1. Bearers of God’s love
Consecrated persons’ call to be bearers of God’s love is expressed in effective family ministry. Anyone who has met the Lord and follows him faithfully is a messenger of the joy of the Spirit. The fruitfulness of one’s pastoral ministry proceeds from the realization that joy is not a useless ornament. It is a necessity, the foundation of human life. In their daily struggles, every man and woman tries to attain joy and abide in it with the totality of their being. Service in the Church arises out of the joy of meeting the Lord and from his call. This mission is to bring to the men and women of our time the consolation of God, to bear witness to his mercy. This realization should affect the way he or she approaches families.
2. Stressing the Sacredness of Marriage and Family
Men and women consecrated to the Lord have taken such a life upon themselves not because they do not appreciate the beauty and dignity of married life. As they are messengers of God’s love to the faithful, it is important that they understand and proclaim the sacredness of marriage. Joy in family life emanates from the fact that they are able to value the sacredness of their bonding. Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia points out three dimensions of pastoral ministry which can contribute to the building of joyful families. They are, preparing engaged couples for marriage, accompanying the first years of married life, and casting light on crises, worries and difficulties.
a. Preparing Young Couples for Marriage
Preparing young couples for marriage requires a greater effort from the clergy and religious in the context of the growing complexity of the present day society and the challenges faced by families. They need to be properly introduced into the virtues needed for the growth of genuine love among the members of a family. This includes specific programmes aimed at giving young people preparing for marriage a genuine experience of participation in ecclesial life and a complete introduction to various aspects of life which will enable them to live the rest of their lives together with a sense of joy and fulfillment. They should be assisted to focus on the strong points of their partners. They also need to be encouraged to help their partners to develop good qualities to counter balance the weak areas they might discover later.
b. Accompanying the Couple in the First Years of Married Life
Accompanying couples in the first years of married life is significant as many couples enter into marriage without realizing that family life is a project to be worked on together. In such cases love and joy of life which marked the initial days of married life will soon give way to constant questioning and criticism. Consecrated persons need to help such couples to see life as a common project and to place one’s partner’s happiness above one’s own. They need to take special care in training the couples to negotiate in mutual love as an interplay of give and take where there are neither winners nor losers. Couples should be brought to the awareness that married life is a process of growth, in which each spouse is God’s means of helping the other to mature. “Young couples should be encouraged to develop a routine that gives a healthy sense of closeness and stability through shared daily rituals. These could include a morning kiss, an evening blessing, waiting at the door to welcome each other home, taking trips together and sharing household chores. Yet it also helps to break the routine with a party, and to enjoy family celebrations of anniversaries and special events,” (Amoris Laetitia 226).
c. Casting Light on Crises, Worries and Difficulties
One of the greatest services that clergy and religious can do to bring joy of life and love in families is to cast light on crises, worries and difficulties. They need to help the couples to realize that even when their family life is marked by all kinds of crises, they can remain united and improve and mature in their relationships. Every member of a family, undergoing some crises, should be made aware that a crisis is a turning point, a decisive change which creates a situation for which the habitual behavior patterns of a person or a family are in adequate. When they are helped to view crises in this way, they will face challenges courageously and accept them as part of family life. There are various areas that a consecrated person needs to enter to be a channel of the joy of life and love in families that face challenges.
i. Family Visits
The visit of a pastor to a family brings delight to its members. Family apostate is generally centered around parish churches. Close family contact is still maintained in most town and country parishes. However, in larger churches, especially in cities, such contact has become more impersonal and infrequent. Today’s clergy and religious need to turn the tide and focus their attention on families especially through organized family visits. Such visits should not be limited to praying for the sick or a yearly house blessing. They should help the families to build close relationships with the Lord and one another. Family visits can be a good occasion to introduce its members to family worship. When a family develops the habit of daily family worship, the joy of living in the presence of God fills the heart of every member in that family. It fortifies each member of the household against error and sin.
In helping a family to establish deep relationship with God, a consecrated person enables its members to face courageously moments of strain and friction. Where families worship together, disharmony, tension, and distrust are dissolved; fear and anxiety disappear and an atmosphere of love and joy prevails. Hindrances to family worship are many. Inability to find time for prayer is the most mentioned hindrance. Consecrated persons, at times, need to play the role of motivators who can help the faithful to understand that a family that wants to find time for prayer can always find it in spite of works and other responsibilities.
ii. The Need to Listen
An individual or a family can be affected by various crises which upset the smooth running of family life. Apart from the common crises involving finances, problems in the workplace, emotional, social and spiritual difficulties, unexpected situations present themselves disrupting family life. It is in this context that a consecrated person needs to develop the ministry of listening. When a consecrated person avails himself or herself as one who understands and listens to someone with full attention one who speaks feels affirmed and important. To listen is to pay attention, take an interest, care about, take to heart, validate, acknowledge, be moved, and appreciate. A good listener is able to give the one who speak a sense of being understood for what he or she is going through. When one feels understood and accepted, he or she feels easy to express his or her feelings which not only leads to a sense of relief but also enables the speaker to face his or her problems more effectively.
Active listening has a healing effect on the person who shares his or her troubles. In other words, when one realizes that he or she is given total attention by the one who listens, he or she feels special. With such emotional support the speaker will be able to look at life and his or her situation with a different perspective. Listening lances the psychic wound so that powerful pent-up feelings can drain, and healing can begin. We often hear from people who have been carrying a lot of emotional baggage that they feel very relieved after sharing them with someone. When we are willing to spend some time listening to someone who is depressed or in any kind of stress we become part of that person’s healing process
iii. Family Centered Education
Today, many diocesan and religious institutes are known for the services they render in the field of education. However, it can be noticed that their services are often limited to physical edifices of bricks and mortar. Each educator should acknowledge the role families play in the maturing of children. So a consecrated person who is an educator should keep in touch with the family members, especially parents of the students who are under them. They can do this by making frequent calls or occasional visits.
In most of the educational settings, owned and managed by religious and clergy, subjects such as value education and moral science are taught by individuals who are consecrated. In such instances improvising methods which will enrich family life should be one of their concerns as they prepare their lesson plans. This can be done by careful choices of stories poems, video clips and so on which encourage the students to contribute in building a happy environment in their own families.
Clergy and religious are able to make a difference in families through the ministry of counseling. In a special manner, Christian counseling should be a standard procedure in every parish. Proper counseling provided in time can not only keep the members of a family united but also prevent unhappy situations such as divorce. Couples should be made clear that divorce is not a solution but a retreat or an escape. Counselors must take time and explain the new problems that a divorce can bring in and the negative impacts it can cause in the lives of their children. At times, the respect for one’s own dignity and the good of the children makes separation inevitable. Even in such cases “separation must be considered as a last resort after all other reasonable attempts at reconciliation have proved vain” (Amoris Laetitia 241). Those involved in counseling must empower individuals to forgive their partners even if they have suffered grave injustices. It is not easy but counseling must necessarily include efforts at reconciliation and mediation.
v. Bringing God’s Embrace
Tender words and expressions used in a conversation, at times, can make significant impacts on families weighed down by problems. Pope Francis entrusts this mission to consecrated men and women: to discover the Lord who comforts us like a mother, and to comfort the people of God. Families facing challenges certainly need consoling words which bear witness to the mercy and tenderness of God, warms hearts and rekindles hope. Life of the clergy and religious is fundamentally based on the joy of meeting the Lord. So in families that are disrupted by distrust, discouragement and depression, in a culture in which its members are enveloped by fragility and weakness, individualism and self-interest, consecrated persons are asked to introduce belief in the possibility of true happiness. They need to bring to everyone the embrace of God through the words they speak and the decisions they make. Even a simple gesture such as wearing a smile can bring consolation to the members of a family in trouble.
vi. Media Education
In the recent years the revolution spearheaded by mass media, television and social networking sites in particular, has profoundly affected family life. They are a primary source of news, information and entertainment for countless families shaping their attitudes and opinions, their values and patterns of behavior. While it can enrich family life and draw members of a family closer to each other, it can also harm family life by propagating degrading values and models of behavior. Clergy and religious need to render services to families by offering them media education and programme evaluation. They need to create awareness that while being active in the world of media is not morally objectionable it can still have negative impacts on the family. Through seminars and awareness programmes they must point out the effects of media addiction in families which can isolate family members in their private worlds, cutting them off from authentic interpersonal relations. By doing so, they can prevent occasions which divide families by alienating parents from children and children from parents. Consecrated persons can help families by producing and disseminating family oriented programmes, or by promoting such programmes.
Clergy and religious can play a significant role in facilitating the joy of life and love in families. The most crucial element for a consecrated person, in this regard, is to be interested in being signs and bearers of God’s love to families. People experiencing difficulties in family relationships are often embarrassed. They observe priests and religious carefully to see if they will be taken seriously before saying out loud that they need help. One who speaks of the importance of family and demonstrates understanding of hardships and mistakes will create a context within which people will seek help early rather than late. Only such a person will be able to facilitate joy of life and love in families.