Monday, June 29, 2015

Saint John Paul II's Letter To Families

Saint John Paul II amongst families
Saint John Paul II's Letter To Families, is a document that is a must read for anyone who is Catholic and has yet to discover what the Catholic faith has to say about the FamilyThe richness of its content coupled with its thoroughness, so characteristic of Saint John Paul II's work, is an inviting read to a proper understanding of the Family. This document was issued on February 2, 1994 on the Feast of The Presentation of the Lord to coincide with the Year Of The Family.

What I found particular intriguing was Saint John Paul II's opening sentence, his personal appeal to families, "Dear Families! The celebration of the Year of the Family gives me a welcome opportunity to knock at the door of your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with you..." (1) That personal appeal is maintained throughout the document, even amongst some of the most dense details of the Church's teaching, biblical references and all that he elaborated on. 

Letter To The Families is forty four pages printed out, and within the first four pages is a continuation of Saint John Paul II's personal appeal to families, an extension of his "knocking at the door." The remainder of the document is divided into two chapters: I The Civilization Of Love and II The Bridegroom Is With You. Below are some key points from those first four pages, followed by selected content from the two chapters.

The family - way of the Church

Saint John Paul II first noted that "man is the way of the Church," drawing from his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, published in the first days of his pontificate. He elaborated by stating that man walks along many paths, which the Church desires to "stand at his side," sharing the joys, hopes, sorrows and anxieties along the way. It was Christ who set man on his many paths and it was Christ who entrusted man to the Church. 

Among the many paths, the "...[F]amily is the first and the most important." (1) He elaborated on this with the following key points. First he identified the path of the family as something that is "...[P]articular, unique and unrepeatable." (2) Every individual is unrepeatable and the family is a path from which "man cannot withdraw." (2) The fact is that a person normally comes into the world within a family and owes to that family his very existence as an individual. How much more relevant does the family become when a person comes into the world without one, and as such experiences a sense of pain and loss, one that burdens his entire life. It is through the family that an individual goes forth to realize a new family unit. Even those who choose to remain single, it is the family that continues to be his "existential horizon," that fundamental community in which the entire social network is grounded. Saint John Paul II puts a fine point on it all when he stated, "Do we not often speak of the 'human family' when referring to all the people living in the world?" (2)

Jesus himself entered into human history through the family. Through the divine mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, Jesus made an intimate connection not only with the human family of Nazareth, but with every family. Saint John Paul II noted that just as Christ came into the world to serve, the Church "...[C]onsiders serving the family to be one of her essential duties. In this sense both man and the family constitute 'the way of the Church.' " (2)


It is under the subtitle of Prayer that Saint John Paul II continued to "knock at the door" to all the families of the world. He extended his outreach on the basis of God's love for everyone, making it possible to address his message to each family, a "...[L]iving cell of the great universal family of mankind." (4) The source of this outreach, the "universal openness" to all people as brothers and sisters is the Father, Creator of the Universe and the Word Incarnate, Jesus our Saviour and Redeemer. It is this source as Saint John Paul II noted, that impels us "...[T]o embrace them in the prayer which begins with the tender words: 'Our Father'." (4)

With respect to the necessity of prayer, Saint John Paul II noted that it is through prayer that God is present amongst families, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them" (Mt 18:20) He noted that his entire letter was in the first place to be a prayer to Christ to remain in every family, "...[A]n invitation to him, in and through the small family of parents and children to dwell in the great family of nations, so that together with him all of us can truly say, 'Our Father!' " (4)

Love and concern for all families

Saint John Paul II continued to propose the importance of prayer, encouraging all "domestic churches" (families) to pray. He especially encouraged prayer for those families in danger or difficulty, lacking confidence or experiencing division or in situations that are  "irregular." The term "irregular is borrowed from Familiaris Consortioanother well known document on the Family from his pontificate.

He continued further to stress how important prayer was in the home, where the Domestic Church exists. It is within the home environment that the witness to prayer becomes an encouragement to all members of the family and for many, it is where they live out their human and Christian vocation. To emphasize this even further, Saint John Paul II asked: 
How many of them there are in every nation, diocese and parish! With reason it can be said that these families make up "the norm", even admitting the existence of more than a few "irregular situations." And experience shows what an important role is played by a family living in accordance with the moral norm, so that the individual born and raised in it will be able to set out without hesitation on the road of the good, which is always written in his heart. (5)
Saint John Paul II was under no illusion as to the threats against the family. Even during the year in which this document was published (1994), he stated how there were programs backed by powerful people who sought to breakdown the family. He noted that at times, concerted efforts were put forth to normalize and glamorize situations that were in fact "irregular." He specifically wrote that such developments contradict both the truth and love which should inspire and guide relationships between men and women, without which can cause tension and division in the family, with grave consequences particularly for children. Here is what he further stated regarding the result of such threats:
...The moral conscience becomes darkened; what is true, good and beautiful is deformed; and freedom is replaced by what is actually enslavement. In view of all this, how relevant and thought-provoking are the words of the Apostle Paul about the freedom for which Christ has set us free, and the slavery which is caused by sin (cf. Gal 5:1)! (5) 
Saint John Paul II's urgent message to prayer is even more relevant today in light of the fact that attacks on the family have increased. It doesn't take much effort to discover what these attacks are: the legalization of "same sex marriage," pornography available on demand from tv cable packages, education curriculums that include sexual immorality, including homosexuality, explicit language and images, the LGBTQ agenda and its propaganda, abortion, euthanasia and contraception just to name a few.

Saint John Paul II's encouragement to prayer is a much needed message that should be repeated to all families. Here is what he had to say in response to the threats against the family:
It is apparent then how timely and even necessary a Year of the Family is for the Church; how indispensable is the witness of all families who live their vocation day by day; how urgent it is for families to pray and for that prayer to increase and to spread throughout the world, expressing thanksgiving for love in truth, for "the outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit", for the presence among parents and children of Christ the Redeemer and Bridegroom, who "loved us to the end" (cf. Jn 13:1). Let us be deeply convinced that this love is the greatest of all (cf. 1 Cor 13:13), and let us believe that it is really capable of triumphing over everything that is not love. (5)
Saint John Paul II's message of prayer also included a Marian aspect. Prayer has always been a consistent message from Our Lady at Her many apparition sites all over the world. Saint John Paul II included Mary's important guidance during our faith journey by referring to Our Lady's role at the wedding in Cana. It was there that Our Lady's told the servants to, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5) Saint John Paul II noted that Christ called the Church to prayer with families and for families. The Virgin Mother invites all of us to be united through prayer to the sentiments of her Son, who loves each and every family. Christ expressed his love at the very beginning of his mission with his sanctifying presence at Cana in Galilee, a presence which as Saint John Paul II noted, "still continues." (5)

This is just some of the content within the first four pages. The remainder of today's post includes certain segments that are particularly relevant in today's increasingly anti-family world, specifically addressing the "crisis of truth" and education. 

The Crisis of Truth

This "crisis" is discussed under the subheading, The Two civilizations (beginning at section 13). At this section, Saint John Paul II asked, "Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound 'crisis of truth'?" (13) He went on further to identify that such a crisis is in the first place a "crisis of concepts. Do the words 'love,' 'freedom,' 'sincere gift,' and even 'person' and 'rights of the person,' really convey their essential meeting?" (13) Saint John Paul II noted how relevant his encyclical Veritatis Splendor is in light of this crisis. It is a document that in his words, "...[H]as proved so meaningful and important for the Church and for the world---especially in the West. Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin..." (13)

How relevant is the focus on truth in today's society with regard to the family? Are we not witnessing concerted efforts to obscure the truth and include alternative lifestyles? Case in point, here in Canada where in 2005 the traditional definition of marriage legally changed to include "same sex couples." Such a change does not connect to the truth of the Sacrament of Marriage, but instead ushers in a lie and deceives people that any same sex relationship can be referred to as a "marriage."

A more recent example is the Ontario Provincial Government seeking to implement a sex education curriculum this Fall, that promotes and teaches sexual immorality including homosexuality. It is a curriculum that teaches children in the early and formative years of their lives to accept sinful sexuality. How much this will all negatively impact the family, the primary cell of society, remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, a relationship or the formation of families that do not begin with the truth are sure to result in negative consequences in the psychologically, physically and spiritually realms, for the respective individuals, communities and society.


The importance of the truth is further spot lighted in this section as well. Saint John Paul II asked, "What is involved in raising children? In answering this question two fundamental truths should be kept in mind: first, that man is called to live in truth and love; and second, that everyone finds fulfillment through the sincere gift of self. This is true both for the educator and for the one being educated." (16)

Perhaps one of the most important points he made was with respect to parents, who are as he noted, the first and most important educators of their own children and that they possess a fundamental competence in this area, that is, they are educators because they are parents.

The parents' role in the education of children is a shared mission with other individuals and institutions, but that mission as Saint John Paul II noted: 
...must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and their actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit. For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children, especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree,with their authorization. (16)
As I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, Saint John Paul II wasn't just writing about the subject of the Family, he was reaching out to families. His concern for the Family as the fundamental cell in society is abundantly clear from the thoroughness with which this document was written. It is sure to help anyone who is sincerely interested in understanding the truth about the Family. Below are some key points from the second chapter, II The Bridegroom Is With You.

Saint John Paul II appealed to families not just with words of support and encouragement, but referred to the sources of strength and hope that families need to draw from: the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Confirmation and the ultimate source, the Eucharist. In his own words, here is his appeal to families:
Dear families, you too should be fearless, ever ready to give witness to the hope that is in you (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), since the Good Shepherd has put that hope in your hearts through the Gospel. You should be ready to follow Christ towards the pastures of life, which he himself has prepared through the Paschal Mystery of his Death and Resurrection.
Do not be afraid of the risks! God's strength is always far more powerful than your difficulties! Immeasurably greater than the evil at work in the world is the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which the Fathers of the Church rightly called a "second Baptism". Much more influential than the corruption present in the world is the divine power of the Sacrament of Confirmation, which brings Baptism to its maturity. And incomparably greater than all is the power of the Eucharist. (18)
The Sacrament of the Eucharist is truly a wonderful sacrament, as Saint John Paul II noted, one that Jesus instituted in a family-like setting during the Last Supper. He elaborated on the Eucharist in particular and again encouraged families to draw from this source of saving power, that families might have life and have it abundantly. He reached out to families with his continuous personal appeal when he stated, "The life that comes from Christ is a life for us. It is for you, dear husbands and wives, parents and families!" (18)

Perhaps one of the most encouraging statements regarding the Eucharist is located at the paragraph just before the subheading, The Great Mystery. In it, Saint John Paul II reminds families, citing the biblical reference of the Wedding at Cana, that the Good Shepherd is with us, just as he was then amongst the bride and groom. It is in this knowledge that we should draw hope, knowing that the Good Shepherd is the "...[S]ource of strength for our hearts, the wellspring of ever new enthusiasm and the sign of the triumph of the 'civilization of love.' " (18) As a reminder to all families, he quoted Jesus who encouraged everyone to always remember, "...Do not be afraid. I am with you. 'I am with you always, to the close of the age.' " (18)

Letter To The Families has so much to offer those seeking to understand the Family. I hope that today's post has been an encouragement to read this document in full, to gain a complete understanding of what the Catholic Church has to offer regarding a subject matter that increasingly is becoming more important in today's secular world.

May Saint John Paul II intercede for all families and their needs.

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