Posted on January 11, 2016 by Arusi Network
In their 1994 pastoral letter, Follow the Way of Love, the Catholic Bishops of the United States said that families have a “great calling that is rooted in Christ’s teaching and developed in the life of his believing community.” The same document refers to families as “a sign of God’s presence.” The prophet Micah in the Hebrew scriptures tells us what God requires of us, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).”
Gleaned from these texts is what we think is the essence of the family vocation, which is to form us, children and adults, into people of God. For it is in the family that we best learn relationship. It is in the family that we best learn communion. The family creates for us the basic framework of how we relate to the world.
As marriage educators, when preparing couples for marriage in the Church, much of the conversation is about their families of origin. We ask them to think about their families’ problem solving style, and how their respective styles may differ. “How does your intended spouse make peace with his/her siblings?” If he can’t forgive his brother, what makes you think he can forgive you? If she can’t apologize to her sister, what will make it happen with you? Sr. Barbara Markey, N.D., Ph.D. of the Family Life Office of Omaha suggests that “when individuals are highly stressed or highly relaxed, they revert to what they learned when they didn’t know they were learning.” For good or for bad, the family of origin is “the basic cell of society” which is our first school of life.
Whether members of families recognize it, families have a mission and a calling—a vocation. While we learn much in our family settings through all the stages of family life, the essentials are from Sacred Scripture, the words from Micah 6:8 as phrased in the refrain of the David Haas song, “We Are Called,” which says:
We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another.
To walk humbly with God.
Children have this innate sense of fairness. And parents temper it with sayings like “Life isn’t fair.” Yet, we strive for justice within the family. Often fairness is about equity. But justice is about rightness. Families struggle with this, including ours. Our son, our second child, often gauges fairness by what his older sister’s privileges were at his age. We temper it with justice that looks at what privileges he has earned, his particular needs and situation. Though we often hear our son say, “That’s not fair!” we don’t confuse fairness with justice. And it’s this kind of justice that we need to understand to thrive in the world.
Within families there can be a full range of emotions. Members transgress against each other. In the heat of anger siblings are forced to “kiss and make up.” A husband and wife agree to disagree and make peace. Rituals of love that call family members back to the truth about themselves, a loving people, put those transgressions in a right perspective. Family members don’t have to agree with each other. They have to find a way to love each other, stroke each other, and create a safe place to fall in the family setting.
Service is a great challenge for modern families. Too often the only people serving are the parents. Transporting over-stimulated, over-scheduled children from one activity to another, as a part of their own frenzied schedule can leave parents depleted. Many families are too busy to have meals together. And who says that parents must attend all the games in which their kids play?
Families need to slow down enough to be present to one another and to take care of one another. Simple service, like doing something for another for no other reason than to say “I love you,” feeds family members and fosters generosity and gratitude for one another.
Having lived the virtues of justice, mercy and service within the family, it is also the vocation of the family to take their witness to the community at large. Family service, like visiting a nursing home for the elderly, working in a soup kitchen, or serving as liturgical ministers together, is a powerful witness to their being a sign of God’s presence to the world.
As families we are a collective witness of God’s magnanimity. The chosen-ness of marriage, the unchosen-ness of siblings, the hospitality of the home, the openness to new life, the forever-reconciling to each other, and humble submission to God’s authority make up the basic cell of society—the family. It’s messy; it’s sometimes stormy; but it’s always holy. Families are called by God to be light to the world.