In 2016 Pope Francis published Amoris Laetitia which translates as the ‘Joy of Love’. The document, the result of discernment over several years and two international gatherings of bishops and other leaders, is a pastoral exploration of the challenges facing families and their role in the Church.
Five years on and Pope Francis is again shining the spotlight on families with an ‘Amoris Laetitia Family Year’. In his opening address at a symposium hosted by the Vatican (June 2021) he called on leaders to recognise and develop the unique role of marriage and families in the mission of the Church.
He noted that “the experience of love in families is a perennial source of strength for the life of the Church”. As a family of families, the Church needs families to witness to communal love. This family community, called the ‘domestic church’, is an under-utilised resource in spreading the message of God’s love in the wider community.
Needs or Gifts?
While the pastoral needs of families are real and varied, it is not uncommon for us to think only in terms of the neediness of couples and families. The family’s capacity to minister to its members and those of the community, is overlooked and underutilised.
This in turn creates a further problem: it trains families to be become ‘consumers of church services’ rather than active leaders in the life in the Church.
Pope Francis said that “the Church is invited above all to listen actively to families, and at the same time to involve them as subjects of pastoral care.” That is, families are not a pastoral problem; they are a pastoral resource.
Significantly, he noted that “it is necessary to set aside the idea that evangelisation is reserved for a pastoral elite”. All baptised persons are “agents of evangelisation”, he added.
The word ‘evangelion’ is derived from the Greek and translates as ‘the good news’. This ‘good news’ is that God became human in Jesus Christ, who suffered and died out of love for us so that we could be with God for eternity.
It all comes back to love; God’s infinite love for each one of us.
The Domestic Church
The capability of husband and wife to witness to God’s love for humanity through the complementarity of their masculinity and femininity is essential to this. If the family is a Domestic Church and ‘school of love’, then as husband and wife, we are placed as leaders and teachers in how to love.
How we express our love for each other (or fail to do so) is the teaching moment our children see every day. We are a sacramental presence and a visible witness of Christ’s love for our children.
The ‘big’ Church is “constantly enriched by the life of all the domestic Churches”, said Pope Francis. Although the challenges in our families are very real, it is precisely through our struggles to follow the Lord that couples and families become a true school of love.
Every married couple is called to lead by loving each other, especially when we don’t feel very loving. Our marriages and our families, by our very existence, are an indispensable resource in the mission of the Church to proclaim the ‘evangelion’ of God’s love.
The choice for we humble couples trying to make it work is this: do we wait to be ‘serviced’ or muscle up and embrace the challenge? This is our year – let’s do it!
Francine & Byron Pirola are the co-founders of SmartLoving. www.smartloving.org