In order to prepare our hearts for the World Meeting of Families later this month, let’s spend some time reflecting on this incredible saint-making machine that God has given us in the human family.
Having come from a family and been invited to form another by God’s grace, I have personally experienced in joy (and pain) the great power latent in family life. Family life can pull the selfless out of the self-centered, reorient the disoriented, soften the stoic, empty the arrogant, fill the forlorn, sweeten the sour, and unfold over an often grey and lonely world a brilliant quilt of many colored personalities, unique and unrepeatable. This is the power of the family held fast and knit together by Love. Bound in this Love, families can warm the cold world, keeping it from the chilling isolation of indifference. “The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (St. John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio).
In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II wrote “Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family, become what you are.” And what is the family? “The family itself is the great mystery of God,” according to St. John Paul II (Letter to Families). It is a crucible of communion, a caldron where the ingredients of man and woman and their procreative powers are placed, heated and the fire of their love sublimated into the pure gold of a new immortal life. The family is called in this way, in this mutual giving and receiving, to be the premiere earthly image of the Eternal Trinitarian Mystery Who is God. The family, for us here below, is a school of love and holiness, even with all of our imperfections and failings. “Family, become what you are.”
Over the past seven years, as our little ones have come to us (all in God’s perfect timing), I’ve been coming more and more to a deeper awareness of this new identity, this new mission as witnesses to Love. It’s a deeper call than merely being husband to my wife. It’s a new vocation within a vocation, an outgrowth from spouse to father. I think something has been activated in me, something that has perhaps lain dormant until the children. It’s a seed that was planted but never cracked open until God knocked on the thin shell of my heart and whispered “Let there be life. More life. A different,deeper life.”
The glowing spark of fatherhood, which the world, trumpeting a radical individualism, tries to snuff out, is being fanned into a flame. No man is meant to be an island of self-gratifying assets and accumulations. A man is made for others. Fatherhood is in truth the full flowering of a man; of what a man is meant to be! Through the gift of family life, my vocation has made its “quantum leap.” It has passed a test and been given a new one. I feel more and more an inspired instinct, a primal proclivity to guard and protect, to sacrifice and to serve my family at a new and deeper level than before.
Despite my own shortcomings and sins that tend to blur the image, I can still see the design of God that allows us each massive opportunities for this liberating grace of selflessness. Life is meant to be, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, an “an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God.” This is the plan written into the very heart of the family.
On a Sunday, at Mass, I was holding our littlest one, Sheila Grace, in my arms. I found myself slipping into one of those primordial parental powers that comes instinctively as a sacramental grace… the art of swaying to sooth her cries. Ahead of me, a young couple stood, friends of ours, each holding a child, and swaying. Ahead of them, yet another woman,swaying. Like a forest of trees caught up in a great wind, there we were. Mommies and daddies, rocking in the Wind of the Spirit of Life! Living our call to love, we’d entered into the Dance… into the Sway, the Truth, and the Life that God wishes all of us to enjoy. These are words and experiences too deep for tears. Herein are inscribed the secrets to a happy life, the antidote to the rampant narcissism of our age; the call to be stewards of fragile human life. All of us, every vocation, must discover this call to love!
The way to begin healing the wounds of the world is to treasure the Infant Christ in us; to be not the castle but the cradle of Christ; and, in rocking that cradle to the rhythm of love, to swing the whole world back into the beat of the Music of Eternal Life.
– Caryll Houselander
My prayer is that with the upcoming World Meeting of Families, these simple truths come more to light. They are as old as Eden and as fresh and challenging as the Gospel; give and you will receive, lay down your life and you will be given a new one, enter the heart of another and find your own, become who you were born to be!
Bill Donaghy has spoken internationally on faith and the New Evangelization since 1999. Through his work with the Pontifical Mission Societies, Bill gave hundreds of talks on the spirituality of mission to young people throughout the greater Philadelphia area and beyond, creating a teaching and speaking ministry known as MissionMoment.org. He holds an Associates Degree in Visual Arts, a Bachelors in Philosophy and a Masters in Systematic Theology. In addition to his full-time work for the Theology of the Body Institute, Bill teaches at Immaculata University. He and his wife, Rebecca, live outside of Philadelphia, PA with their three children.