As I write this column, a county clerk from Kentucky, Kim Davis, is behind bars for insisting that she should not be required to obey an unjust law that violates her Christian beliefs about marriage. At the same time, Catholics in the United States are preparing to celebrate and contemplate the family with Pope Francis during his first visit to our shores. While it may seem like a bad time for the family, I believe that a rebirth of the family is possible and is already happening.
Earlier this summer, Pope Francis spoke to a group of parents from Rome whose children would soon be receiving Confirmation and First Communion. He reminded them, “God calls men and women to be parents who believe in love, who believe in its beauty.” Then, he asked them a question, “Do you believe in the beauty of love? Do you believe in the greatness of love? Do you have faith in this?”
Love is more than having feelings of attraction, he explained, it involves daily acts of faith. It involves repeatedly laying down your will for the sake of your spouse and your family. And, he observed, your children notice how you love each other. They are constantly watching you “to see if it’s possible to be good, and to see if reciprocal love can overcome every difficulty.”
This same question is posed by the society that we live in – a society that is becoming more secular and less accepting of faith, even hostile to it, as is evidenced by the jailing of Kim Davis. Every one of us wants to know, ‘Can selfless love break through the difficulties of family life and the challenges of a secular society?’ Jesus’ Resurrection proves that God does overcome these difficulties. It tells us that if we allow his grace to transform us, then our families and our hearts will be filled with generous, joyful love.
In Philadelphia, the Church will be focused on the theme, “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” Becoming fully alive can only be done in and through Jesus Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. As I noted in my June 2014 pastoral letter, “Family: Become What You Are,” the family was created by God to reflect the communion of life and love that exists between the three persons of the Trinity. “When a husband and wife give of themselves and share love and truth with each other, they are able to reflect the image of the Holy Trinity”(“Family: Become What You Are,” p. 4). This communion becomes tangible in their children, who embody their parents’ separate loves becoming one, their two bodies becoming one flesh, and their cooperation with the Holy Spirit, who breathes a soul into their children.
During the World Meeting of Families, this message of reflecting the Holy Trinity will surely be repeated. And I expect Pope Francis will mention it as well. But something more important than speeches and ceremonies will happen in Philadelphia. During the gathering and the pope’s visit that will follow, tens of thousands of families will make known the beauty, truth, and goodness of Christ’s teachings on the family by their joyful presence at the World Meeting.
The media likes to repeat the narrative that no one is really living the Church’s teachings and that they are too demanding, but they often ignore or don’t know about the evidence that people are living them out and are experiencing great joy because of them. I see it often in the parishes I visit and in young families I meet. In Philadelphia, the vibrancy of families who are fully alive or striving to become so will be on display. This is a quiet revolution. It is one that doesn’t seek headlines but is definitely happening.
Over 400 people from the Archdiocese of Denver will be adding to this beautiful witness to the family at the World Meeting. My travels throughout the archdiocese have shown me that there are even more families in various stages of life that are experiencing the joy of God’s plan for the family. And the story is the same in other parts of the country, not to mention places like Africa and Asia where the Church is growing rapidly.
The stories of Kim Davis, the former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, and others who have lost their jobs for witnessing to the truth about God’s design for marriage are a sobering reality that we must not ignore. But we must also not ignore the movement of grace, conversion and happiness that is happening beyond the headlines in our families. Let’s celebrate that gift and bear witness to the goodness of God’s plan for the family as a place filled with selfless acts of love that give birth to life and joy, most especially in the gift of children!