Twenty-five years ago, St. John Paul II released his Letter to Families, Gratissimam Sane, on Feb. 2, 1994. The letter is known for the arresting claim that “the history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family…. I have tried to show how the family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love. To the family is entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of man.”
John Paul rightly pointed to the battle surrounding the family today. We have seen a dramatic decline in the number of marriages and children born in our country and we now must fight for the integrity of education in order to keep our children rooted in the truth. Despite the fact that John Paul recognized the enormous importance of family for society and the Church, we do not see enough emphasis placed on supporting families. We now realize, and studies bear it out, that families provide the most effective means of forming children in the faith, preparing them to become the next generation of disciples. Parents have more influence on the faith of their children than anyone else.
In light of John Paul’s teaching on the family, the Archdiocese of Denver is working to build up family culture. The great pope taught that the faith must be lived as a culture, a way of life, and that the best way to form Christian culture is in the home. Following upon the archdiocese’s move to restore the order of the sacraments of initiation, moving confirmation back to its historic place before first Communion, we have been emphasizing the necessary role of the family in catechesis. To support this needed emphasis on families, the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries has begun offering one-day Building Family Culture retreats at parishes to help families grow in prayer and to learn how to live faith more in the home.
In addition to these one-day retreats in parishes, we are partnering with Cor Ministries of Wyoming Catholic College this summer to offer a five-day Family Ranch Retreat from July 5-10. The extended time at the ranch will give families the chance to get away and bond while horseback riding, rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, and spending evenings around the campfire. Kids will have activity time each day while parents explore the spiritual life in relation to family culture. Find more information at corexpeditions.org/family-ranch-retreat.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Church’s beautiful vision of family life, in addition to John Paul’s letter, a new book may also be helpful, A Catechism for Family Life: Insights from Catholic Teaching on Love, Marriage, Sex, and Parenting (Catholic University of America Press, 2018). The editors, Sarah Bartel and John Grabowski, follow the traditional catechism question and answer format, proposing key questions related to marriage, vocational discernment, sexuality, parenting, and challenges facing the family. They select the answers from Church documents, such as papal encyclicals and other writings from the popes, Vatican offices, and the Second Vatican Council.
Here’s one question Bartel and Grabowski ask, and which I hear often: “It feels so hard to manage all of the electronic media in our home. Should we just get rid of our television?” Although they don’t provide a black and white answer, the editors share wisdom from two popes, first from Francis: “In the prevailing culture, priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. What is real gives way to appearances …. New patterns of behavior are emerging as a result of over-exposure to the media. As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family” (169). And from John Paul II: “Parents … must actively ensure the moderate, critical, watchful and prudent use of the media, by discovering what effect they have on their children and by controlling the use of the media in such a way as to ‘train the conscience of their children to express calm and objective judgements, which will then guide them in the choice or rejection of programs available’” (171).
As parents, we must embrace our role as disciple makers, forming our children in faith and guiding them through the pitfalls of our culture.