“Lord, grant that each family might live their specific vocation to holiness in the Church as a call to become missionary disciples, in the service of life and peace, in communion with our priests, religious, and all vocations in the Church.”
2022 World Meeting of Families Prayer
The 2022 World Meeting of Families, held in Rome, centered around the theme “Family Love: A Vocation and a Path to Holiness.” As the official prayer emphasized, each family is called to a unique vocation with a unique path. This vocation is destined to continue God’s salvific mission on earth by building the community of the faithful. The family’s vocation is not lived out solely among its members, but also by supporting the ecclesial community and being a force for good in the secular community at large.
Families have been at the center of the Church from its early days. Among the Apostles there were two sets of brothers and several cousins. St. John the Baptist, the “voice in the wilderness that prepared the way,” (John 1:23) was Jesus’ cousin. Furthermore, God Himself chose to be born into a family, growing in holiness and wisdom under His parents’ care.
The Family within the Mystery of the Church
Families are where virtues – both human and supernatural- are first learned. Families teach love, forgiveness, patience and reverence. Within a family we learn how to interact with different personalities and temperaments in a setting full of love and respect. Families also instruct children in their first management lessons, teaching how to manage a household, balance a budget and take care of common assets.
In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II teaches:
“The Church thus finds in the family, born from the sacrament, the cradle and the setting in which she can enter the human generations, and where these in their turn can enter the Church.”
The domestic Church, as the family is sometimes called, is necessary for a holy and fruitful Church. The Christian family, just like the Church, has a missionary role. Matrimony includes a responsibility “to defend and spread the faith, a task that has its roots in Baptism and Confirmation. This makes Christian married couples and parents witnesses of Christ “to the end of the earth,” or, in the true and proper sense, missionaries of love and life” (Familiaris Consortio, 54).
St. John Paul II expands on the missionary vocation of the family, “animated in its own inner life by missionary zeal, the Church of the home is also called to be a luminous sign of the presence of Christ and of His love for those who are “far away.” This includes families who do not yet believe and Christian families who no longer live in accordance with the faith they once received. The Christian family is called to enlighten all who seek the Truth “by its example and its witness.” (Familiaris Consortio, 54)
How Can the Church Help Families?
The Church is called to serve and bring Christ’s salvation to all. “By following Christ who came into the world ‘to serve’ (Mt 20:28), the Church considers serving the family to be one of her essential duties. In this sense, both man and the family constitute “the way of the Church.” (St. John Paul II, Letter to Families, 1994).
By serving and strengthening families, the Church creates a better climate for vocations, raising holier people who will help in the Church’s Evangelizing mission.
Actionable Ideas for Parishes to Help Families
Just like conversion, faith formation is an ongoing, unending process that applies to individuals and families as well. Pastors, as a reflection of God’s fatherly love for His children, need to help and support parents with good educational programs in the parish. When planning faith formation opportunities, pastors should search out ways to involve the whole family. This can be something as simple as Family Friendly Adoration where babies crying and children walking in the aisles is expected and accepted. Or it can be a married couples evening event with on-site babysitting and faith-based activities for children.
Connecting parish families with each other and the wider community is a major win for everybody. Your parish should have options for the whole family to serve and help their local church. For example, the parish could organize weekly trips for families to go visit elderly members of the local community and help out around the home. Or have a rotating schedule of weekly cleaning the Church.
“In this way, the Christian family will be encouraged to take part actively and responsibly in the mission of the Church, in a way that is original and specific to its nature, becoming an “‘intimate community of life and love,’ at the service of the Church and of society.” (Familiaris Consortio, 44)
The Church and the world are in need of strong, faithful families. Holy families who, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “are not only the privileged place for human and Christian formation;” but also “‘the primary and most excellent seed-bed of vocations to a life of consecration to the Kingdom of God,’ helping their members to see, precisely within the family, the beauty and the importance of the priesthood and the consecrated life.”
We will end with a quote from Gregory and Lisa Popcak, who spoke at the 2022 World Meeting of Families, “’synodality’ is a call for the hierarchical Church and the domestic Church to learn from each other and find ways to help each distinct manifestation of “Church” fulfill its mission in Christ.”
Working together, the Domestic Church and the ecclesial Church will grow and help each other fulfill Christ’s salvific mission in the world.