Marriage and Family: A Mission of Love
At the heart of every marriage is human love – a love so strong that it brings together a man and a woman who commit themselves to each other in a lifelong journey and to a mission as well. In Church circles, when we hear the word “mission,” we might think first of missionaries – those fearless priests, nuns, and lay people whose stories of bringing the Gospel to faraway lands fascinated us as children and inspire us as adults. How often, though, do we think of families as missionaries?
Each of the popes of the last several decades have spoken of how families today, more than ever, need to think of themselves as missionaries – as visible signs of God’s love. In the human love that brings a woman and man together in marriage, we already hear God speaking to us of the beauty and fidelity of love, its transforming power, and its creative energy. In the sacrament of matrimony, God speaks to us of the fullness of human love.
The family that is formed through marriage, especially when strengthened with sacramental grace, is called to be a school of love, faith and prayer that shapes our communities at their very core. Into the family are born those who constitute the next generation. What is passed on is the heritage of each successive generation. If we are successful in teaching the faith, forming character, and nurturing virtue, then the culture and society that we create will be all the better. To the extent that we fail, so shall it be reflected in our culture. This kind of commitment calls for the bold and courageous spirit of missionaries.
As the working document for the Synod of Bishops in October states, “The family, the basic human community, is showing as never before, through its cultural and social crisis, the great suffering which is being caused by the family’s weakening and fragile character, and, at the same time, the family’s great strength, in itself” (Instrumentum Laboris, 10). This conclusion comes from the joys, hopes, struggles and fears of which individuals and families around the world wrote about last December in a questionnaire developed by the Synod committee. A great number of individuals and families in the Archdiocese of Washington took the time to complete the survey and so it is also inclusive of our own experience. The responses to that questionnaire form the basis for this working document that offers the starting point for the Synod discussion.
The concern for the modern day pressures of family life and the nurturing of a missionary spirit in families will also be expressed during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. The impetus for our Holy Father’s visit is the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. This triannual gathering of families and organizations that serve the family is one of the fruits of the pontificate of Saint John Paul II. He founded it 1994 as part of the celebration of the International Year of the Family. Since that time the Pontifical Council for the Family convokes the gathering every three years in a different city in the world.
The meeting brings together Catholic lay movements, Christian ministries and individual families to celebrate the gift of family life and to pray reflect and discuss of the mission of the Christian family in contemporary society. This year’s theme picks up on the missionary vocation of families in its theme “Love is Our Mission.”
Soon after Pope Francis returns to Rome, he will gather with the Synod of Bishops to reflect further on the mission of the family and the pastoral care of families. These next months and year will be a very important moment in the life of the Church in regard to marriage and family life. I encourage you and your family to follow the World Meeting of Family’s work as well as that of the Synod in October and make some time to talk over as a family how you can be missionaries of God’s love.