Cardinal and Pastor Tell Families: Want to Evangelize? You Need These Two Qualities

At the World Meeting of Families, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Evangelical pastor Rick Warren spoke about how families need to be a ‘school of love’ that draw the world to Jesus through beauty and joy.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston gives a keynote address in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families, Sept. 25, 2015.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston gives a keynote address in Philadelphia at the World Meeting of Families, Sept. 25, 2015. (photo: Mary Rezac/CNA.)

PHILADELPHIA — In front of thousands of Catholics who had descended upon Philadelphia to hear talks about family and faith, Boston Cardinal Seán O'Malley had a message for them: Don’t be a party-pooper before a world that needs their witness.

“Beauty and joy are the most powerful tools that we have to evangelize,” Cardinal O’Malley said at Friday’s keynote address at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. 

“So together, we want to dream of a world where the beauty of family life attracts people to make a gift of themselves in marriage, to build a domestic church that will continue to build a civilization of love,” he said. 

The cardinal spoke at the World Meeting of Families, an international gathering designed to encourage and strengthen families across the globe. Pope Francis will celebrate the final Mass at the Sept. 22-27 gathering, which has as its theme, “Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.”

The meeting also includes presentations, testimonies, music, and other events. The final keynote address was delivered by Cardinal O’Malley and well-known Evangelical pastor and author Rick Warren.

“Joy-filled families are based on the love of God,” Warren said, adding that people only have love because they are made in the image of God, who is love. 

The pastor also described joy-filled families as being filled with purpose, focused on becoming like Jesus Christ, and ultimately fulfilling God’s mission for them.

In his remarks, Cardinal O’Malley talked about the call to be missionary disciples. 

The fundamental decision to love is born from an encounter with the living God, who first loved them, he said. In this encounter, they can see the world through God’s eyes, and recognize what is truly beautiful and important in life.

Their response to that encounter is how they all live out discipleship, the cardinal said. 

“Pope Francis makes it clear that our call to discipleship is a call to be missionary disciples,” he added. “We’re faithful to our mission as Christ’s family only by inviting others to be a part of that mission, by helping families to become what they are.”

Family is critical to achieving this goal, Cardinal O’Malley said. “In God’s plan, the family is the school of love where we learn to make a gift of ourselves.”

He stated that “marriage in God’s plan is the sanctuary of love,” and “families are missionaries - they pass on the faith to new generations.”

“The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can receive the same Gospel, deeply lived by them,” the cardinal said. “Such a family becomes an evangelizer of many families.”

Those families that live out this mission “change the course of history,” Cardinal O’Malley added. “They open the door that allows God’s light to enter the world and their witness helps us to be open to life.”

If the family does its job properly, it transforms crowds into communities, he said. A crowd is simply a collection of people drawn by circumstances or common interest, but generally disinterested in one another’s well-being. In contrast, he explained, a community cares about the other members.

He pointed to the Gospel story in which the crowd prevented a paralyzed man from getting close to Jesus, but his community of friends brought him to Christ by lowering him through a roof. 

“The crowd always pushes away. Community draws people closer to Christ.”

“We inhabit the new mission territories of the Church. We need to find a way to bring the Gospel to the contemporary world,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “Our task is to change the crowd into a community. That’s what evangelization is about, and it must begin with our families.”