In Familiaris Consortio, in the section called, Bright Spots and Shadows for the Family Today – Pope Saint John Paul II wrote:
Christian spouses and parents can and should offer their unique and irreplaceable contribution to the elaboration of an authentic evangelical discernment in the various situations and cultures in which men and women live their marriage and their family life (FC 5).
In this section of his document, the Pope points out the many good aspects and bad aspects of society today that respectively build up and tear down family life and love. The good aspects are such things as lively awareness of each person’s freedom, increasing attention to the dignity of women, and concern for education. The bad aspects are such things as widespread misunderstanding of what freedom means, mistaken ideas about the independence of spouses from each other, disordering of authority between parents and their children, growing occurrence of divorce and abortion, and ready acceptance of artificial contraception.
Perhaps the Pope’s most important insight from the previous paragraph is his mention of the widespread misunderstanding of “freedom”. In popular understanding today, “freedom” means a person can do whatever he or she desires at a given moment: a person does not have to consider whether a given action would hurt others or whether it might be contrary to human nature, contrary to what is truly upbuilding physically, psychologically, or spiritually. For example, some segments of society would promote pornography, saying that a person ought to be “free” to choose what he or she wants to read for personal entertainment. The Catholic understanding here is that pornography is actually harmful to a person psychologically and spiritually: it is contrary to God’s purpose and design for the human mind and sexual faculties, and therefore it is also harmful. The ultimate freedom is to be able to live one’s humanity to the fullest; and this is the same thing as living one’s humanity most perfectly according to God’s intention, his creation. Anything a person does contrary to God’s plan for humanity actually robs a person of freedom. A person becomes more of a slave, less free. There is no such thing as a person who could be more free living contrary to God’s plan. So the popular concept of freedom and the true Catholic understanding of freedom sometimes directly are opposed to each other. And this popular understanding of “freedom” is often at the root of much of the way society at large approaches family life today.
So the Pope’s quote at the beginning of this article explains that parents and spouses must be discerning as they raise their families. Parents and spouses allow their faith to help them take a discerning look at all the aspects of their family life in order to choose activities and lifestyles that make the family and individuals in a family truly “free”. Couples and spouses who would simply let the media and secular organizations of society determine their family values and lifestyle may be headed for trouble. Remember that our Lord said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Further, he said, “I am ... the truth...”(John 14:6). Let your knowledge of Jesus Christ, his Holy Spirit within you, help you to guide your family’s life according to the Father’s plan. The Holy Spirit can use the Bible and Church teaching to build your knowledge.
Notice that the Pope calls the role of parents and spouses in this whole discernment “unique and irreplaceable.” The Pope puts great confidence in parents and spouses. Your pastors help with such gifts as the sacraments and prayer and teaching. But you parents and spouses have a role that pastors can never replace. You have an insight about what it takes to live Catholic family life today that is unique. And your loving, faith-filled, discerning presence in your home is really where the rubber hits the road. An article in the bulletin written by a priest is simply words -- words pointing to the Truth. Living the Truth is what counts! Your living out of the Truth, living your family life close to Jesus Christ, brings your family and those around you to true “freedom”. And in the meantime you can teach by your example a priest concretely how a Catholic family lives the Truth today, how you have lived for Jesus uniquely in your home. Let us work together to add what we can to the building up of family life.
[This is the second letter in my Familiaris Consortio series to couples in marriage preparation.]
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,