In order to help us prepare for the World Meeting of Families and the anticipated visit from Pope Francis, a catechism on family life entitled Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, was prepared. In this and upcoming weeks, we will reflect on the ten chapters of the catechism.
Reflections on Chapter 1: Created for Joy
"Love is Our Mission" because love is our origin and destiny. Created in the image of God, a human being is created for communion, which means that loving God and neighbor is the reason for our existence. Catholics believe these things because of Jesus, our bedrock and cornerstone. Jesus suffered and yet persevered in love; he was crucified and yet rose again. In Jesus, we believe that the Creator of the universe became one of us, revealing not only who God is, but also who we are created to be and become. In a world of anxiety and doubt, Jesus is trustworthy. When we follow Jesus, body and soul, even when it hurts and requires sacrifice, we are living lives of integrity, for only in living this way will our lives coincide with the reason for our existence. This brings us great joy. We sin and stumble, but the God we meet in Christ is faithful even when we are not. God's forgiveness is a gift that gives us back to ourselves, enabling us to embrace our mission and destiny anew. Catholic sacraments and moral teachings serve this destiny. The sacraments are a genuine encounter with Christ, while the moral teachings show what Christ-like love looks like in particular situations. Catholic life summons us to heroism and adventure even in ordinary daily life. The world is charged with the beauty and grace of God, and neighbors who need our love and kindness are all around us.
Reflections on Chapter 2: The Mission of Love
Chapter 1 of the World Meeting of Families preparatory catechism taught that "Love is Our Mission" because love is our origin and destiny. God created us in his own image, which means that loving God and neighbor is the reason for our existence. Chapter 2 explains that the Bible bursts with images describing God's love—a father welcoming a prodigal son, a shepherd searching for lost sheep, a mother comforting her children, and many more. But marriage is the dominant Biblical metaphor for God's covenant with Israel and the Church. The Bible is a love story between God and his people, and this love has all the dimensions of a good marriage: it is erotic and heartfelt, but it is also tough and sacrificial, weathering challenges and even betrayal. Jesus loves the Church like a groom loves his bride—even when we disappoint him, even when we hurt him. In this way, Christianity reveals hope for us all, including married couples and families. God commands forgiveness and service because he loves us; forgiveness and mutual service can transform any marriage into a parable of God's love. God is love, but there is nothing sentimental about this love. God is love—and when we love like he loves, it will cost us, but it is the only way to live authentically and avoid counterfeit loves. Comtemplating Christ on the cross, we gaze on the miracle that created and sustains us.
Chapter 3: The Meaning of Human Sexuality
"Love is Our Mission" because God created us for a reason: to love us, and for us to love one another (Chapter 1). God's covenant with Israel and the Church reveals what God's love is like:tender and passionate, but also steadfast and sacrificial (Chaper 2). In Chapter 3, we learn that the bodily, earthly world has spiritual significance. Tangible things—sacramentals, acts of charity, sacred art and culture, our liturgical feasts and fasts—have the capacity to reveal the glory of God. Marriage, as one of the sacraments, reveals this to us in a special way. The bodies of the spouses, in the complementarity of their masculinity and femininity, have the unique role of revealing God's nature as a communion of life-giving love. How can a man and a woman imitate God's love together? How can they live in a way that is intimate and committed, joyful and merciful, forgiving and fertile? Through their participation in the life of the Church, this kind of love becomes possible. God's love is not an audition, or a temporary experiment, or a self-seeking negotiation. In the same way, marriage is never a private, inward romance, but always discovers its true nature in relation to God and his wider purposes. A sacramental marriage is called to be a little parable of God's love, always ordered to joy and service. All Catholic sexual ethics flow from these ideas.
Chapter 4: Two Become One
Our first three chapters reviewed basic Christian faith. We saw how confidence in Jesus opens the door to faith, enabling us to know God and what God has done in history. God creates male and female in his image, and makes a covenant with Israel and the Church. God is faithful to his promises, even when we sin. Because God loved us in this way, we spend our lives trying to return our love to God and share it with our neighbor. In this month's chapter and in the chapters to come, we will study the implications of these doctrines for marriage and the family.
When husband and wife promise to love each other as God loves us all, they make a commitment to love not only romantically, but also with mercy and forgiveness. Our culture sometimes teaches us to think of marriage as a negotiable contract between two individuals who happen to feel sexual chemistry. This view of love is a recipe for instability, since it is still premised on individualism and the waxing and waning of romantic feelings. The Church's alternative account of love enables us to transcend the culture of individualism and become who we were created to be. Founded on Christ, sustained in the sacraments, Catholic marriage builds humility and self-sacrifice into the dynamic between male and female. As this month's chapter explains in more detail, sacramental marriage creates intimate communion even in times of suffering and hardship. "Love is our mission," as our catechism's title declares, because Christ's love frees us from false, shrunken accounts of love and makes us fully alive.
Chapter 5: Creating the Future
Sexual intimacy between a man and a woman raises the possibility of children. There are many other honorable relationships which include degrees of commitment and affection, but marriage has a unique mission: to integrate the fertility of male and female with the fidelity of God's covenant. Catholic parenting relies on the same rationale as sacramental marriage: love in the shape of service, sacrifice, trust, and openness to God's will. If and when a marriage is blessed with children, love orients parents to their children's education and spiritual formation. Jesus said to his disciples "Let the children come unto me," and it is the responsibility of all Catholic adults to shepherd children into a relationship with God and the people of God. The whole parish should be involved in supporting marriages, families, and children. We build the future of our society child by child, family by family. Vatican II called the family a "domestic church," and the little church of the family takes its orientation from the faith and mission of the larger Church. It is a mother's and a father's responsibility to be with children at home and in church, and to pray together regularly. Children will learn the faith only when they are taught. The way a family responds to adversity, or gathers for meals, or makes financial decisions and set priorities—these and many other aspects of "home economics" shape the values and identities of our children. "Love is our mission" because even in the middle of our humble daily routines, Catholics live with a bold and glorious purpose.