This is the fifth in a series of introductory essays on the document “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive,” the preparatory catechesis for the eighth World Meeting of Families which will take place in Philadelphia next September 22-27, 2015 with Pope Francis. The first essay on the first chapter is here. The essay which introduces the second chapter is here. The third is here. The fourth is here.
Chapter four was about the love or bonding or communion of husband and wife. Chapter five is called Creating the Future and is about about the flip side of marriage: procreation or having babies and raising children.
Sex and Children
Let’s begin with the act that is proper to marriage; the marital act or sexual intercourse. This element is the act that seals the bond of love between husband and wife. This element is the act that expresses their covenant of love again and again during their lives together.
This act is also designed for creating babies. If you study the human reproductive system, you cannot help but notice that the purpose of sexual intercourse is to make it possible for a baby to be conceived.
And these babies need to be cared for and formed for many years during childhood and youth. A stable and loving home is the best place for this upbringing to occur. For this reason, “Marriage is a response to the possibility of procreation between men and women” (50). It is not just “a” response. It is “the” best response.
Of course, marriage is not the only possible response to the possibility of procreation. In the past fifty years, we can see the consequences of procreation not being in the context of marriage; out-of-wedlock births. We have also seen what it is like when sexual intercourse is not in the context of procreation. The sexual revolution supposedly liberated what its proponents still try to characterize as private and harmless actions. In reality, both kinds of responses harm children, adults, and society.
Integration of Love
For baptized spouses, “married love integrates the fertility of men and women with the sacrament of God’s covenant” (49). In other words, the Sacrament of Marriage is a special way the New Covenant between God and humanity can be lived. So, not only are Christian parents co-creators with God of new human beings, parents also have the power of God’s faithfulness to his people, so they can be faithful to each other and to the task entrusted to them.
Baptized spouses also have a share in the Trinitarian communion of love that exists within God. Together with Christ, they form a communion of love which extends to their offspring so that the family is now a communion of life and of love.
Thus, their “biological fecundity” becomes “an extension of divine generosity” (50). This reference means that just as God welcomes us into being, we welcome into being the new lives God entrusts to us. Thus, the love both spouses show toward each other and toward their children has a kind of “shape.” That shape is “service, sacrifice, trust, and openness to God’s generosity” (50).
The catechesis tells us that “When spouses become parents, the inner dynamic of God’s creation and the marriage sacrament is made visible in a beautiful and particularly clear way” through their baby. But of course that is only the beginning of the story. “When a husband and wife have children after the pattern of Christ’s love for us, this same love also orients the new parents to their children’s education and spiritual formation” (51).
Most of chapter five focuses on the parents’ responsibility for their children’s religious education and spiritual formation. The duties of Catholic parents in this regard are daunting. We are to teach our children to have a relationship with God through a life of prayer so they can eventually discern their vocations. This is particularly difficult today because of the insistent words and images bombarding us and our children that are not the Word of God or images of God.
The Role of the Christian Community
It could hurt many parents to read this chapter. The reason is due to the gap between the ideal family life and our actual life. How can Christian parents live up to their calling? A solution is offered and it is a solution which I think needs to be a major agenda in the Church today: Christian community.
Under the section, “The spiritual vocation of parenting,” the authors assert that “Catholic marriage is premised on the sacraments and the support of Christian community, and so, when Catholic spouses consider becoming Catholic parents, they continue in this same spiritual and community context” (50-51).
Both the parents and their children need “a relationship with God and the people of God” (52). “Parents should nurture and usher children into their community’s relationship with God” (51).
We have to ask, without fearing to hear the answer, is there a Catholic community in our parishes? Isn’t this a great weakness of parish life in the U.S.?
The Parish As Family
Pope Benedict XVI called the parish a “family of families . . . able to share with each other not only the joys but the inevitable difficulties of initiating family life” (57). Is this description our experience? In your parish is anything communicated about the family? If not, how can we reform parish life so that parishes become real Christian communities?
Families new, and not so new, need their parish to be a real community where people know each other and care for each other. “No one . . . should be lonely in a parish family” (57).
The truth is that there are plenty of lonely people in our parishes and plenty of families struggling without much support.
However, the catechesis does point us in the right direction and it is not the direction of demanding more of the clergy. Although we read, “This vision of parish life must be taught and modeled by clergy,” it is really the responsibility of the laity to make it a reality (50). “How lay people treat each other will determine whether a parish is fulfilling its mission in this way” (50).
It could be that one of the fruits of the World Meeting of Families will be parishes that become real communities. As the catechesis emphasizes, “The family and the parish depend on each other” (56).
I think the solution is for more mature families, who have been trying to live authentic Catholic family lives (necessarily imperfectly), to step up for the sake of less mature families and families having a harder time. Hospitality must extend from the families who have more to those who have less.
These introductory essays are presented in video form here. In addition, for those who wish to go into the preparatory catechesis for the World Meeting of Families much more deeply, there is a reading guide, as well as a reflection guide available for individuals, couples, and groups.