The Mission and Identity of the Family

This article was posted on: February 16, 2023

What was your favorite book growing up? Mine, at least in the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, was the November edition of the Sears catalog. Opening the catalog up to the toy section was like opening the door to a world of possibilities. I would go through and put a check beside all of the toys I hoped to receive at Christmas. On Christmas morning, there was always the anticipation, excitement and even a little anxiety about which toys I might receive. As I grew older, I found more excitement in watching people open my gifts to them. Fast forward to present day, and all I truly want is time with my family. There is a logical progression here: It’s all about me; it’s all about others; it’s all about us together. It is the “us together” that really gives our life meaning, because it teaches us to receive and give love. However, our world throws obstacles at us that get in the way of the “us togetherness.”

Pope St. John Paul II brilliantly addresses this in Familiaris Consortio:

At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development and, thus, contributing to the renewal of society and of the people of God.

The Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God’s goodness.

Just as we are taught to give and receive love in our family, the family also has a reciprocal relationship with society.  Some families can get caught up in schedules and the effort it takes to just get through the day. There have been times when my children have asked about doing an activity in the week to come, and my reply has been, “Son, I am just trying to get through today. I’m not even thinking about tomorrow, let alone next week.” When our family becomes married to a schedule, it becomes difficult to see how it contributes “to the renewal of society and of the people of God” because we begin living in a very compartmentalized way, where we are only focused on the moment, rather than how we nurture one another within our family and how our family nurtures the people of God around us.

Consider looking at the similarities between a person and a monstrance. A monstrance is a beautiful thing to look at, but it was created for more than meets the eye. When the Eucharist is placed in the monstrance, it becomes exactly what it was created to do … to carry the Body of Christ out into the world. We see this especially when there is a eucharistic procession. It is the same with us. We are beautiful, but there is more to us than meets the eye. When we receive the Eucharist at Communion, like the monstrance, we become exactly what we were created to do … to carry the Body of Christ out into the world. Yes, there is something special about the moment we receive the Eucharist, and being Christ to others by meeting them where they are is our identity. Imagine how the world around us is affected when our families understand and live this truth in our lives.

In matrimony and in the family, a complex of interpersonal relationships is set up—married life, fatherhood and motherhood, filiation and fraternity—through which each human person is introduced into the “human family” and into the “family of God,” which is the Church. (Familiaris Consortio)

There is a story about a boy who found a mirror and made up a game where he would use the mirror to reflect sunlight into dark places, such as under bushes, rocks, etc. He kept this mirror all the way into adulthood and would continue to play his game from time to time. One day, as he was playing his game, he realized that this is the meaning of life … to reflect the light of Christ into the dark areas of the world. As members of a family, we do this for each other and, as a family, we do this for the world around us. The world around us is the Church which is our family.

Seeing the Church as our family also charges us with the responsibility to protect it from threats against the dignity of all life.

The Church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and suffering, is always a splendid gift of God’s goodness. Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life she sees the splendor of that “Yes,” that “Amen,” who is Christ Himself. To the “No” which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with this living “Yes,” thus defending the human person and the world from all who plot against and harm life. (Familiaris Consortio)

We are called to be the living “Yes” and to help our families also become the living “Yes” that we are all God’s intentional and wanted creation. Our identity is not rooted in an end result of who we will become but the beauty of seeing who we are becoming each day. The person we become each day calls us to mission.

The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do. The role that God calls the family to perform in history derives from what the family is; its role represents the dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family finds, within itself, a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are. (Familiaris Consortio)

We are called by God as individuals and called as a family to grow deeper in our relationship with Him so we can grow deeper in relationship with the people in the world around us. The Body of Christ is alive! Let us allow this truth to permeate our lives.

Chris Rogers
Director of the Office for Family Life
Published in the Jan./Feb. 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine

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