When my wife and I were welcomed into the Catholic Church with our two sons in 2006, we were somewhat overwhelmed by the new life we had begun. Although we were surrounded by wonderful priests, deacons and caring parishioners who helped us along the way, it was often the writings of Blessed John Paul II that gave us the most guidance and comfort.
One document in particular, the 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), dramatically influenced our family. Like many converts, my wife and I sought more than a change in church membership; we wanted to follow Christ in a radical new way of life. On a personal level, this included rejecting purely secular values and conforming our marriage and family life to the teachings of the Church.
On this journey, Familiaris Consortio was the road map we were seeking. Here are four principles from John Paul II’s teachings that have significantly reshaped our family’s thinking and understanding:
Our marriage is a sacramental covenant. Although blessed with a deep love for each other, my wife and I recognize that marriage requires more than the popular idea of love as merely an emotion. We are called to conform our lives to Christ’s sacrifice for his Bride, the Church. As John Paul II explained, “by means of baptism … the intimate community of conjugal life and love, founded by the Creator, is elevated and assumed into the spousal charity of Christ, sustained and enriched by his redeeming power.” Because of the sacramentality of marriage, moreover, spouses are “the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross” (FC, 13).
We must be open to new life. Before we became Catholic, our understanding of this issue was simply rooted in ignorance and the uncritical acceptance of modern culture. Reading Familiaris Consortio and receiving advice from priests helped us to understand that, unlike periodic abstinence, contraception directly interferes with God’s plan for our marriage and fails to respect the life-giving meaning of marital intimacy.
In John Paul’s words: “Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language…. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality” (32).
We are responsible for educating our children in the faith. “Parents have been appointed by God himself as the first and principal educators of their children,” writes John Paul II (40). Using a term recovered by the Second Vatican Council, he then calls the family a “domestic church,” which “like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized” (51). Finally, he adds that “the future of evangelization depends in great part on the Church of the home” (52). These beautiful words of John Paul II are a daily challenge to us. They remind us that we are called to become missionaries by instilling a love for the Gospel in our own homes.
Our family must pray together. Participating in the sacraments and fostering the practice of personal prayer are essential to a family’s spiritual formation. Again, in John Paul’s clear words: “Christian parents have the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer, introducing them to gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to personal dialogue with him” (60).
There certainly are other lessons our family will learn as we grow in our Catholic faith. After all, we are blessed with the teachings of Scripture, sacred tradition and the saints including St. John Paul II, who is now a great intercessor for the health and holiness of families. His insights continue to offer married couples and families indispensable light on their journey, as we seek help, hope and a clear path to lasting joy.
RANDY HAIN is a member of St. Peter Chanel Council 13217 in Roswell, Ga., and author of books on the integration of work, home life and faith.