francis-christian-families Photo by (2015) via Creative Commons Zero (CCO)

What makes Christian families different? How do you identify them?

Pope Francis answered those questions in a homily given at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, 27 October 2013. It’s almost two years old, but I’m sure his views haven’t changed.

As thoughts and prayers go out for the World Meeting of Families happening soon in Philadelphia, here's a reflection on three basic features of Christian families, as highlighted by Pope Francis.

1. Prayer

The first thing is: Christian families pray.

Sometimes people are confused about how to pray as a family, the Pope notes. Prayer and families seem at odds. Prayer is personal, private, and…quiet. Families are never quiet.

While acknowledging this is true, Pope Francis nevertheless adds it is most necessary. The family, he says, should pray in humility “realizing that we need God, like the tax collector! And all families, we need God: all of us! We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness.”

The family should also pray in simplicity. It doesn’t need to be complicated to be effective.

“Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength!  And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents….praying for each other.  This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer.”

2. Being Missionaries

“The Apostle Paul, at the end of his life, makes a final reckoning and says: “I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). But how did he keep the faith? Not in a strong box!” the Pope proclaims.

How did the early Church safeguard the Deposit of Faith? By giving it away! Think about it. The more people know the true faith, the less people can distort it and falsify it. Doctrine is only in danger of being misinterpreted and misrepresented when people don’t widely know it. St. Paul preserved the faith by going into the world and sharing it, not by walling himself off and hiding it.

The Pope asks, “How do we keep our faith as a family?  Do we keep it for ourselves, in our families, as a personal treasure like a bank account, or are we able to share it by our witness, by our acceptance of others, by our openness?... Christian families are missionary families.”

And, by their witness and difference, they become leaven in the world.

3. Experiencing Joy

“Dear families,” Pope Francis says, “you know very well that the true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects, from the fact that everything seems to be going well...True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons…And above all, a love which is patient: patience is a virtue of God and he teaches us how to cultivate it in family life, how to be patient, and lovingly so, with each other…God alone knows how to create harmony from differences. But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centeredness prevails and joy fades.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 2204 says the Christian families should be domestic churches. What does that mean? The same things that happen in a church should happen in a family. God is worshipped, the faith is handed on, the faith is spread, and disciples are made. As Christ is the center of the Church, so he should be the center and animating principal of family life.

The Catechism also says in no. 2223 the family is the perfect place for “education in the virtues.” Learning virtues like patience, kindness, compassion, detachment, humility, and magnanimity help both parents and children to live with others in close community and in society. The Christian family is the crucible where authentic relationship is exercised and perfected. From that effort imbued with grace comes harmony and joy.

Prayer, a missionary spirit, and joy. Three aspects that characterize Christian families according to Pope Francis. Let’s pray for the grace to live these ideals within our families so we can be that salt, light, and leaven in the world.

What do you think? What things does your family do great?  What things do you need to work on?


Copyright 2015 Marc Cardaronella
Photo by (2015) via Creative Commons Zero (CCO)