“The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church,” says Pope Francis as he begins the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. The family is the basic cell of society and the fundamental ecclesial community, the Church that is the home. As the Church is a ‘family of families’ the joy experienced among the members of a family reaches out also to the wider community of church as a whole. It is in family that one learns the values of generosity, sharing, responsibility etc. Any community comprising of families with members who are closely knit together will have a transforming effect on rest of the society. It is in this context that the Church finds herself with an obligation to do everything possible to sustain the sense of joy and love present in the families alive.
1. Being Signs and Bearers of God’s Love
The words of Jesus, “Talitha cumi,” not only raised the girl to life (Mk:5:41) but also brought immense joy to the whole family that had been struck with the tragic demise of its little one. Jesus presented himself as a sign of God’s love and a bearer of the joy that it brings in the life of his children. Clergy and religious of today as people consecrated to follow the path of their Divine Master and offer their lives in service of the people of God have a special role to play in facilitating the joy of life and love in families. To be signs of God’s love is to be witnesses to the reality of his existence through the evangelical counsels which are fundamental to consecrated life. Whereas the call to be a bearer of God’s love impels one to commit himself or herself to a life that enables him or her to be a channel of divine love. While the former focuses on being witnesses the latter focuses on an effective pastoral care of families.
A family is joyful when its members set their priories in such a way that nothing comes before the well being of their family. Achieving this is like entering through the narrow path (Mt:7:13). Jesus points out that the path to destruction is wide and there are many who take it. A wide path allows one to carry a lot of possessions with oneself. However, one who wishes to make his or her way through the narrow door has to set his priorities as the choice of the path itself limits the amount of things that one can carry with oneself. This calls for setting priorities. Interestingly, Jesus continues to say that there are few who find it and not few who take it. Many families do not possess the joy of life and love not because they are not willing to take the path that will ensure a life of happiness but because they have not been able to find it. Therefore, clergy and religious must witness, through their lives, to the joy of following the spirituality of narrow path to today’s families.
2. Signs of God’s Love
Being a sign of God’s love is to order one’s life in such a way that one becomes a pointer to the richness of God’s love and the joy evoked by the response to that love. “The joy of the Gospel fills the heart and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Jesus Christ joy is constantly born anew,” says Pope Francis. As consecrated men and women live out their commitment joyfully they become splendid witnesses to families whose members are challenged to set priorities in their own lives. Fidelity to evangelical counsels enables a consecrated person to pose a challenge to the families of modern world. John Paul II pointed to the visibility of the life of the counsels when he said, “By the profession of the evangelical counsels the characteristic features of Jesus – the chaste, poor and obedient one – are made constantly ‘visible’ in the midst of the world and the eyes of the faithful are directed towards the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven.” It inspires the faithful to live a life of poverty, chastity and obedience according to their state in life in their own families which will lead them to the joy of belonging to the kingdom of God.
a. Sign of Poverty
The counsel of poverty, generally understood as the surrender of earthly goods, with the exception of communal property and the necessities of life, is not practical for family life. Their lifestyles, no matter how simple, require that they own certain property and maintain a certain level of comfort for the sake of their children. However, they are edified by the life of the clergy and religious who are not affected by the present day consumeristic culture. This enables them to adjust their views on material goods and comforts and to invest the wealth of the family in productive measures rather than squandering it in a life of luxury. It also helps the heads of families to understand that quality time spent with their family members brings more joy into their household than the amount of wealth they are able to amass through an extra hour of work.
b. Sign of Chastity
How can consecrated chastity be a witness to married couples? Chastity and marriage are not contradictory terms as it is not only possible, but also advisable to live the spirit of chastity within marriage. There are times in every couple’s life during which they must abstain from sexual relations, and that could be a part of it. However, living in the spirit of the counsel goes beyond that to the way they guard their senses from sinful sexual content in conversations, recreation and entertainment. This calls for fidelity to one’s own spouse. We are aware that infidelity in marriage is the cause for more than 50% of divorces that occur around the world today. Counsel of Chastity practiced in married life helps the couple to regulate the way they deal with others in society and how they perceive and treat their own and their spouse’s bodies.
c. Sign of Obedience
The counsel of obedience in married life does not connote dominance and subjection. Faithful observances of the vow of obedience by people consecrated to God should inspire husbands and wives to obey God’s will through and for each other. Kathryn Mulderink of Grand Rapids, a Carmelite Secular, said that she sees obedience as an integral part of our beings as married persons. “The promise of obedience is a pledge to live with openness to the will of God in whom we live and move and have our being,” she said. “It is an exercise of faith, in which we search for God’s will in every event and challenge in our personal lives and in the life of our family.” Obedience, seen and practiced in this manner, will certainly bring peace, serenity and joy into families.
d. Sign of Centrality of God
Consecrated persons live a life centered on God and his word. They strive to discover the special plan that God has for them and order their lives and actions accordingly. Eucharist is the centre of their life. The witness of clergy and religious helps families to deepen their awareness that Eucharist is the source of the deep love and intimacy they are called to live out. This encourages them to be regular in Sunday Masses and family prayers.
e. Sign of Community Life
Most of the societies of Consecrated life places community life as a fundamental requirement for achieving holiness of life. Clergy and religious accept members of their community as gifts from God’s hands and live in communion with them through the struggles of life. The joy of community life and the way consecrated persons accommodate each other joyfully should be so radiant that it should affect the life of married couples in families. This witness should enable couples to appreciate each other as perfect gifts given to them by God. God is happy to see couples appreciate the gift of conjugal love, given to one another in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Catholic families serve that goal by being schools of love (CCC 1657) where they learn how to love God and each other with their whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength. To do this, they constantly seek new ways to be even more open with and loving to each other as husband and wife or parents and children. The joy of community life experienced by the clergy and religious should inspire couples to remember that God brought them together to stand beside and support each other in their daily tasks and growth, spiritually, mentally and physically.