You may have never thought about it, but when the Holy Family was forced to flee into Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution, they experienced what it is like to be alone and isolated from everyone they knew. Many people experience that same sense of isolation today because the meaning and purpose of family life is understood by so few people.
On his flight from the Holy Land back to Rome, Pope Francis described the current situation in dramatic terms: “Today, we know, the family is in crisis, it’s a worldwide crisis; the young don’t want to marry or they (decide to) live together. The pastoral problem of the family is very large, very large.”
I couldn’t agree with the Holy Father more. The family plays a critical role in ensuring that society flourishes, because it is the place where people best learn virtue and receive the formation that makes them good citizens and good future parents.
The symptoms of this crisis range from attempts to redefine the meaning and purpose of the family to a huge growth in the number of single-parent homes to grandparents having to raise their grandchildren, even though their parents are alive.
The confusion and damage striking our society is very real. I have decided to respond to this turmoil by writing a pastoral letter on the family to clearly explain God’s plan for the family and to encourage people to experience the happiness that can come from living it.
The letter will be issued in the coming weeks and is titled “Family: Become What You Are.” The title comes from St. John Paul the Great’s apostolic exhortation on the family, “Familiaris Consortio.”
In that beautiful and important document, he states that every family finds within itself “a summons that cannot be ignored” to follow God’s plan for it to be “a community of life and love.” After explaining the mission of the family, St. John Paul issues a challenge: “family, become what you are.”
My letter will go into greater detail, but the call to be a “community of life and love” originates from the fact that we are created in God’s image and likeness. And it is between the three persons of the Holy Trinity that we find the original communion of life and love.
But this is far from the reality that many people experience in families today. The Church must respond to the wounds caused by the breakdown of family life with mercy and truth, after the example of Jesus encountering the Samaritan woman.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he first extended mercy by speaking to her and asking for water—something a Jewish man would not normally do. Then he invited her to ask for the “living water” he could give her, which would lead to eternal life. Finally, Jesus addressed the sinful situation she was living in by asking about her husband. She replied, “I have no husband.”
“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband,” Jesus replied. This presentation of the truth and Jesus’ revelation that he was the Messiah struck a chord in the woman’s heart and she began to testify about him. Because of her encounter with Jesus, she was able to face the truth about the sin in her life that made her unhappy.
The Church must respond to the numerous broken family situations in this same way. It must first be willing to seek out the wounded, then present the possibility of healing, and finally, lead them to the truth and freedom that comes from responding to God’s high calling for the family.
It is very important that Catholics seek to learn about what the Church is saying through sources that understand the teaching of the Church. The mass media often fails to convey the full message of the Church’s beautiful teaching because it skims the surface of what is presented.
I pray that in this coming year my pastoral letter, “Family: Become What You Are,” will help you grow in your understanding and achievement of the high and beautiful calling of the family. By living God’s plan for the family, you will, through his grace become a community of life and love that brings his light to a society in need of it.