The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection. Saint John Paul II shed light on this when he said, “Our God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family, for he has within himself fatherhood, sonship and the essence of the family, which is love. That love, in the divine family, is the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love)
What will probably not be written about much in Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), released last Friday, is the basic stuff, believed and taught by the Catholic Church for millennia. The faithful are supposed to know by heart these paramount tenets underpinning family values and morals, so recounting them in the document’s first chapter may seem redundant and even unnecessary.
But imperative it is. For everything that follows in the papal paper, not to mention the whole of Catholic morality and values, is founded upon and must adhere to and advance the principles and truths expounded in Chapter One, “In the Light of the Word.”
So before joining the global chorus of commentary on succeeding parts of Joy of Love, especially the controversial bits on divorced remarried couples, same-sex relationships, and contraception; this column recounts and ponders the primal, fundamental and often forgotten beliefs of Catholicism relating to the family.
The most important is quoted above: “The triune God is a communion of love, and the family is its living reflection.”
Just as man is created in God’s image, our human family reflects the Blessed Trinity’s inner love between the Father and the Son, Which is the Holy Spirit.
That’s why “Honor thy father and thy mother” is ahead even of “Thou shalt not kill” in the Ten Commandments. And why “Thou shalt not commit adultery” comes before commandments against stealing and lying.
After all, what good is life if it does not reflect the love of God in our families? And if the family does not reflect the Blessed Trinity’s inner love, its members do not receive the first lessons on that divine love, which should imbue and guide all their lives.
Go back to basics
Now, how many Catholic families really think and feel the full meaning and import of this core truth — The family reflects the Trinity’s divine love — in their everyday life?
How we treat and relate to our spouse, children, siblings, and other family members must emulate the total and eternal love of the First and Second Persons of God for Each Other, a love that is Itself divine, the Holy Spirit.
Ask at lunch or dinner later if family members know and live by this essence of what the Catholic religion believes and teaches about the family. Indeed, ask yourself.
When we talk with one another, is it anything like the way God the Father might speak with Jesus Christ His Son, and vice-versa? If parents and children differ, do we resolve things the way Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”
And does our family’s love mirror the Blessed Trinity’s constant action to send the Holy Spirit of divine love to every soul and across the world, so that more and more people and every corner of human society are enriched and driven by that love?
Over and above all other doctrines and commandents on the family; more than the debates over divorce, contraception, homosexuality, and other moral controversies; and ahead of other chapters of Amoris Laetitia, and the deliberations of two Synods on the Family underpinning the Apostolic Exhortation, it is this indisputable truth about the Trinity’s love and its earthly reflection in our individual families which should guide and grace our lives, our homes, and our communities.
If we miss this supreme tenet, we miss everything that our faith says about the family.
The Church living in our home
Chapter One also reiterated the teaching that every home should be a venue for the Church to become alive in the midst of family life.
“A family’s living space could turn into a domestic church, a setting for the Eucharist, the presence of Christ seated at its table,” declares the Holy Father in his exhortation. “We can never forget the image found in the Book of Revelation, where the Lord says: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ Here we see a home filled with the presence of God, common prayer and every blessing.”
How much room do our homes and our domestic life devote to our faith? Does the family pray together at home even once a week or a month? What about reading and studying the Bible, and sharing our thoughts and concerns about our religion? Do we venerate sacred images for the protection of our family and the grace to become holy?
Or do our families keep the faith separate from and outside our homes, relegated an hour of Sunday mass at church, which some members even miss?
Now, many parents today find it hard to get children older than 12 to attend mass, let alone pray at home. Still, if we can admonish them to study hard, avoid drinking and driving, and keep away from drugs, among other common do’s and don’ts; surely it’s even more important and worthy of some altercation to press for prayer, worship and the Word of God.
Francis stresses: “The Bible also presents the family as the place where children are brought up in the faith.” That upbringing is not just for the young, but for all of us to advance toward the joy of divine love in our families. Amen.