John Paul II Was Right: The Family Is Here to Stay
“The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” —Pope St. John Paul II
One of the unique features of the pontificate of St. John Paul II was his thought on marriage and family. The Pope saw family as a “domestic church” and the way of new evangelization. Thus his Letter to Families, published in the Year of the Family in 1994, remains one of the most important and encouraging papal documents regarding spouses and parenthood. A source of priceless wisdom, it helps us respond to the challenges and crisis that families experience in today’s secular world.
Karol Wojtyła’s journey with strengthening family life started early in his life when he was a parish priest and then a young bishop. First, he assisted young couples in preparation for the sacrament of marriage. Further, Father Wojtyła offered spiritual and pastoral guidance to married couples in the confessional.
As a poet and playwright, the future pope explored the subject of the family in The Jeweler’s Shop: Meditation of the Sacrament of Matrimony Passing on Occasion into a Drama. As a professor of philosophy, in his Love and Responsibility, he looked into ethical dilemmas faced by spouses within their marriages. Finally, as pope, he launched many initiatives to enhance the Church’s mission to families — including World Youth Day and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family.
The Holy Father was knocking, as he put it himself, “at the door of your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with you.” Indeed, he spoke to every particular family in every part of the world. He addressed the members of the “domestic church.”
The papal Letter to Families makes it clear that, among many paths that man walks during his life, “the family is the first and the most important. … The family is indeed — more than any other human reality — the place where an individual can exist ‘for himself’ through the sincere gift of self. This is why it remains a social institution which neither can nor should be replaced: it is the ‘sanctuary of life.’ … The Church considers serving the family to be one of her essential duties. In this sense both man and the family constitute ‘the way of the Church.’”
According to Karol Wojtyła, the family depends on the civilization of love, and at the same time “the family is the center and the heart of the civilization of love.” This civilization is linked to the love “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
In the same Letters to Families, the Holy Father further explains: “Created in the image and likeness of God, man cannot fully ‘find himself’ except through the sincere gift of self. Without such a concept of man, of the person and the ‘communion of persons’ in the family, there can be no civilization of love; similarly, without the civilization of love it is impossible to have such a concept of person and of the communion of persons.”
The Papal letter addresses not only the importance of the family’s place in the Church and society but also discusses the challenges and crisis faced by the basic societal unit today.
The present is marked by moral relativism that brazenly contradicts the absolutes and replaces them with false idols. “Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound “crisis of truth?” John Paul II asks.
He further says, “A crisis of truth means, 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 meaning?” Indeed, John Paul II’s catechesis, papal documents, lectures and other activities provide answer to modern man’s questions about the truth.
Therefore, Letter to Families showcases the Polish pope’s heroic defense of the family, dignity of spouses, parents and children. “It confirms that marriage, family, and children are God’s plan to satisfy the universal longings of the human heart.”
At the same time, the late Pope gave us hope and courage to fight for the truth and the future of our family. He reminded us that we were made for love and truth. His Letters to Families supplies us with a great educational tool that will lead individuals to Christ’s triumph in our own “domestic church.” It also reminds us about the true value of the human person and her existential life.
Family is here to stay. With God’s help, we wax stronger now than ever.
To you, my friends, married and unmarried couples, fathers and mothers of families, “the future of humanity passes by way of the family.” It is your future and mine.