Carl A. Anderson
Last October, I had the privilege of serving as an auditor at the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. Held at the Vatican under the auspices of Pope Benedict XVI, the synod was an extraordinary opportunity to work with bishops and cardinals from around the world to promote the Church’s great mission of evangelization.
The “new evangelization” can be understood as arising from the Second Vatican Council’s “universal call to holiness” (Lumen Gentium, ch. 5). In placing this emphasis on the laity, the council observed that while “the classes and duties of life are many … holiness is one.”
We know that every Catholic is called to holiness. It follows then that every Catholic is called to reflect this holiness in his or her state of life, whether as a priest or religious, a husband or wife, a father or mother, or an employer, employee, consumer, neighbor, parishioner or citizen.
As the saints have shown so well throughout history, holiness in life leads inevitably to witness in our daily lives. This witness is the primary way to evangelize in our time. And central to the new evangelization is the understanding that the work of evangelization is not reserved only for an elite few, but is the responsibility of all baptized Christians. In a very real sense, we are all called to be missionaries; we are all called to “proclaim” the Gospel to those around us through our lives each day, even if most of us do not use words to do so.
What is “new” about this form of evangelization is not the “content” of our witness, but that many of us must make this witness in societies that have already heard the Good News preached and have rejected it. Our witness in many instances is to a skeptical world that has already heard much of what we say and now is waiting to see whether Christians can actually live according to what they profess.
In my address to the synod, I focused on the role of the family in this regard. I observed that the Christian family is essentially missionary in character. In the words of Blessed John Paul II, “The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (Familiaris Consortio, 17). The Christian family is called to reflect the communion of the Trinity and God’s love of humanity.
Furthermore, the Christian family is able to reveal and communicate this love because it is founded upon sacramental marriage. Christian spouses first receive this love as a divine gift and also as a task. The nature of both this gift and task was made clear by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and by Blessed John Paul in Familiaris Consortio. The task of Christian spouses to live and communicate this love is at the center of the family’s mission in the world.
For this reason, when the Christian family takes up the task “to become what it is” (cf. FC, 17) — a living icon in our world of God’s own communion — the family stands at the heart of the Church’s mission of evangelization. And when the family responds in this way to the design of the Creator, it truly becomes a “domestic church.”
This is one of the reasons why the Catholic Church has defended for so many centuries the sacramental and legal integrity of the family and why, in the days ahead, the Knights of Columbus will continue to promote authentic Christian family life. While we encourage many activities to promote the new evangelization, at the center of our efforts will be the awareness that Christian families need help in living the sacramental reality of their fundamental mission.
In this task, we as Knights of Columbus turn in a special way to the Holy Family and make our own the prayer of Blessed John Paul that “every family may generously make its own contribution to the coming of his kingdom in the world” and “through the intercession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the Church may fruitfully carry out her worldwide mission in the family and through the family.”