The Synod of Bishops on the Family is coming up in October. During the synod, our Seeing the Word blog will offer a series of weekly reflections called “Illuminating Families” to help guide conversations in your home and Church gatherings.
Introduction by Dr. Barbara Sutton
Let us pray….
Today the Church, in homes and parishes throughout the United States have been asked to take part in a worldwide day of prayer for the upcoming extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. And so we pray with the eyes of faith through the way of beauty for families and those who shepherd them. We join our prayers with the prayers of the Bishops:
- Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love, to you we turn with trust.
- Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches.
- Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division: may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.
How might families join their prayers with the Synod process? Some may choose to pray the rosary each day. Building on that ancient prayer, I write to encourage families to pray with and for one another during this synodal process. Turn to one another. Allow the prayers of families throughout the world to ignite the pastoral imaginations of the Church universal. The Christian family is the first community called to announce the Gospel to the one who is brought into this world and brought to full human and Christian maturity.
Our homes are often marked by some kind of small shrine that honors the family and past generations. Most notable is the collection of family photos parading down the hallway over the mantel. Others will have a treasure chest that holds memorabilia of years past: pictures; graduation certificates; notices about marriages, births, and adoptions; memories of first footsteps and first words; and souvenirs from proms, college, military service, or first jobs. Some homes over the past decade have included The Saint John’s Bible as part of their treasure chest in order to reflect the family story through God’s story.
I am reminded of a story of a little girl who was in a class to prepare her for the reception of the sacrament of Eucharist. She was asked by her teacher if she believed in God. The child quickly responded, “Yes, I do!” “Well,” said the teacher, “why do you believe in God?” The answer was a little slower this time, “I don’t know why,” the child finally said. “I think it runs in our family.”
This story articulates what our Church has written about the family in many of its documents. One of its most provocative statements comes from Lumen Gentium, which refers to the family as the domestic church and parents as pastors of the domestic church. They are, according to Lumen Gentium, “… by word and example, the first heralds of the faith with regards to their children.” In the National Catechetical Directory, this is further explained as, “Parents are the first and foremost catechists of their children. They catechize informally, but powerfully by example and instruction.”
The nuclear family model is deeply embedded in our culture and recent history. However, we know, simply by looking around our churches and communities that other family models have emerged—grandparents raising children, single parent families, blended families, foster families, adoptive families, intentional communities who share household resources to name a few. It is true that any of these assembled families can face difficulties and loss while at the same time follow the way of beauty, a way of love grounded in Gospel love. This love is determined by relationships in and among people rather than the common household structure for a “Father Knows Best” television comedy (which portrayed a middle class family life in the Midwest.)
The household of God, the Trinity, gives us a lens for familial right relationships that emphasize compassion, justice and ethics. Each generation of a family is challenged to leave the world a more beautiful and beneficial place than it inherited (Follow the Way of Love, USCCB, 1994). What might this world be like as families live into the way of love, the way of beauty? Compassion recognizes the interdependence of all living things. The family is a compassionate community because it cares for the most vulnerable ones in our midst—children, persons with disabilities, and the elderly. As a compassionate community, the family learns how to suffer with one another and to dignify all aspects of the human situation by kind and gentle care. It responds with tenderness to the least fortunate or most vulnerable in its membership without blaming them, humiliating them, or diminishing their identity. Justice preserves the integrity of the individual family members and family unity. Just families will regard other families with needs and desires equal to their own.
As families grow in holiness and in their relationships with one another, we are able to mirror the divine communion; reaching beyond ourselves in love and hospitality.
Let us begin anew…
I encourage you to make God’s Word ever present in your homes. During the Synod on the Family in October, our Seeing the Word blog will offer a series of reflections for families. Use our “Illuminating Families” series to guide conversations at home and in your Church gatherings.