The Holy Family and the Synod on the Family

The Holy family by Raphael (1518)

The Holy family by Raphael (1518)

One year ago on the Feast of the Holy Family, Pope Francis reflected on the important role that families play in living, passing on and sharing the faith – the work of evangelization to which we are all called. “The proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, is promoted above all by families so that it then reaches the different areas of daily life,” he said. It is no wonder, then, that our Holy Father has called on families today to look upon the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as role models.

What the Church calls the Gospel of the Family unfolded in the life of Christ. Our Savior entered the world through a family, and it was through the sanctuary of love and cradle of life that is the family that his work of salvation began and holiness would spread over the earth.

Like many families throughout history, Jesus’ family endured challenges, including their flight to Egypt, the death of Joseph during Jesus’ hidden life, Christ’s passion and death on the Cross as Mary suffered too, his glorious resurrection and his later ascension to heaven. It all began with the love and faith that Jesus experienced in his home in Nazareth.

Fittingly, Pope Francis asked the Church Universal to pray to the Holy Family for the success of the recent Synod on the Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. Among the things that the Synod sought to highlight was the beauty of marriage, the wonderful blessing that marriage is and how God’s grace is so much at work in the man and woman who have come together to share their lives with each other, to give themselves to one another and to the Lord. We rejoice in the gift of enduring married love and the great blessing it is and the testimony of God’s grace at work among us that marriages represent.

The Synod’s final report serves as the frame of reference for the next Synod in the fall of 2015, which has the theme, “The vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.” Now as we prepare for that gathering, the task of us all is to reflect on how we proclaim in all its fullness the received, permanent, revealed teaching of the Church concerning marriage and family, while going out and meeting people where they are so that we can walk with them. How do we help others to see the beauty, mercy and joy that is the Gospel of the Family as proclaimed by the Church throughout history?

At a time when the family is in crisis throughout the world, our Holy Father has invited us into a process to reflect on how best can we reach out and help. At the same time, he is asking the whole Church, bishops, lay faithful, everyone to speak with clarity, listen with humility to the voice and experience of one another and open our hearts in prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For all of us this calls for a great deal of patience, our own spiritual renewal and much prayer. The year ahead can be a grace-filled time of inviting people to hear once again the words of the Gospel and accompanying them as we journey together, trying to draw closer to the Lord Jesus.

The announcement that Pope Francis will attend the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September 2015 demonstrates his commitment to make the Church, an expert in humanity, present to families and help them know the healing love and liberating truth of Christ. Such families can then be small domestic churches themselves, bringing Jesus to the world, just as Mary and Joseph did at the stable in Bethlehem and then in their home in Nazareth.

Pope Francis lifts up for us the Holy Family to enlighten, comfort and guide today’s families, praising them as an example that helps families “increasingly to become communities of love and reconciliation, in which tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness is experienced” (Angelus, December 29, 2013). Making his prayer our own, we can turn to the Holy Family to help today’s families: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love, to you we turn with trust.”