The vocation of the Christian family, founded on the sacrament of marriage, is to manifest Christ’s love in the world
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
On New Year’s Eve 1978, 77 days after he was elected pope, St. John Paul II celebrated a Te Deum Mass of Thanksgiving. In his homily, he could have spoken about many things. He chose to speak about the Holy Family and the importance of the Christian family for the Church and society.
He observed that the family “constitutes the primary, fundamental and irreplaceable community for man.” And he said that the family has as its vocation the task of protecting the dignity of the person. According to St. John Paul II, the Christian family fulfills this vocation first through the absolute mutual faithfulness of husband and wife until death and then in the way that they respect the lives of their children from the moment of conception.
“The Church,” John Paul II explained, “can never dispense herself from the obligation of guarding these two fundamental values, connected with the vocation of the family. Custody of them was entrusted to the Church by Christ.”
Therefore, he added, “it is necessary to defend these fundamental values tenaciously and firmly.” And for the next 26 years he did just that.
Almost one year to the day after St. John Paul II was elected pope, he celebrated Mass on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On that occasion, he again chose to speak about the family. He noted that the first World Synod of Bishops that he had called would soon meet on the theme of the family, and he proceeded to offer a reflection to assist the world’s bishops in their preparation for the synod.
He said, “In the sacrament of marriage, a man and a woman who at baptism became members of Christ and hence have the duty of manifesting Christ’s attitudes in their lives are assured of the help they need to develop their love in a faithful and indissoluble union, and to respond with generosity to the gift of parenthood. As the Second Vatican Council declared: Through this sacrament, Christ himself becomes present in the life of the married couple and accompanies them, so that they may love each other and their children, just as Christ loved his Church by giving himself up for her.”
St. John Paul II understood clearly that in contemporary society the Christian family is the principal point of encounter between secular culture and the Gospel. He also understood that if the Christian family is to be faithful to its vocation, it must allow the sacraments to strengthen its life and mission. In this way, the Christian family can truly become the “domestic church.”
Recently, Pope Francis reiterated this idea of the domestic church as a place of encounter. In an address June 1, he said, “Families are the domestic church, where Jesus grows; he grows in the love of spouses, he grows in the lives of children. That is why the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it, to make sure that there is no love there.”
Thus, as Pope Francis so starkly reminded us, the family is a place of encounter not only on a temporal level, but also on a spiritual one.
This is why the Knights of Columbus has worked so diligently to defend and strengthen Christian family life, and it is why the Order will soon initiate a new program titled, “Building the Domestic Church: The Family Fully Alive.” This new program will help our families and councils prepare for the upcoming synod of bishops on the family as well as the 2015 World Meeting of Families, which will take place in Philadelphia.
But most importantly, it will encourage every Knight of Columbus family to be, in the words of Pope Francis, a place where Jesus grows in the love of spouses and in the lives of children.