The last keynote of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia took a tag-team approach, when Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston and evangelical pastor Rick Warren took to the stage Sept. 25 and urged families to answer their missionary call.
The two churchmen shared the one-hour slot to give their respective reflections on the theme, “The Joy of the Gospel of Life,” peppering their talks with humor and personal experience in their own particular style.
Warren took the microphone first, addressing thousands of congress participants. He began by recalling Pope Francis’ words that families are under threat.
After listing a series of threats against the family in the current culture, he said Christians are “disorganized” and “demoralized” and need to “revitalize our worship, minimize our differences, mobilize our members and re-energize our families.”
Rather than focusing on what is negative, Christians need “to be proponents of what is right” and to celebrate the sanctity of life, marriage and family, said Warren, an author and the founder of the evangelical megachurch Saddleback Church in California.
Warren offered five steps to creating joy-filled families.
“First, joy-filled families are based on the love of God,” he said. “They live it, they experience it, they enjoy it, they model it and they offer it to others.”
God is love and God’s love is unconditional and eternal, he said. A person cannot stop God from loving them, he added.
“As a parent, your first duty is to let God love you. We love because he first loved us,” he said. Parents must then love God back and subsequently offer love to their families and others.
“Second, joy-filled families are built on purpose,” he said.
The family is called to be a domestic church and to help its members to discover their purpose, which begins with God.
“You were made by God and for God,” he said. “Until you understand that, life will not make sense.”
Third, “joy-filled families focus on becoming like Christ,” he said. The means include spiritual formation, discipleship and education, though hardships may also enter into the equation, he said.
“God is more interested in your character than your comfort” in speaking about challenges people face, he said. These challenges are opportunities to grow like Christ through suffering.
Fourth, joy-filled families serve together. Families are intended to be a “launch pad” for service to others, he added.
Fifth, joy-filled families fulfill their mission to love and to tell others of God’s grace.
“Everyone is hungry for the Gospel,” he said.
Warren said the theme for the rest of his life is based on the words spoken by his dying father: “Save one more for Jesus.” He urged all congress participants to do the same, to “recover the mission of the church” and to “reach one more (person) for Jesus as families full of joy.”
Cardinal O’Malley also underlined how all families are called to be missionary disciples.
“Beauty and joy are the most powerful tools we have to evangelize,” said Cardinal O’Malley, a Capuchin, who sits on Pope Francis’ nine-member Council of Cardinals.
“Together, we want to dream of a world where the beauty of family life attracts people to make a gift of themselves in marriage to build a domestic church to build a civilization of love,” he said.
The “big decision” in family life is to love, he said.
“In God’s plans, families are missionaries” and marriage “is the sanctuary of life,” he said.
Families “pass on the faith to new generations,” and a family that lives the Gospel becomes the evangelizer of many families, he said.
The cardinal shared how he was profoundly impacted as a young man by a couple in Akron, Ohio, who had adopted children with severe disabilities and cared for them with love and devotion.
Families that live as a community of love are capable of changing the course of history and opening “the door to allow the light of God to enter the world and … helps us to be open to life,” the cardinal said.
Remarking that the United States, along with other Western countries, has become new mission territory for the church, the cardinal said there was a need “to find a way to bring the Gospel to the contemporary world, by proclaiming Christ anew.”
“Our task is to turn consumers into disciples and disciple-makers,” he said.
Most people learn how to be Christians “by looking over the shoulder” of someone who is living the faith, such as an older member of their family, he said.
Faith, like language, is learned in community, he added.
Evangelization is about changing the crowd, which is “motivated by self-interest” and “thrown together by circumstance,” into “a community … and it must begin with our families,” he said.
“All too often the subliminal message of helicoptering parents is that if you excel at everything, then you will deserve my love,” he said. Rather, a family must be where people pray together, share their faith, know how to forgive and show unconditional love.
Families need to gather the family around the dinner table and the eucharistic table, where people experience unconditional love and to love unconditionally.
Cardinal O’Malley described the ecumenical keynote as an important witness “of unity in today’s world, as we strive to proclaim the Gospel of Life.”