Principles and Purposes of "Families for Families"
Synopsis of "Familiaris Consortio" by Pope Saint John Paul II
“Associations of Families for Families” accept the “task to foster among the faithful a lively sense of solidarity
. . . a manner of living inspired by the Gospel and by the faith of the Church, to form consciences according to Christian values . . . works of charity for one another and for others with a spirit of openness which will make Christian families into a true source of light and a wholesome leaven for other families . . . [and for] the common good”.
The above citation by Pope John Paul II is the thesis of the "Associations of Families for Families” drawn from Saint John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, published in 1981 which are redacted into Ten Principles for the formation of family for husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and children.
Principle One: Liberating Worldly Families
4, 5, 30, 37. There are many compromised families today trying to balance their lives between two worlds, the here and the now and the world to come. But “No one can serve two masters”, Jesus taught, “He will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [the world].”(Matthew 6:24). Saint John Paul II keenly understood this disorder affecting many compromised families. The world would have us serve its mundane, material needs for its own profit and thereby convince us that we must do the same – for money, the “good life” and our own satisfactions and pleasures – with a passing regard for others including family, spouses and children.
Many families are also hobbled by divorce and one parent households. Hope can, however, “spring eternal” for all of us when we focus on the new world to come. Jesus accepts us and our families, here and now, whatever the condition of our present lives as long as we follow him to our future yearning. He accepted the circumstances of the unmarried woman at the well in the town of Sychar who had had five husbands and was cohabiting with a sixth, accepted the plight of the widow in Naim whose only son and provider died whom Jesus restored to life and accepted the crazy demonically possessed violent husband who lived in a cave chained to rocks on the outskirts of town whom Jesus restored and returned him to his family and many other people in the gospels who were alone, separated or ostracized from society who accepted Jesus as “the way, the truth and the life”. (John 4:4ff; Luke 7:11-15; Mark 5:1-20; John 14:6). In each instance Jesus was more concerned about the health of their souls than their bodily diseases, more concerned about their faith and repentance: “Your faith has saved you,” and “Go and sin no more.” Jesus suffered the effects of a “wicked generation” for whose sake he said he would be their “bridegroom” in whose family we belong, his confused and broken children. There is “hope” for everyone in reunion and reconciliation in the family and the Church.
Recognizing the danger of excessive attachment to material goods, John Paul II understood, that “children must grow up with a correct attitude of freedom with regard to material goods, by adopting a simple and austere life style and being fully convinced that “man is more precious for what he is than for what he has.” Excessive personal attachment and satisfaction from material possessions is akin to personal attachment to sensual pleasure especially food and sex. (Italics mine).
Principle Two: Restoring Fundamental Family Values
6. The road to recovery -- from what ails us – especially in our families begins with repentance. John the Baptist, the prophet who preceded Jesus and Jesus himself preached continuously, “Repent for the kingdom heaven is at hand” at the doorstep, on the rooftop or in the fields for a “time we do not know”. First, we need to acknowledge our disorders before we can remedy them. What’s going on in the home? Family time, conversation and home care or solitary meals, television, internet and calls away from home alone? What’s going on outside the home? Family ‘home-work’, family visits and outings or individual projects, sports and social activities detached from family? What’s going on at work? Employment at regular hours, home-care and the companionship of children or odd working hours, daycare, notes on the frig and sudden cell calls and text messages? John Paul II wrote about the “degradation of some fundamental values” on which many justify their right “of independent spouses” and their divided “relationship of authority between parents and children.” Parents who fail to instill in their families a “transmission of values”, John Paul II said, account for “the growing number of divorces . . . abortion . . . recourse to sterilization [and] . . . contraceptive mentality” which weaken and undermine the bonds of marriage and family. John Paul II also cited “a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom” which subverts “the truth of God’s plan for marriage and family”. Autonomy in a family, a parent’s or a child’s interest in “one’s own selfish
well-being”, devolve into sterile attachments to possessions and all kinds of selfish activities. The worldly anxious spouse then lacks the “generosity and courage needed for raising up new human life . . . often seen not as a blessing, [but] as a danger . . . to defend oneself” from. The business of mass media, television and the internet, its programs and commercials sell products and services which too frequently appeal to human selfishness -- envy, greed and vanity – and undermine virtuous family values, simplicity, selflessness and generosity. Under the guise of a culture of “freedom of expression” the media news and entertainment programs on television run fifty or more commercials a hour often selling products and services with no real redemptive value and damaging enticements for families. These programs and commercials are not as John Paul II wrote “immune” from “obscuring certain fundamental values . . . [which] set themselves as the critical conscience of family culture”.
Principle Three: Chastity and Conjugal Love in Marriage
16, 32-34. The pervasive media message that sexual relations should be “safe” free from all consequences and pregnancy – explains why a majority of men and women no longer marry and do not have children when they cohabit. Each year in the last several years fewer children are conceived or brought to term. Trust, fidelity and chastity in marriage are not as some claim “a rejection of human sexuality . . . . [but] rather [they] strengthen the “spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness”. John Paul II further explained that chastity makes possible “the observance of periodic continence . . . a discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples [which] far from harming conjugal love . . . confers on [marriage] a higher human value. It demands continual effort, yet, thanks to its [chastity’s] beneficent influence husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life [the] fruits of serenity and peace and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one’s partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring”.
Principle Four: Sex Education of Children
37-39, 43. “Parents [are] called to give their children a clear and delicate sex education. Faced with a culture that
largely reduces human sexuality to . . . something commonplace [that is] . . . the body and with selfish pleasure” rather than marriage – the culture can not appreciate that “sex is truly and fully personal . . . an enrichment of the whole person – body, emotions and soul [which] manifest [marriage’s] inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love . . . . [And for this] chastity is absolutely essential. It is a virtue that develops a person’s authentic maturity . . . capable of respecting and fostering the “nuptial meaning” of the body”. Without this “home schooling” children are at “risk of becoming more and more depersonalized . . . and therefore inhuman and dehumanizing” which incites many kinds of “escapism – alcoholism, drugs and even terrorism. The family possesses and continues [however] to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his anonymity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity”. With perseverance the “the formidable energy” of a family remains the most powerful force for good in the education of children.
Principle Five: Small scale Churches inside the Large scale Church
48, 49. “The family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood” where it lives. (Reference from Evangelii Nunciandi, no. 71 Paul VI, Rome: 1976.)
53. “The parents' ministry of evangelization and catechesis ought to play a part in their children's lives also during adolescence and youth, when the children, as often happens, challenge or even reject the Christian faith received in earlier years.” Here is where patience and the personal testimony of parents and their parental wisdom matter most in the advice they give and the advice they receive from other cooperating families and especially from priests.
54. “A form of missionary activity can be exercised even within the family. This happens when some member of the family does not have the faith or does not practice it with consistency. In such a case the other members must give him or her a living witness of their own faith in order to encourage and support him or her along the path towards full acceptance of Christ the Savior.”
58-60. Each person and each member of a family, Sacramentally and personally, should be ready to ask for and extend forgiveness to others in the family. Parents and children who regularly say they are “Sorry” to each other and in the confessional and who regularly pray together build strong family relationships. Parents should take the lead in this especially in their participation in the sacraments, going to Confession together, for example, and discussing each’s personal insights after Mass or other Sacramental experiences.
Principle Six: Remote Preparation for Marriage
66. The best “preparation of young people for marriage and family life” happens inside their own families. By the grace of good example parents exercise the greatest influence in preparing their children for marriage more than all others “in good times and in bad.” Children will learn from their parents that “things are not what they seem” and that God does not judge “appearances . . . but looks into the heart”. (1 Samuel 16:7) Considering marriage and possible spouse’s virtue and character is far more important than his or her physical attraction and appearance. The trust a parent and a child have established with each other will be the best ‘silent advice’ a young adult child may receive from a parent when contemplating marriage. Inevitably, adult children will naturally compare the people they meet with their fathers and mothers and their personal sensibilities as father and mother and not only as husband and wife. Grown children will bring to their relationship the habits and insights they have developed in their birth families.
Principle Seven: Pastoral Care after Marriage
69. “Within the church community--the great family made up of Christian families--there will take place a mutual exchange . . . and help among all the families, each one putting at the service of others its own experience of life, as well as the gifts of faith and grace. Animated by a true apostolic spirit, this assistance from family to family will constitute one of the simplest, most effective and most accessible means for transmitting
. . . those Christian values which are both the starting point and goal of all pastoral care. Thus young families will not limit themselves merely to receiving but . . . having been helped . . . will become a source of enrichment for other longer established families, through their witness of life and practical contribution. In her pastoral care of young families, the Church must also pay special attention to helping them to live married love responsibly in relationship with its demands of communion and service to life. She must likewise help them to harmonize . . . the generous shared work of building up the Church and society. When children are born and the married couple becomes a family . . . the Church will still remain close to the parents in order that they may accept their children and love them as a gift received from the Lord of life, and joyfully accept the task of serving them in their human and Christian growth.”
Principle Eight: The Church Community and in Particular the Parish
70. “No plan for organized pastoral work, at any level, must ever fail to take into consideration the pastoral care of the family.” The “lost sheep” of the family of God rarely if ever make an appointment to see a parish priest or occasionally reach out for God’s help in times of trouble. As Jesus did they must be met how and where they are in their families or in other settings. Parents and families whose children and relatives have “lost” faith know were they are and how to reach out to them better than strangers. They are in the best and perhaps only place to draw them back to the fold with patience and forbearance. Our faith is not a private but a communal calling which depends upon the faithful’s intervention. We will always be our “brother’s keeper.”
Principle Nine: The Family
71. “It is especially necessary to recognize the unique . . . mission of married couples and Christian families, by virtue of the grace received in the sacrament. This mission must be placed at the service of building up the Church, the establishment of the Kingdom of God in history. This is demanded as an act of docile obedience to Christ the Lord. [For Christ raised the] marriage of baptized persons . . . to a sacrament [and] confers upon . . . married couples a special mission as apostles, sending them as workers into His vineyard, and, in a very special way, into this field of the family.” “In this activity, married couples act in communion and collaboration with the other members of the Church, who also work for the family, contributing their own gifts and ministries. This apostolate will be exercised in the first place within the families of those concerned, through the witness of a life lived in conformity with the divine law in all its aspects, through the Christian formation of children, through helping them to mature in faith, through education to chastity, through preparation for life, through vigilance in protecting them from the ideological and moral dangers with which they are often threatened, through their gradual and responsible inclusion in the church community and the civil community, through help and advice in choosing a vocation, through mutual help among family members for human and Christian growth together, and so on. The apostolate of the family will also become wider through works of spiritual and material charity towards other families, especially those most in need of help and support, towards the poor, the sick, the old, the handicapped, orphans, widows, spouses who have been abandoned, unmarried mothers and mothers-to-be in difficult situations who are tempted to have recourse to abortion.”
Principle Ten: Associations of Families for Families
72. “Associations of Families for Families” accept the “task to foster among the faithful a lively sense of solidarity, to favor a manner of living inspired by the Gospel and by the faith of the Church, to form consciences according to Christian values and not according to the standards of public opinion; to stimulate people to perform works of charity for one another and for others with a spirit of openness which will make Christian families into a true source of light and a wholesome leaven for other families.”
Conclusion and Summary
86. Saint John Paul II summed up his motives for exhorting “Associations of Families for Families” because “the future of humanity passes by way of the family”.
85. “There exist in the world countless people who unfortunately cannot in any sense claim membership of what could be called in the proper sense a family.” These include those who live “in extreme poverty”, in “promiscuity, lack of housing” and “irregular relationships and extreme lack of education make it impossible . . . to speak of a true family. There are others who, for various reasons, have been left alone in the world. And yet for all of these people there exists a ‘good news of the family’.” “For those who have no natural family the doors of the great family which is the Church . . . is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labor and are heavy burdened.”
77, 78, 80-84. The “Care of the Family in Difficult Cases” has not been included in this survey although every family should be concerned for all other families in dire straights and whatever assistance they can provide. These special care cases include families which are “ideologically divided”, “mixed marriages of non-Catholic spouses”, “trial or cohabiting couples”, couples married outside the Church and separated and divorced Catholics who have or have not remarried. A priest should be consulted in these cases.