By Cardinal Justin Rigali

Pope Benedict’s recent Letter in anticipation of the World Day of Families, to be held in 2012, is the occasion for our topic this week.

A joy, not a weapon
Whenever we reflect on God’s gifts of nature, or His complete revelation in Jesus Christ, we do not use these truths as weapons. We may use them to illustrate God’s plan for us more clearly, and we may use them to know His truth for our salvation, but we do not use His teachings to condemn anyone. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is an excellent example of this manner of presenting the truths of Jesus and His Church. He explains them clearly, kindly, fearlessly and with an understanding of human nature, but he does not use them to condemn anyone. All of this is important to remember as we reflect upon the place of the family in God’s plan.

In reflecting on the value of the family, we must begin where the family itself begins: within the gift of marriage. The great dignity of the inspanidual and the glorious calling that is given to a man and woman who give themselves to each other in committed love was beautifully expressed by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter on the dignity of woman.

He wrote: “The fact that man ‘created as man and woman’ is the image of God means not only that each of them inspanidually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a ‘unity of the two’ in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one spanine life” (Mulieris Dignitatem, 7).

In a recently released book, celebrating the first five years of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI (“Benedict XVI: Essays and Reflections on His Papacy”), Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the author, has a chapter which refers to “the look of love,” that everyone longs for. It is a reflection on Pope Benedict’s marvelous ability to show his interest in, and recognize the dignity of, each of the many people he meets by looking directly at them with affection and interest. This “look” is something which we all desire in some way.

The fact that God first “looked” at us in desiring that we each be a part of His creation is what gives each of us his or her own dignity. This love is the reflection of the mutual gaze of the three Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity. The unique giving of a man and woman to one another in committed, married love is an outstanding image of this “look,” which two people bestow on one another. Their love causes them to come together in a great physical expression of that love, which must always be open to its fruit: the gift of children.

Children deserve to be raised in a loving and stable home in which that same “look of love” is given to them by parents who themselves love one another. The benefits of the living out of this part of God’s plan in fidelity are manifold, both for the inspaniduals involved and for society. In extolling marriage and the family and their place in God’s plan, we are motivated by the desire to have this need fulfilled for as many as possible.

“Work and Celebration”
The theme for the worldwide celebration of the family in 2012 will be: “The Family: Work and Celebration.” Although the basic concepts of the family, work and celebration are found in the book of Genesis, they present a particular challenge in our time. According to God’s plan, the ability to work and fulfill our obligations, whether inside or outside the home, contributes to our dignity. This is one of the reasons why the Son of God came into our midst, and willed to be known as “the son of the carpenter.”

However, one of the weaknesses of our human nature is our struggle to see things in their proper perspective. We sometimes place too much emphasis on one aspect of life, while allowing another aspect to suffer. The dignity of work and the necessity to work can also become an obsession that excludes the other aspects and responsibilities of family life. While it may begin as a praiseworthy desire to fulfill one’s responsibilities to the family, there is always the danger that it can become an obsession that can actually lead to the breakdown of the family and the heartache that accompanies it.

It is interesting to note that, both in the lives of earlier immigrants to this country, as well as our newer immigrants, there has been, and is, a great desire and necessity to work. However, in those very communities, confronted with so many challenges, simple and joyful spanersions have been, and are, a great part of immigrant life. This is often sustained by the wider immigrant community, who band together to maintain family and cultural ties and to enjoy legitimate recreation in that context. In those contexts, the hardworking person rarely becomes a “workaholic.”

Many of these poorer communities have an understanding that work is necessary in order to fulfill our responsibilities and contribute to our human dignity, but it is not an end in itself, nor does it fulfill every human desire.

In his Letter in preparation for the 2012 World Day of the Family, Pope Benedict summarized these challenges in this way: “Unfortunately, in our day, the organization of work, seen and fulfilled as a means of competition and of seeking the greatest profit, and the idea of free time, seen as occasion to avoid work and partake of the consumerist mentality, contribute to the breakdown of the family and the community and to the spread of an inspanidualistic way of life. Therefore, it is necessary to promote a reflection on the duty of coordinating the needs of the time of work with those of the family and to regain the true sense of free time, especially that of Sunday, which is the weekly Easter; the day of the Lord and the day of the human person; the day of the family, of the community, and the day when we unite ourselves to one another.”

The significance of the “Day of the Lord”
In order to have a clearer understanding of the Day of the Lord, Sunday, and its place in building up the family, we turn to our ancestors in the faith, the Jewish people. The understanding of the Sabbath that was revealed to them included not only worshiping God and abstaining from work, but abstaining from work as a sign of dependance on God. The idea is really a reflection on the line of Psalm 127: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build.”

An inspanidual may be conscious of the need to work and the necessity of putting all of his or her other efforts into fulfilling those responsibilities. However, one day is given over to God and to abstaining from unnecessary work as an acknowledgment of the fact that everything does not depend on me alone for its success. If God does not give me the ability to work and if He does not bless my work, then all I do will be in vain. Therefore, I give over a day to Him, when I do not work, as a sign of dependance and humility. Since everything in God’s plan works for out good, the preservation of Sunday also helps un in our human needs. It provides the rest that we need and it allows us to enjoy one another within the “domestic church,” which is the family.

The greatest “support system”
In God’s plan, there exists one of the greatest “support systems” for the inspanidual and for society itself: the family. It is a self-contained unit within society which, when lived by each member according to its proper purpose, provides a marvelous source of love, security, self-worth and mutual support.

As human beings, we sometimes tend to view things in the short term, while forgetting the entire picture. It can seem a means of stifling one’s freedom to commit to another person within marriage, and to bring forth children as the loving result of that union. Certainly, marriage and the family bring great responsibilities with it. However, in the long term, it is the very concept of the family that brings the security we long for and that enables children to be raised in a stable and loving environment. This, in turn, can bring great joy and satisfaction to parents. Curiously, it is often the absence of a family structure that causes dependance on impersonal structures and the eventual loss of the freedom that we so crave.

In these days of great challenge, let us recognize this great gift that God has placed within our very nature: the gift of the family.

7 October 2010