Here’s a simple fact: The dignity of the human person is what all Catholic teaching seeks to advance. But what sets the Christian faith apart from every other revolutionary movement for justice is the rejection of violence and the affirmation of the power of love. Real love — love that involves a complete surrender of ourselves to meet the needs of another person — is life’s most challenging and rewarding experience.
We learn this first and most fruitfully in the school of love which is the family. Vatican II described the family as “the first and vital cell of society.” And it very wisely taught that “the well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”
The power of the family boils down to a very particular, very intimate, kind of witness. This is why the greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. Nothing is more demanding, and nothing takes more care and self-sacrifice, than love within a family. But neither is anything more joyful than when a parent’s love comes to harvest in a child who grows into a man or woman filled with character, courage and grace. Loving “humanity” is easy. Theories about love and justice are always easier than the reality. But loving real persons in all their messy complexity as God wants them to be loved, day in and day out — that’s what separates the wheat from the chaff. And nowhere is that truer than within a family.
Blessed (and soon to be canonized St.) Pope John Paul II once described the Christian family as “the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society,” building up the world “by making possible a life that is, properly speaking, human.”
That’s still true. And we’ve never needed healthy families more urgently than now. The developed world has created an environment where today, both parents often have jobs outside the home; a society of more work and more stress, caused by our addictive consumption of goods, which is fueled by the relentless marketing of products, which creates more consumer debt, which generates the need for longer work hours, in order to make more money. The result is pretty obvious. Families have no time to be a family. And tens of millions of husbands and wives are essentially working to service their credit-card debt. They live to pay their bills.
To counter this, one of the most important gifts a family can share is gratitude. Gratitude is the beginning of joy. Gratitude leads to humility. Humility makes us aware of others. And an awareness of others and their needs softens our hearts to forgive; it helps us to see our own sins and our own need for repentance more clearly. These are the seeds of real justice and real mercy, that kind that endures, without which no society can survive.
The lesson is this: As families, we need to teach our children that what we do becomes who we are. We need to share more and acquire less. We need to unplug a little from the network of noise that surrounds us. And we need to create the room for a silence that we can fill with conversation; conversation with each other and with God.
We can’t do this alone. And therein lies the tremendous value of families coming together to reinforce each other’s vocation, to deepen their faith and to experience the presence of God. This is the mission of the World Meeting of Families: to show the joy of authentic family life to the world, and to invite others from around the world to share in it.
In September next year, families from around the globe will gather in Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families. We have strong hopes that our wonderful Pope Francis will join us. And we’re confident that the Spirit of God and his transforming joy will bless everyone who takes part. This is a moment of grace not just for Catholics, but for the whole Philadelphia region and people of good will across the wider community; an opportunity for renewal that comes once in a lifetime. All will be welcome. So please keep this gathering in your daily prayers. And please, please, urge others to join us here in the City of Brotherly Love in 2015!
On-going information about the Eighth World Meeting of Families can be found at: www.worldmeeting2015.org
Editor’s Note: Columns will be published each week on www.CatholicPhilly.com and can also be found at http://archphila.org/archbishop-chaput/statements/statements.php.
Kenneth A. Gavin
Director of Communications