We have all heard that families are the cells of society. However, in the practical matter of governance, development continues to be measured more in economic terms than in less tangible, but perhaps more important terms. Have families in Singapore progressed and developed as much as other aspects of Singapore?
For Catholics, the problem of development is an important one. We must contribute in our unique and irreplaceable way to the development of the world. Families have a role to play in this development. And Catholic families will have their own specific contributions to offer. But do Catholic families have something unique to contribute? The document Familiaris Consortio (FC) offers an insight into this matter.
But first we must get over a common and typically Catholic misunderstanding.
Whenever we think that we must be more committed Catholics, the first question that many of us will ask is, “What else shall we do?” Wrong questions have no right answers. Our societies are marked by activism. The more activities that we have in our churches, the more vibrant our communities seem to be and thus, so we think, the better we are.
Blessed John Paul II, in Familiaris Consortio, did not ask Catholic families to be engaged in a feverish commitment of activities. He simply said, “Families, become what you are.” (FC 17). Acting follows being, as the traditional principle goes. When families become what they are called by God to become, they will do the right activities without any necessity to be called into action.
So, what are Catholic families supposed to be?
The family, the FC document states, “is placed at the service of the building up of the kingdom of God in history by participating in the life and mission of the church” (FC 49). The family is, according to the document, a “Church in miniature, a domestic church: a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church.” John Paul II writes in Familiaris Consortio that the role of the Christian families is to continue the work of Christ in the world. What is that work? The exercise of Christ’s prophetic, priestly and kingly services.
Families are called to become more authentic, that is to become more human, more Christian: more prophetic, more kingly and more priestly. The translation of that in practical terms is that the Christian family should be: a believing and evangelising community (prophetic ministry); a community in dialogue with God (priestly ministry); and a community at the service of man (royal ministry). Being simply what families are supposed to be is the best service Christian families can offer to the world today.The secret to holiness is not in doing extraordinary things, but doing ordinary things with extraordinary love and gratitude (cf Col 3:15-17). We don’t become holy despite the hustle-bustle of family life, but in and through it! On 30 December, Happy Feast of the Holy Family!
The prophet communicates God’s message. He is not a scientist or a guru who conquered his knowledge through painful trial and error or years of devotion and commitment. The prophet knows what he knows because God revealed it to him. His message is an undeserved gift. The prophet shares this gift with others in humility and freely. How can families be more prophetic? Parents communicate the gospel to the children and “from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them” (FC 52). This particular evangelization is original and irreplaceable (FC 53). Parents are probably the most frequent and effective of all missionaries. A good part of the members of the Body of Christ was brought to the baptismal font by their parents.
The second ministry is the priestly. The role of the priest is to sanctify: to dedicate something exclusively to the service of God. The most typical act with which priests exercise their priesthood is the sacrificial offering. Spouses exercise their priestly role when in their daily activities they offer, not merely something, but their very selves to each other and to their children. The late Pope stressed that the only place where this mutual and exclusive self-giving is possible is in marriage. “This is the priestly role which the Christian family can and ought to exercise in intimate communion with the whole Church in the daily realistic of married and family life.” (FC 55). Just as Christ gave himself to the Church, so spouses are called to transform “their whole lives into a spiritual sacrifice.” (FC 56).
Christian families contribute to the betterment of societies especially through their kingly role. The kingdom of God is unlike any other kingdom because its rule is unlike the rule of any other ruler: the rule of love. “Just as Christ exercises His royal power by serving us, so also the Christian finds the authentic meaning of his participation in the kingship of his Lord in sharing His spirit and practice of service to man.” (FC 63). This love is not simply human love, but charity: the very love of God given to us freely is to be shared with others in the same freedom. We learn to be human, first of all in our families: we learn there that we are accepted unconditionally not because of our actions or merits but simply because we are a brother, a sister, a mother, a father. This unconditional acceptance is an example of how God himself accepts and loves us unconditionally. The more this message is weakened in our societies, the more inhumane they will become, no matter how advanced and efficient they appear.
By Fr David Garcia, OP
(page 23, CatholicNews, December 30th, No 26)