Bishop's Column

The important mission of the family

By Bishop James Conley 

“When the fullness of time had come,” says St. Paul, “God sent his Son, born of a woman,” so that we might be set free from sin, reborn into the inner life of God, and made sons and daughters of the Father, adopted into Christ Jesus.

God sent his son to a particular family, at a particular time and place, according the mystery and wisdom of his will. After man’s fall from grace, God formed a people, a nation, to whom he revealed himself, preparing them for the birth of his son.

And from that nation, God chose a family: one man, and one woman, Mary and Joseph, who would become the human family of the Incarnate Word of God. It was in and through this family that God saved the world.

This past Sunday, I celebrated Holy Mass at the Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem, built on the site which Christians have long believed is the birthplace and childhood home of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I am visiting the Holy Land with members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, including several couples from the Diocese of Lincoln. It was a powerful experience to celebrate Mass in the place where Mary’s parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, prepared and formed her for the great mission of her life.

While I was there, I was struck that every family has a critical role to play in the proclamation of the Gospel and the mission of the Church. St. Anne and St. Joachim were called to form Our Lady for an extraordinary vocation, without knowing quite what it would be, or how important it would become. The same thing is true for the parents of St. Joseph. And St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother were called, in the context of their own families, to bear the Son of God, and to raise him in preparation for his passion, death, and resurrection.

God has called families, from the very beginning of time, as essential participants in fulfilling his will, and in the mission of the Kingdom. He calls families now, to unique missions, charisms, and apostolates. Not all families are called to the same kind of life or ministry. But, to be sure, every family is called to serve the Gospel in some unique way, and to witness to the truth of God’s design for the human race. And, I am absolutely convinced that the renewal of Christian culture in our own country and around the world, depends largely upon families, who discern, and courageously follow, the Lord’s call for their family life.

In the first place, families are called to be courageously open to life, so that they can cooperate with God in the procreation and education of children. Contraception (artificial birth control) has done more to damage and disorient the family than any other factor in recent history. It is no coincidence that the rapid rise in divorce coincided with the social acceptance of contraception in the wake of the sexual revolution. Contraception is like a sword that severs the fundamental meaning and purpose of marriage: the unity of spouses and the procreation of children, the bond between love and life.

Families are also called to discover the unique ways in which their own missionary activity can give witness to the Gospel, manifest the Lord’s mercy, and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ and his Church. This isn’t easy. Our culture disparages families who are open to life. And it can be difficult to perceive the family as primarily a community of mission, when our contemporary culture miscasts it as primarily a community of consumption, designed to satisfy the individual members. But God is calling families to renew culture, not consume it, and to be the basis for an authentic civilization of love in a spirit of generosity and self sacrifice.

I was struck, at the childhood home of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the sacrifices her parents made in trust and obedience to the Lord. The fruit of those sacrifices are incomprehensible. The same thing is true now for all families who imitate the family of Our Lady. May St. Anne, St. Joachim, and the Blessed Virgin Mary intercede for all families, the heart of a culture of life.

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