The renewal of Christian family life is fostered by the recognition that human love and dignity are rooted in God
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
On April 27, the Church will celebrate the canonization of Blessed John Paul II. This will be an occasion of joy for the Knights of Columbus, since no pope has been closer to the Order. During John Paul II’s pontificate, which lasted more than 26 years, we had the privilege of working with him on many important projects, including the restoration of the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica. We also worked closely with him in promoting marriage, family and the culture of life through our sponsorship of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. And because the Knights brought a campus of the institute to Washington, D.C., in 1988, there are now centers of the institute in Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Benin and India.
In his 1994 Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II wrote that among the paths for the Church, “the family is the first and most important” (2). John Paul II’s commitment to family ministry was a central part of his vocation throughout his priestly life.
Thirty-five years before he wrote the Letter to Families, he lectured at the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland on how to integrate Catholic doctrine into the lives of young married couples. He saw that Catholic moral teaching was too often perceived as negative. Years before the Second Vatican Council, he wrote that the Church’s role is not merely to “command or forbid,” but also to “explain” and “justify,” for Catholic morality rests “on a firm basis” that is positive.
John Paul II devoted his priestly ministry to helping married couples fulfill their responsibility of what he described as “introducing love into love.” By that he meant that the love between husband and wife should be incorporated into the Father’s love revealed to us in his Son, Jesus Christ.
This way of thinking about marriage had an important place in the work of the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the Family. It was also the foundation of John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation that followed in 1981, titled Familiaris Consortio. In this document, the pope established the firm basis on which to “introduce love into love.” He emphasized that love is the defining characteristic of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.
The Lord called man into existence through love and “called him at the same time for love,” he wrote. “God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (11).
Ancient philosophers defined man as a “rational animal” the animal that thinks. Pope John Paul II challenged us to see the person as much more, as someone who is defined by love. To understand the person in this way does not undermine reason, for love and truth are inseparable. We are called to love in a way that is truly and authentically human, to love in a way that is eminently reasonable.
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us that “the Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane” (10) but that “many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ” (49).
In this light, we recognize that the crisis affecting Christian family life today is linked to a lack of genuine friendship with Christ.
Under the leadership of Pope Francis, we are determined to face this challenge with ever-greater urgency. Founded on principles of charity and unity by a priest who, like John Paul II, dedicated his ministry to the support of Catholic families, the Order will continue working to heal our wounded culture by “introducing love into love.”
Through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II and Venerable Michael McGivney, may thousands of Knights of Columbus families continue to be witnesses of “strength, light and consolation” to our brothers and sisters throughout the world.