JONES: The classic role of the modern-day family

August 14, 2018

The Catholic Church has been emphasizing the importance of the role of the family in evangelization and catechesis for some time now. The family may have a different role than the Church, but they have a common task: the creation of Catholic Christian disciples.

In this context, what exactly is meant when we use the term “family”?

St. John Paul II referred to the family as the basic cell of Church and society. In times past, the family was considered to include two parents and children. But in modern times, the face of the family has changed. No two families are alike. Families come in all shapes and sizes: the traditional two-parent family is still present, but there are also families who have a different look.

A childless couple, a widow/widower with or without children, a single parent, the empty nesters and grandparents raising their grandchildren are a few among many other non-traditional families. What each family unit shares is the fundamental mission to spread the good news of the Gospel by our word and actions.

The family prepares the soil in which the Church plants the Word. In Pope Paul VI’s apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World issued on Dec. 8, 1975), he states, “One cannot fail to stress the evangelizing action of the family in the evangelizing apostolate of the laity.”(#71).

The everyday life of the family is the place in which faith and religion are introduced, lived out and renewed. Lumen Gentium (Vatican II document) proclaims that the parents are the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children. In fact, it goes so far as to refer to the family as the “domestic Church.” (#11).

What most caregivers do not realize is the importance they play in the spiritual and faith development of their children as well as that of other family members.

So, how does a family go about becoming the domestic Church and creating Christian disciples? Familiaris Concortio paragraph 17 (apostolic exhortation of Saint John Paul II, 11/22/81) gives us guidance when it gives us the four tasks of the family.

Task 1: To form an intimate community of person. The family should be a community based on love, compassion, respect, forgiveness and service to others. As family members learn to give and receive love, they echo God’s love towards us. In order for a family to thrive, the members must contribute to the good of each family member and to the family as a whole. Additionally, each member needs to show compassion and forgiveness so that the family might remain healthy. The domestic Church of the family is an example of what the larger Church (parish, diocese and the world Church) should be.

Task 2: To serve life in its transmission, physically and spiritually. Family members serve life when they share their values and God given-gifts with one another. Through this sharing, the family unit grows towards moral and spiritual maturity. It is better stated in paragraph 21 of Familiaris Concortio: “All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family ‘a school of deeper humanity’: this happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows.” Through this familial support they grow and mature together.

Task 3: To participate in the development of society. Jesus often spoke of the values of service, compassion and justice, and these values are first learned and practiced within the family unit. Christian families are charged with teaching each other and children how to reach out beyond the home to serve those in need. This teaching of justice for all of God’s people is instrumental in teaching each other how to relate to others in the world with respect, caring and love in the fidelity and commitment of Christ Himself.

Task 4: To share in the life and mission of the Church by becoming a believing and evangelizing community. How exactly can the family share in the life and mission of the Church? It does it each time they gather for prayer whether in the home or within the celebration of the Mass. Basically, each and every time the family applies the Gospel vision and values to daily life it shares in the mission of the Church.

St. John Paul II states in his Encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, “There should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church.” No matter what the family dynamic is, how they go about living the mission they share with the Church should be reflective of the four tasks explained above.

The mission of the family and the Church is similar — to spread the Good News and the goal is the same — discipleship. The Christian family, as the domestic Church, lives out the Gospel message and with the help of the Church produces disciples. Disciples who go out into the world proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel; thereby creating better communities and a better world. 

Deborah Jones is an associate director with the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.