Encyclical Letter on Family
Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"The Christian Family in the Modern World"
Pope John Paul’s Encyclical letter on the Family is a Treasure and a Path to responding to the invitation to change the world!
In his encyclical letter entitled, "The Splendor of Truth", Pope John Paul II refers to the Sermon on the Mount as the "Magna Carta" of the Christian life . When the history of his Pontificate is written, another one of his wonderful letters, entitled, "The Christian Family in the Modern World", will be referred to as the "Magna Carta" of Christian Family life.
The wealth of teaching and practical foundation the Pope lays out in this very readable letter helps the reader to grasp the call to practical holiness that is lived out, day by day, in all of the mundane, challenging, joyful yet burdensome, earthly yet heavenly, “stuff”, of the Christian family.
That is if we have the heart to see it this way and the will to live it in our daily lives.
When Christian family life is lived in this way, it both participates in and serves as a sacramental sign of the universal call to holiness that is the vocation of every baptized Christian. For most of the faithful, this universal call is lived out, day by day, in the Christian Family. That is how it becomes experienced as the “first church.” It is there where we encounter the Lord.
This papal letter also develops a much-needed “new” (actually ancient) missionary model that is family- centered. If we begin to comprehend, incarnate and live out its message and respond to its invitation, we begin to grasp the ancient Christian understanding that the Christian family is actually the "church in miniature" and that every Christian family is a missionary cell of the broader family of the universal Church.
This process begins by our recapturing a “relational” of church life, a model that the early Christians lived; and through which they transformed the world of the first Christian millennium. The “world” of the first few hundred years of Christian history was not unlike our own. The early church simply lived differently in it. Their family life spoke volumes to a decadent, unhappy, culture around them.
This “relational” model is the path along which the "new evangelization" of the contemporary age must now proceed. A family-based missionary outreach such as that proposed within this letter will help to bring about the "New Springtime" of Christianity that John Paul has prophetically proclaimed throughout his pontificate.
The momentum for such a new missionary effort rests with Catholic families. We are all invited to undertake this work in earnest. The “mission field” is not only found in some distant place, it is found in our living rooms, our neighborhoods and our own communities. The challenge and the opportunity, the climate, of our contemporary culture are all ripe for this missionary effort. The hunger for God, particularly in our “post September 11th” world is palpable. Christian families are the new front line of the invitation to all men and women to meet God. Through holy families, the holy God is manifested. Through holy families, the Church will also “Christianize” the contemporary culture.
Pope John Paul reminds us in this letter that "the future of humanity passes by way of the family." Referring to the Christian family as the "domestic church" ," a society in its own original right” , and the "first and vital cell of society" , he re-presents the ancient patristic teaching on family life with a refreshing new purpose, power and vitality. He reminds all of the faithful that the baptized Christian family is a key which can unlock the treasure house of the "new humanism" (authentic Christianity) which we are called to build.
Some contemporary versions of what is called “humanism, in their radically secular or atheist worldview, are not “humanism” at all, at least in any authentic way. The human race - and every member of that race – will only find its destiny and fulfillment by finding its relationship to God. After all, we are all created in His image. Through the redemption of Jesus Christ, we are re-created. The oft-repeated paragraph 22 from "Joy and Hope" is a key to understanding this theme of a “new” and true humanism. It is one the Popes favorite Quotations from the Second Vatican Council -from a document that he helped to author. It also reveals the profoundly incarnational quality of his deep faith:
"In reality, it is only in the mystery of the word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear. For Adam, was a type of him who was to come, Christ the lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of His love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high ...
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