Family as center of evangelization
In his The Joy of Love, Pope Francis focuses on a wide variety of pastoral challenges facing families in the contemporary world; the Pope admits that he does not have answers for every situation and is not presenting a comprehensive plan for all families. Yet, relying on the teaching of synods and recent popes, Francis emphasizes that families should not only be evangelized, but they should also evangelize.
For Pope Francis, “Christian families, by the grace of the sacrament of matrimony, are the principle agents of the family apostolate, above all through ‘their joy-filled witness as domestic churches.’ Consequently, ‘it is important that people experience the Gospel of the family as a joy that fills hearts and lives’” (199).
The pope asserts: “The Church wishes, with humility and compassion, to reach out to families and to help each family to discover the best way” to promote “evangelization and catechesis inside the family” (200).
For Francis, “the main contribution to the pastoral care of families is offered by the parish, which is the family of families, where small communities, ecclesial movements and associations live in harmony” (202). Evangelizing families and parishes play a pivotal role in the Church’s missionary evangelization today.
Family Dialogue. An evangelizing milieu is fostered in families where authentic communication and dialogue exist. For Pope Francis, “Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life…. We need to develop certain attitudes that express love and encourage authentic dialogue” (136).
And so, how do families achieve this authentic communication? Pope Francis advises: “Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say…. Do not be rushed, put aside all of your own needs and worries, and make space” (137).
“Often the other spouse does not need a solution to his or her problems, but simply to be heard, to feel that someone has acknowledged their pain, their disappointment, their fear, their anger, their hopes and their dreams” (137).
“We have to put ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue” (138). Without such affection and concern, difficult barriers and arguments arise; the result may be that “family life becomes stifling and dialogue impoverished” (141). In a word, authentic family dialogue promotes evangelization, the sharing of lived faith.
Life-long Love. The evangelizing challenge for families extends through all stages of life [not only when children are young]. Parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents are called to be evangelizers. In this context, Pope Francis in The Joy of Love presents an enlightening reflection appropriate to our contemporary reality; he notes: “Longer life spans now mean that the initial decision hasto be frequently renewed. While one of the spouses may no longer experience an intense sexual desire for the other, he or she may still experience the pleasure of mutual belonging and the knowledge that neither of them is alone, but has a ‘partner’ with whom everything in life is shared…. This satisfaction is part of the affection proper to conjugal love” (163).
In fact, “there is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all through life.” Yet, a couple “can love one another and live as one until death do them part, enjoying an enriching intimacy. The love they pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling or state of mind, although it may include all of these. It is a deeper love, a life-long decision of the heart” (163).
“In the course of every marriage physical appearances change, but this hardly means that love and attraction need fade…. Although the body ages, it still expresses that personal identity that first won our heart” (164). Such is the genuine, life-long love that permeates an evangelizing family!