Yesterday, I discovered his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio on the role of the Christian family in the modern world. I was trying to establish the origin of the phrase “Domestic Church”. Pope John Paul II used this phrase on numerous occasions to describe the family. I am working on a presentation for parents and I wanted to offer some insight into this title for the family unit. The earliest reference by Pope John Paul II to the Domestic Church that I can find is in Familiaris Consortio. This is a ninety-four page document so I have not read it all yet. However, what I did cover left me overwhelmed. This document was released in 1981. Why weren’t we listening then? If we had taken to heart Pope John Paul II’s words at that time, so many of our social ills could have been averted. Over twenty-five years ago warned us that forces were trying to reshape the design of the family into something that was contrary to God’s plan. He exhorted us to protect the family because it is the foundation of our society. He also explicitly addressed how the family relates to the whole Church:
49. Among the fundamental tasks of the Christian family is its ecclesial task: the family is placed at the service of the building up of the Kingdom of God in history by participating in the life and mission of the Church.
In order to understand better the foundations, the contents and the characteristics of this participation, we must examine the many profound bonds linking the Church and the Christian family and establishing the family as a "Church in miniature" (Ecclesia domestica),(114) in such a way that in its own way the family is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church.
It is, above all, the Church as Mother that gives birth to, educates and builds up the Christian family, by putting into effect in its regard the saving mission which she has received from her Lord. By proclaiming the word of God, the Church reveals to the Christian family its true identity, what it is and should be according to the Lord's plan; by celebrating the sacraments, the Church enriches and strengthens the Christian family with the grace of Christ for its sanctification to the glory of the Father; by the continuous proclamation of the new commandment of love, the Church encourages and guides the Christian family to the service of love, so that it may imitate and relive the same self-giving and sacrificial love that the Lord Jesus has for the entire human race.
In turn, the Christian family is grafted into the mystery of the Church to such a degree as to become a sharer, in its own way, in the saving mission proper to the Church: by virtue of the sacrament, Christian married couples and parents "in their state and way of life have their own special gift among the People of God."(115) For this reason they not only receive the love of Christ and become a saved community, but they are also called upon to communicate Christ's love to their brethren, thus becoming a saving community. In this way, while the Christian family is a fruit and sign of the supernatural fecundity of the Church, it stands also as a symbol, witness and participant of the Church's motherhood.(116)
Our families have a distinct role in the Church’s mission of Salvation. We have a responsibility to participate in the saving of souls. And we’re not just talking about our own souls. Our family lives must always proclaim the Gospel through our family prayers, words, and deeds. What an awesome concept. Imagine if we all used this as the guiding principle for our families.
Great. Now I have another idea for an adult education class. We need to work our way through Familiaris Consortio and discover the spiritual potential of our families.