The family is the “sanctuary of life” and a vital cell of society and of the Church. It is here that “the features of a people take shape; it is here that its members acquire basic teachings. They learn to love inasmuch as they are unconditionally loved, they learn respect for others inasmuch as they are respected, they learn to know the face of God inasmuch as they receive a first revelation of it from a father and a mother full of attention in their regard. Whenever these fundamental experiences are lacking, society as a whole suffers violence and becomes in turn the progenitor of more violence.”
The family is the best setting for learning and applying the culture of forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. “In a healthy family life we experience some of the fundamental elements of peace: justice and love between brothers and sisters, the role of authority expressed by parents, loving concern for the members who are weaker because of youth, sickness or old age, mutual help in the necessities of life, readiness to accept others and, if necessary, to forgive them. For this reason, the family is the first and indispensable teacher of peace.” By virtue of its central importance and the various threats looming over it – distortion of the very notion of marriage and family, devaluation of maternity and trivialization of abortion, easy divorce and the relativism of a “new ethics” – the family needs to be protected and defended, so that it may offer society the service expected of it, that of providing men and women capable of building a social fabric of peace and harmony.
I therefore strongly encourage families to draw inspiration and strength from the sacrament of the Eucharist, so as to live the radical newness brought by Christ into the heart of everyday life, leading each person to be a radiant witness in his or her working environment and in the whole of society. “The love between man and woman, openness to life, and the raising of children are privileged spheres in which the Eucharist can reveal its power to transform life and give it its full meaning.” It is clear that participation in the Sunday Eucharist is both demanded by the Christian conscience and at the same time serves to form it.
Moreover, to give prayer – individual and communal – its rightful place within the family is to respect an essential principle of the Christian vision of life: the primacy of grace. Prayer constantly reminds us of Christ’s primacy and, linked to this, the primacy of the interior life and holiness. Dialogue with God opens the heart to streams of grace and allows the word of Christ to be channelled through us with all its strength. For this, assiduous listening and attentive reading of sacred Scripture within families is necessary.
In addition, “the educational mission of the Christian family” is “a true ministry through which the Gospel is transmitted and radiated, so that family life itself becomes an itinerary of faith and in some way a Christian initiation and a school of following Christ. In the family conscious of this gift, as Pope Paul VI noted, ‘all the members evangelize and are evangelized’. By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are, through the witness of their lives, the first heralds of the Gospel for their children… they become fully parents, in that they are begetters not only of bodily life but also of the life that through the Spirit’s renewal flows from the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.”