Earlier this month, Bairbre Cahill - a married mother who works in the area of family ministry - gave a wonderful presentation of how to fulfill our mission in the family and how families themselves can be missionary communities in the Church and in the world. Below is a video recording of Bairbre's talk followed by the script version below that.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH:
MISSION AND THE FAMILY
Pope Francis begins Amoris Laetitia – the joy of love with the image of a family sitting around the kitchen table and goes on to talk about the family as an icon of the Trinity. He reminds us that in a world which often sees people as disposable, family life puts relationship centre-stage. We are created for relationship. We thrive in relationship. When we give ourselves over to the commitments of marriage and family life we find ourselves invited into the very heart of God because as Pope Francis says, “The Trinity is Father Son and Spirit of love. God is a communion of love and the family is its living reflection” (AL11). So, in family life we find God at the heart of our humanity and our humanity at the heart of God.
It is clear then that Pope Francis sees being family as a vocation, as a way to live out our baptism and this mission to be the living reflection of God’s love is what I want to explore.
Baptism is not simply something that happened in our past ‘I was baptised’. We are invited to see it as a statement of our deepest identity – ‘I am baptised’
In our baptism we come to share with Jesus in the roles of priest, prophet and king. What does that mean and how do we live it?
Priest – this is the priesthood of all believers and it is about having that capacity to name and reclaim the holy. So much of media and culture tells us that faith is something to be somewhat embarrassed about, we should keep it to ourselves, it has no place in the public square. In contrast, living out our baptism means that we name, claim and celebrate the whole of life as a place of God’s presence and action.
Pope Francis talks in Amoris Laetitia about the Gospel of the Family. This is not simply a gospel that we hear, that we receive from others. It is the good news that is being written in our lives, day in day out. It is the good news of people loving each other, of parents pouring themselves out in love for their children, it is children learning what God’s love is because they glimpse it first in the love of their parents, it is families struggling with challenges and conflicts but trying to bring healing and forgiveness, it is families suffering the devastation of grief but not allowing death to have the last word, it is families believing, hoping, loving, yesterday, today and all our tomorrows.
As Christian families we need more than ever to take ownership of our experience of God, to name the holy. Something powerful happens when we have the courage to talk about faith. This is particularly vital for couples and families. Making those connections between life and faith, seeing the reality of that in our own lives, is energizing. We need this sort of energy in our church. It is the energy of the domestic church. To tap into this energy we really need to create opportunities for people to reflect on life in the light of faith and reflect on faith in the light of their lives.
Working from a deeply incarnational theology and believing profoundly that we are called to ‘find God in all things’, Pope Francis can say with utter confidence, “The Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes. … The spirituality of family love is made up of thousands of small but real gestures.” (AL 315)
So too in family life love is made real. This is not just about humanity in its beauty and radiance but humanity in all its mess and muddle. Incarnation is encountered, holiness is made real, in family life in each real and messy labour to birth a child, in walking the floor with a colicky baby or sitting at night waiting for a teen to come home. It is in the sweaty hug of a teenage boy coming off the Gaelic pitch after a match and the ten minutes of quiet that a couple find to have a conversation in the midst of the busyness of daily life. Incarnation is lived out in the spuds that are peeled and the bread that is baked, the struggle to provide and the commitment to see our children thrive.
So our baptismal call to name the holy means developing a confidence that God is not corralled in particular, designated holy parts of life, but is right there in the midst of everything. Family spirituality proclaims what Karl Rahner called the Liturgy of the World – that before we find God in the sacraments of the church we must be willing to encounter God in the sacramental reality of the world around us.
The spirituality of family life sees the kitchen table as a place where Eucharist begins. Bed time stories and grace before meals, birthday cakes and picnics – these are the sacred liturgies of family life. Reconciliation takes root in our attempts to move beyond the struggles and rows of daily living. Cups of tea, hugs and kisses are our sacrament of healing. For me it was in the carrying, birthing and breast feeding of my children that I came to understand the Eucharist at a whole new level. Jesus’ words “This is my body broken for you, this is my blood poured out for you” became my words, my experience, my Eucharist. When as families we begin to take ownership of our experience for ourselves there develops a new confidence. To speak of parents as the first teachers of faith then takes on a whole new meaning and dynamic.
Just think for a minute of your own family and your extended family. Where has the Gospel come alive in your family? For example, wouldn’t it be true to say that you have experience of the Paschal Mystery? Not a theoretical abstract knowledge but a knowing from the inside what passion, cross, tomb and yes, resurrection feel like? It is there in the niggles and restrictions of family life – the responsibilities we carry, the people we don’t get on with so well, the treadmill of work and responsibilities that eat away our time. And it is there in the bigger challenges and life changing experiences. Any woman who has gone through labour knows something of what the passion and cross are about and the resurrection joy of birth. Any parent who holds their new-born in their arms understands the shocking vulnerability and sense of responsibility to which parenthood exposes us. Sitting with a sick child, waiting for contact from your young adult who is away from home, coping with the fracturing of relationships, with illness, childlessness, addiction, with the death of those we love – we know what cross and tomb look and feel like. We know those moments of resurrection too – laughter found in the midst of grief, a new honesty in a relationship, our children flourishing at college after the slog and stress of the Leaving Cert, standing in the silent beauty of the hills after a hectic working week.
All of this is going on, Trinity, incarnation, sacrament, paschal mystery day in day out in our own lives and the lives of people around us. The world is ablaze with the presence of God – and yet so often we do not recognise it. We have too easily bought into the notion that the world is a secular place, that God has been pushed aside, confined to small spaces.
The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner spoke wisely when he said that the Christian of the future if she or he was to be a Christian at all would need to be a mystic. What did Rahner mean by that? Really it is about having the capacity, the discerning heart to see the richness in our ordinary lives, to feel the touch of God’s hand on our day. It is about naming the holy. If we want families to have confidence in and ownership of their faith, resilience to the pressures which would undermine their lives as family, then we need to commit to the spirituality of family life. People need to be empowered to explore their own experience as a place of God’s presence and action. It is not enough just to have the experience. We need to develop a reflective, discerning heart. We need to be able to sift and weigh our experience and to recognise God’s spirit. We need to commit to what is recognised in Share the Good News, 82, that “the primary place of encounter with God for most adults and children is family life”
We need to empower ourselves and each other with a confidence that God has not left the building. Here in our own lives, day in and day out, God at the heart of our humanity and our humanity at the heart of God. The mission of families then is to take ownership of the experience of God at the heart of their lives as a family and to take that out into the world. Families are an energy for transformation of communities, church and society.
Again our baptism gives us direction
By baptism we are called to be Prophets – this is not about the capacity to know what next week’s Lotto numbers will be. It is about the capacity to see the world as God sees it and, like the prophets in the scriptures, to feel compelled to speak out and act against injustice, destruction, exploitation and inequality.
We are called to be kings – an ambiguous term in an Irish context but really this is about leadership. How do we exercise influence and responsibility in the world? What are the values we live by?
Pope Francis has given us a road map to guide us on our way.
In Laudato Si and now in Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis invites us to think again about
· Our relationship with the earth, with humanity and with God
· How we define ourselves – is it in terms of what we own, what we can buy, what we can consume? He challenges us to see how destructive such a mentality is, how linked to our current global climate crisis. What mentality do we foster in our children?
· He invites us to see that our humanity is rooted in our capacity for relationship, we are created for relationship and it is in relationship that we find our deepest identity, fulfilment and joy.
· We are invited to develop a deep reverence for creation. Pope Francis speaks of the Book of Creation alongside the Book of the Scriptures, both capable of revealing God to us. Are we nurturing this in our children? The gift of wonder and awe, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, taking time, giving thanks.
· In Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis is asking us to build a society based on loving friendship and fraternity – by which he means to treat everyone as if they were your sister or brother. We would not leave our sister to live in poverty or homelessness, we would not ignore our brother’s needs if he were ill or in distress. We would not think it acceptable to exploit and abuse them, to see them as expendable, their lives as disposable.
· This all shapes the way that we are called to live as families, as the ‘living reflection of God who is a community of love’ and it brings us back to that idea of living our baptism,
· Called to name the holy - that we would see all of life as a place of God’s presence, that we would reject the idea that holiness should be corralled into small private spaces in our lives. Instead we proclaim the holiness of all creation and see all people as created in the image and likeness of God
· Called to be prophets - that we would stand up, speak out for justice, peace and the care for creation and all God’s people
· Called to leadership which builds up the kingdom of God - that we would lead by example in our own lives and in the way we raise our children, that our values would be shaped by the gospel, our decisions guided by the Holy Spirit. That we become active citizens, building a better more equitable society, that we develop a global vision and a sense that we are responsible for one another
Pope Francis invites us to ‘the art of encounter’ the ‘miracle of kindness’ that we may make the kingdom of God a reality. We need to inform ourselves much more about what Pope Francis is saying in Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti. He invites us to a vision of what it is to be a Christian which encompasses all of life.
These past months, living through the Covid pandemic and finding ourselves unable to gather to celebrate the Eucharist have been painful and have raised many questions. We are facing a powerful existential challenge as to what it means to be church.
This is very much what Bishop Mario Grech, secretary to the synod of Bishops is saying in a recent interview (link below). “If we take this as an opportunity, it can become a moment of renewal. The pandemic has brought to light a certain religious ignorance, a spiritual poverty. Some have insisted on freedom of worship or freedom to worship, but little has been said about freedom in the way we worship. We have forgotten the richness and variety of experiences that help us to contemplate the face of Christ. Some have even said that the life of the Church has been interrupted! And this is truly incredible. In the situation that prevented the celebration of the sacraments, we did not realize that there were other ways in which to experience God.”
Bishop Grech is inviting us to look deeper than our religious practice. As he says,
“When he wrote about the reform that the Church needs, Yves Congar affirmed that the updating desired by the Council must go as far as the invention of a way of being, of speaking and of committing oneself that responds to the need for total evangelical service to the world. “
And so we are called to a new understanding of Church which reflects the importance of the domestic church, the family, which recognises and celebrates the sacramental reality of our everyday lives and which sees the whole of life as the arena of faith.
How do we move forward? Bishop Grech expresses the hope that “this may be an opportune moment for us, as Church, to bring the Gospel back to the centre of our life and ministry.” A very practical thing to do is to develop a habit of praying with scripture, reading and reflecting on the readings for each Sunday, thinking about how they connect with our life experience, what they invite and challenge us to, how the Holy Spirit may be speaking to us through them. And maybe that is a conversation for round the kitchen table, an opportunity as a family to break open the Word of God and be nourished by it. So we can partake in the Liturgy of the Word in a very powerful way. We may not be able to receive Christ in the Eucharist for now but we are invited daily, to be Christ for others. Our capacity for that will be nourished by the word of God and by a discerning heart, open to God’s presence and action in every aspect of our lives.
Through living out our baptism, through being the domestic church, the mission of the family is to be – vibrantly, joyfully - the living reflection of God’s love