Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive
As Pope Francis begins his apostolic journey to the United States next week in our nation’s capital, the Eighth World Meeting of Families will open in Philadelphia. After proclaiming God’s love and mercy here and in New York, our Holy Father will join this week-long event on that Saturday for a Festival of Families and prayer vigil. The Pope will then conclude the Meeting with an open-air Mass on Sunday, which also caps his visit to our country.
The theme of the meeting is “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” reflecting God’s plan for the family, a community of love and life in the image of the Trinity. It is in love that married couples and their families find their meaning – in experiencing love and in radiating love to the world, a visible sign of God’s lasting love for his people.
The world needs this witness of love if humanity is to be fully alive. We all find our origin in love. Love is our final destination too, and all points in between. As Saint John Paul II explains, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (Redemptor Hominis, 10). It is in love, and only in love, that the world will be redeemed.
It has been my privilege as a priest and bishop to help women and men to share a life of enduring love together, from those couples at the very beginning of preparing for marriage to those who are celebrating significant wedding anniversaries. In those who come to the Church to be married, I sense a sincere search for values, meaning, love and commitment. Even couples who barely know their faith are hoping for a marriage that lasts, that fulfills them, and that ensures they will be loved to the end of their days.
They know, as we all do, that marriage and family life can often be difficult today. There is no need to cite statistics about troubled marriages, divorce, children born outside of marriage alongside a mentality that views children as an unwanted burden, and myriad other challenges. We all know someone who has been in that situation. None of us is untouched by these things.
Yet we also know that there are couples who have made a reality of the dream of a lasting, shared life together. There is an abiding admiration for these couples who hold fast to one another through all manner of difficulties, for those who have been married for 25, 50 or more years. Theirs are the stories that inspire.
How do they do it? How does their love endure amidst the stresses of life, particularly in our time when marriage and family face so many societal and cultural challenges? When I talk with these couples and their families, I am struck by how many tell me about the quiet, constant giving of time, attention, consolation and affection, the difficulties endured with a smile, the scrimping and saving, the small ordinary gestures done for the other, and the realization of how much the other sacrifices each day. These gestures are the summary expressions of a gift, the gift of love.
The human love between a man and woman, and between family members and friends and neighbors, is a beautiful thing, yet when our human love is combined with divine love, it is still greater. When God is included, our own love is magnified.
While we live in a culture where commitment is valued less and less, nevertheless there is a deep-seated longing of the human heart and a hope for fulfillment in human love. Christian families can respond to that need with the testimony of their lives, which shows that love can indeed bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).
The family is meant to be an essential element in a civilization of love. In this respect, the family – husband and wife, parent and child, sister and brother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – are meant to be a model, a microcosm, of all of humanity. As important as this task is, it requires no special programs or burdensome budgets. It requires small and simple acts of self-giving. It requires that families be true to what God, who is Love, made them to be.