The family is the basic cell of society, as well as of the Church.
The Family, hope for the world
The family is the basic cell of society, as well as of the Church. God explicitly shows this to us in the holy family of Nazareth. This is why the Second Vatican Council referred to the family as the domestic church.
The founders of “FIAT”, for their part, considered the family so important that they gave the fledgling Association the name “Family International Apostolic Team”, concerned as they were to help families rediscover their eminent vocation within God’s plan.
Cardinal Suenens effectively became the apostle of the family. He never ceased speaking and writing on the topic of the family and asking us to pray for families. He strongly emphasized family ministry in his own diocese, for instance by creating a “school for marriage” which has now become the C.P.M. (marriage preparation centers). There are such centers in numerous dioceses today. The Cardinal likewise supported the weekends for couples organized principally by “Marriage Encounter”, a programme originating in the United States, as well as by “Amour et Vérité” (Love and truth) run by the Emmanuel community.
The 1980 Synod of Bishops in Rome was devoted to the family, and led to the publication of the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, one of the most important documents of the pontificate of John Paul II.
More directly relevant to “FIAT”, Cardinal Danneels saw the FIAT rosary as first of all a tool for prayer: “so that families may become Cenacles of the apostles, united around the Virgin Mary”.
Knowing that, in God, they give themselves to one another
In the relationship between a man and a woman, when it follows a normal trajectory, there is the astonishing element of a force of love that “draws” one to the other beyond mere physical attraction or sexual desire. Then, without knowing each other very well, they begin gradually to have greater trust in each other, until at last they accept each other for life and, as it is written in the book of Genesis, the two become one.
If we understand that to “accept” and to “receive” is to be a gift of God for the other, everything changes in a relationship. All of a sudden, we no longer have to walk on eggshells in the hope of “deserving” the other. On the contrary, as gifts coming from God, we never cease to discover the richness of the other. This gift of God constitutes the sacrament of marriage, sign and image of the love of Christ for his spouse, the Church.
Certain people discover this grace at the time of their betrothal, others only after many years of marriage… But this discovery gives oxygen to the couple, to the family and to the entire community around them.
Becoming brother and sister in Christ
Even if we have been able to discover the beauty and grandeur of love, there remains the reality of having to live marriage day by day. Certainly it is a long journey and not necessarily an easy one. Cardinal Suenens, in one of his books, offers us a liberating approach. He writes how important it is for the couple, even before approaching each other as man and woman, to consider themselves brother and sister in Christ.
In effect, the life of Christ himself which we receive in baptism makes us children of the same Father in heaven, and therefore brothers and sisters. This reality precedes that of marriage, and is essential for the very life of the couple.
Thus, all of a sudden, the Gospel sheds its light on everything. It opens up for us a life project and shows the way through a truth that can never deceive. It is then that we come to understand that the sacrament of marriage opens the way to giving our whole lives to God, and helps us to live the marriage as a joint vocation to holiness.
Prayer and pardon at the heart of the couple
The secret of forgiveness, so necessary for a couple, and sometimes so difficult, is praying as a couple. The prayer of a couple is distinct from praying as a family or with the children. To devote a few minutes each day to praying as a couple is to live each time a moment of grace where love and truth meet.
Prayer is essential to the family. Without prayer, forgiveness fades, to the point that the spouses might even become strangers to each other. Yet in a couple, in a family, there is always something to forgive: whenever we have failed to give the other space, when we have not helped the other to develop, when fatigue or stress have overcome us, when we have been more preoccupied with ourselves than with the other. If day in day out, a couple takes time before going to bed, for example, to make a little sign of the cross on each other’s forehead, as a sign of love and pardon, such a gesture is beyond price, for in this way they associate themselves to the strength of Christ’s forgiveness. It is in moments as these that the couple is truly formed.
The birth of children comes as the fruit of the love of the spouses, so that they in turn may discover the wonders of Christian love. This is the meaning of Christian education. It is this same love on the part of the spouses that might perhaps inspire them, if the circumstances permit, to adopt a child, even one with a handicap…
First of all, Christian education of children is important simply out of love for them.
It is by offering them a Christian education that we offer them the best chance to live this authentic love in the world in which they will find themselves in. It is only as Christians that they will be able to find, in spite of everything, a joy that no one can ever take from them. The first challenge of Christian education is to give them this chance for growth.
The second reason is related. If young people grow up in Christian love, humility, prayer, we provide them with a basis for becoming, as adults, responsible Christian citizens, whether as mothers or doctors, business leaders or workers, engineers or social workers, etc.
The Christian family gives us this two-fold hope and two-fold happiness. The Christian education of children which seeks to foster the growth of a sense of responsibility is important if we want to conform ourselves to the Gospel and to be the salt of the earth.
The Christian family is also very important for yet a third reason. Even though God may call whom He wills, it is in a Christian family environment that a vocation to the priesthood or to consecrated life is most easily awakened. The presence of priests and men and women consecrated to God in our midst is vital for the sanctification of the people of God.
When we consider the child who is being formed in its mother’s womb, is it not marvelous that God, from whom all life flows, should have wished to allow spouses to participate in transmitting life? How can we fail to give thanks to God for the life which He entrusts to us, and to acknowledge fully this divine filiation by having our children baptized soon after birth and teaching them about their creator ?
In order to live in relationship with God, it is important to introduce children from a young age to religious practice. This will allow them to make authentic religious choices when they are older. For how can one choose something of which one is totally ignorant, without any initiation and especially without any concrete example? In any case, do parents not take it upon themselves to make all sorts of decisions – equally significant – on behalf of their children while awaiting the time when they will themselves gradually assume their full autonomy ?
Simple prayers such as the sign of the cross, the Hail Mary, the Our Father, touch children deeply. Young children often grasp at them as lifelines when they are confused and feel alone in the face of decisions they have to take, as they move from adolescence into adulthood or when they face periods of inner solitude.
Concrete signs are important both for children and for young people. How often the latter ask us for concrete signposts, often after a long period when all religious expression had seemed superfluous to them. In order to create this spiritual ambiance and reference points, we can for instance place in a suitable place in the home a religious image or icon of the Trinity, a crucifix, a statue of the Virgin, a Bible or a little prayer corner set up and decorated by the children themselves. Not only does this help us enter more easily into an atmosphere of prayer, but it also serves as a testimony to our faith.
The first place where our faith is lived out is obviously the home. Happy is the child who can grow up in an atmosphere of prayer and love. To live in this truth opens one up to friendship, and friendship between parents and children is the basis for a deep relationship.
Naturally the parent-child relationship will last throughout their lives. But when children grow up and a friendship develops, there is a new dimension of love that brings them together. What freedom!
To keep this perspective in mind at all times is important, especially if the child takes other roads. To allow the child to become herself is inherent in all education. This is not easy, but it is often the beginning of a bond of friendship between parents and children.
It is very painful if a child rejects the faith in which we have tried to educate him or her. When this rejection is accompanied by negative expressions in terms of morality, it becomes even more difficult to understand the why and the wherefore. There is often a long period of self-questioning: “How did we fail in the Christian upbringing of our children?” Even knowing that we are far from being perfect parents, it remains true that most have done their very best even with often little preparation for the task.
There is no need, therefore, to reproach oneself, but on the contrary, to seize this crucial moment with a renewed confidence in the Lord. The result will depend both on the capacity to love gratuitously and on our fidelity to our own life of prayer and faith. This is essential first of all for the parents themselves, but also for the children, since in spite of everything their parents remain for them an important reference point.
To see that in spite of all the pain that their parents may feel, they have not lost their joy, will help the child to discover that there is something deeper that gives them life. Parents should therefore not fear times of trial. “It is when we are weak that God is strong!”
At such a time, the moment has come for parents to trust God and to live their trial of faith as Abraham had done. It is also a time for fidelity to prayer, asking God that in spite of everything His name may be sanctified in each of their children.
It sometimes happens that we can no longer see things clearly. It is at such times that prayer is truly carried by faith. Let us never be discouraged; our children will be saved, not because of us but by the grace of God, who does not wish that a single one of his children would be lost.