actively involved in the political scene. Thus, we must never forget that the relationship between society and the family “requires that society should never fail in its fundamental task of respecting and fostering the family” (John Paul, II). Society, for its part, is at the service of the family.

Together, these two forces (family and society) have the resources to defend the rights and dignity of all peoples.

Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church

In the final task outlined by the synod fathers, families are commissioned to participate in the universal church. This fourth task can be lived out by first proclaiming the word of God in the most mundane things of everyday life.

In the smallest act of kindness, sacrifice, or love God is there shining radiantly. Other ways of carrying out this task include frequently partaking in the sacraments, educating each member of the family more fully on Christ and his teachings, and being a constant witness to God by living a faithful Christian life. In this way, the family is a source of sanctification where each member grows closer to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As the family lives each day with trusting adherence to the teachings of the church, especially as they apply to protecting life, the members will surely grow in love for each other. And as the family grows in love, that love will spill forth from them to their neighbors, friends, schoolmates, and coworkers. So, what is the family left to do?

Live as they should, love always, pray, and trust that God will take care of the rest. 

This is God’s plan for the family: to reflect the love that exists between the members of the Trinity, to promote the dignity of every individual, to be an active member in society and the universal church, and to be a witness to all creation for the life and love of Jesus Christ.

With these tasks, the family is able to be a unit of evangelization and a breath of fresh air for a materialistic society. This small cell of a greater community is the crown jewel of Christianity. As such, it is deserving of the deepest respect and highest esteem.

Sources:

John Paul, II. "Familiaris Consortio." Libreria Editrice Vaticana, n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2016.

Maslow, Abraham H., Dr. "Research History." Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs :. Research History, 16 June 2012. Web. 06 Oct. 2016.