This is the last of three columns on the diocesan pastoral plan, “Stewards of Hope.”
To encounter Christ is to be made new (c.f. 2 Cor 5:17; Rev 21:1-5). I wonder if there is anyone whose heart does not long for something about their life that needs to be made right in the eyes of God? And the longing is even deepened by the way that, despite our best efforts, we find ourselves, time and again, “stuck” in some undesirable condition. This is more than just wanting to lose weight or win the lottery. These are the things that we desire in order to be a better disciple and more authentic believer. Moreover, these are the parts of ourselves that can only be transformed by the encounter with Christ. And it is not by magic but by mystery that this transformation happens.
Sometimes known as “the domestic church,” the family is one place where we are invited to such an encounter. In the family, like no other place, we are prompted to take a long, honest look at ourselves. In this familial honesty, we are sometimes humbled as we realize (and sometimes are inconveniently confronted with) our faults and sins. In the family we also experience the joy of faithfulness despite our failings. We experience not only truthful confrontation, but also we are invited to see ourselves through the eyes of those who love us and who see more to us than our sins — more than even we can see in ourselves. And thus, it is precisely here, in the faith-filled family, that we are empowered to be people of courage, hope, passion, creativity, curiosity and forgiveness.
Pope Francis is coming to Philadelphia in September to participate in the World Meeting of Families. This builds on the discussions between the pope and Catholic world leaders last October at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome. The official title to that meeting was III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops: “Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”
At an evening prayer service to begin the meeting, Pope Francis said: “Evening falls on our assembly. It is the hour at which one willingly returns home to meet at the same table, in the depth of affection, of the good that has been done and received, of the encounters which warm the heart and make it grow, good wine which hastens the unending feast in the days of man. It is also the weightiest hour for one who finds himself face to face with his own loneliness, in the bitter twilight of shattered dreams and broken plans; how many people trudge through the day in the blind alley of resignation, of abandonment, even resentment: in how many homes the wine of joy has been less plentiful, and therefore, also the zest — the very wisdom — for life. … Let us make our prayer heard for one another this evening, a prayer for all (Relatio Synodi no. 1).
The synod recognized that family life has many different manifestations. Certainly the traditional family of spouses with their children has a prominent place. There also remains widow/widower, single, divorced, divorced and remarried. Each of these are real and powerful forms of family. Each of these has its own struggles and a particular experience of loneliness. Each also has a unique gift to bring to the Church.
When one considers the way that family is a channel of God’s own incarnate life, it is easy to see how family becomes so prominent in the ministry of evangelization. You may remember Pope Benedict XVI and his summary statement that evangelization is about re-proposing the Gospel’s message of hope to others. What more opportune place to find a transforming message of hope than in the family?
From 2011 through 2014, family life was one of the major themes addressed in our diocesan pastoral plan, “Stewards of Hope.” During 2015 the life experience of the family will be, for our diocese, the main focus of evangelization. While any of the other “Stewards of Hope” themes would have a legitimate claim to our ongoing attention, the world and its attention to family will generate great possibilities for insight and openness to grace in this year.
Throughout 2015, our diocesan Office of New Evangelization will be providing parishes with ideas how the hope-filled, life-changing encounter with Christ can be recognized in and through families. Watch for more information that will be relayed by your parish Family Life Commission and/or Evangelization Commission.
Summing up the discussion among Catholic leaders in Rome last October, and looking forward to the next gathering this coming October, the bishops recognized these are not easy subjects. But, “in the collegial journey of the bishops and with the involvement of all God’s people, the Holy Spirit will guide us in finding the road to truth and mercy for all. This has been the wish of Pope Francis from the beginning our work, when he invited us to be courageous in faith and to humbly and honestly embrace the truth in charity” (no. 62).
So, as a family of faith, let us go forth. For we are all in this together!