Holy and Loving Families
9/1/2015by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
The Christian family must be supported in its vital role in the life and mission of the Church
In founding the Knights of Columbus, Father Michael J. McGivney sought to respond to the crisis in family life affecting Catholics in 19th-century America. As a young man, he witnessed firsthand the challenges his widowed mother faced with seven children at home. Later, as a priest, he confronted on a daily basis the problems affecting the immigrant families of his parish, such as poverty, alcoholism, anti-Catholic prejudice and discrimination.
Father McGivney’s vision for family life was not simply that each family might find financial and material aid, especially in the event of a member’s death. He also understood that holiness is the calling of all baptized Christians. And as two of his brothers followed him into the priesthood, we can understand how important the “sanctuary of the home” was in the life of the McGivney family.
When Christian families respond in faith to the design of the Creator, they become a “domestic church” that, as Blessed Paul VI explained, mirrors “the various aspects of the entire Church.” Since the Second Vatican Council, and especially during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, it has become clear that “the family is the way of the Church” (Letter to Families).
In one sense this means that the family is the object of the Church’s evangelizing and pastoral efforts. But the Christian family has its own mission. As St. John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (17). This mission arises from the “community of life and love” that begins with the married couple in the sacrament of matrimony.
“Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches. “It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh leads to forming one heart and soul” (1643). In other words, sacramental marriage involves not just an agreement between the spouses but a radical transformation of the spouses.
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “Marriage based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (11).
In this way, the witness of husband and wife within the daily life of the family can guard, reveal and communicate love as they make the gifts of marriage — unity, indissolubility, faithfulness and openness to new life — their own.
A recent Vatican document on the role and mission of the family observed that it is necessary to better understand the “missionary dimension of the family as domestic church” and that “the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent in the work of evangelization.”
These observations echo St. John Paul II’s words during the meeting of the Latin American bishops in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. “In the future,” he said, “evangelization will depend largely on the domestic church.”
When we consider the mission of the family in this sense, it is apparent that the role of the family in the work of evangelization is not primarily a matter of programs, projects or strategies. These have their place, of course, but they are secondary and must serve what is essential: the love between the married couple that has been lifted up in and by the love of Christ and because of this is now able to transform the life of their own family.
During the coming fraternal year, we will promote two initiatives to strengthen Catholic family life. The first is Building the Domestic Church: The Family Fully Alive, a program of family prayer, meditation and Scripture. The second is the Holy Family Pilgrim Icon program.
Pope Francis has cited the need for “holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be an example for other families.” Building the Domestic Church and devotion to the Holy Family are two ways the Knights of Columbus, in solidarity with Pope Francis, can support “holy and loving families” for the Church’s mission of evangelization.