Renewal in our values – restarting from Christ
This title is taken from the Mexico City Family Congress in 2008. Throughout history, whenever Christianity was renewed, it happened through people ready to restart from Christ, i.e. to convert. Pope Benedict says that salvation is not something to deserve, but a gift to be accepted. Conversion means: realizing, accepting, and answering God’s love, which precedes our love (1 Jn 4:10) – just as marriage is about realizing, accepting, and answering the spouse’s love, which precedes one’s own. The renewal of marriage and any human relationship depends on whether we dare to take the first step towards the other person. In a speech, Pope Benedict says that we often grow a bark of indifference, exhaustion etc. around our hearts. What is it that hinders me from accepting God’s love or my spouse’s love? Renewal is possible only through conversion, by “searching first for the Kingdom of God,” which means accepting His reign, His will, His love.
We must rediscover our values of the biblical image of man, the sacrament of marriage and the domestic church.
Rediscovering the biblical image of man
We are made in God’s image, which means our existence originates from God who is love, and arrives to God who is love. Our whole life must also be love: this is the logic of Creation. Conforming to the logic of Creation is a meaningful life, whereas defying it – as individualistic ideologies do – is destruction.
Pope John Paul II said, “the fact that man was created in God’s image also means that man is the target of God’s love, created exclusively for himself. The spouse and the children must be just the targets of one’s love, instead of being persons used for aims like making one happy. Our deepest desire is to be loved just because we exist, not because of what we produce. It goes back to infancy: babies produce nothing, yet others take delight in them just because they exist.
Rediscovering the sacrament of marriage
Marriage is a lot more than a church wedding, but it wants to be like a constant church wedding in that it is the constant making of a covenant. There are three concepts to be discerned: the institution of marriage, the sacrament of marriage, and the family.
The sacrament of marriage is built upon the natural institution of marriage, which is the human relationship between the spouses. Pope John Paul II says that the basis and the aim of the family is marriage. Natural marriage is nourished by communication between the spouses. They need to take time to listen to and share with one another. I often quote Fr. Gabriel Calvo who uttered this very important sentence in Prague, ”Love that is not communicated does not exist”. This is the natural basis of marriage. Nothing, neither the family nor even prayer, can substitute for this time and communication between the spouses.
Communication (communicatio) brings about the communion (communio) of the spouses, which in turn brings about the family community (communitas), the basis of healthy society (societas).
A speaker in Valencia said quite radically that if a marriage is not open towards love and life, they cannot pass on faith because they are closed towards God, who is love and life.
The supernatural is built upon the natural. Let us rediscover the sacrament of marriage, but without forgetting its natural basis, which is the institution of marriage. If a marriage is good and stable, the family will be good. If, however, the family is an escape route for the spouses, they will not be witnesses of the sacrament of marriage.
Rediscovering the domestic Church
I like St Clement’s basilica in Rome. Below today’s basilica there are two underground layers of buildings. The one at the lowest level is thought to be the house of Clement’s family. Just opposite this house, across a small street, there was a Mithras shrine where the believers of Mithras gathered. Christians met in the house of Clement’s family. As time passed, the Christians grew in numbers, the soil rose up to the level of the house, and first a small basilica, then today’s large basilica was built above the house, while the Mithras shrine remained below the ground. This is the domestic Church, which grew and has remained on the surface. The Church evolved from the domestic Church, and so will the Church of the future. That is why both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have stressed that the family has a priority in the Church (unlike in today’s society, which marginalizes the family)
The basic features of the domestic Church (like those of the Church itself) are: koinonia (community), liturgia (liturgy), diakonia (service) and kerygma (witnessing).
In order for a family to become koinonia (community), they must give time to each other. Saint-Exupery said,” It is the time you have given your rose that makes her so valuable. Today we live in what the Germans call a "Kühlschrankgesellschaft", a refrigerator society (”The food is in the fridge”) – whereas we should work to create places and opportunities for communication.
Liturgy in the family is also very important. Many old rituals have not survived. We should revive the traditions in the style of our own age: birthdays and anniversaries, Christmas, Easter, Advent, etc. must have rituals in families.
Diakonia (service) within the family calls on families to be communities where members, including the children, serve one another.
Kerygma (witnessing) asks us to be aware of God’s love towards us and to share and talk about it in the family. Failing to share our experience of God’s love within the family is a fault by which we make each other poorer.
I often think that we are sitting on a big treasure box without ever opening it, although our ancestors said there was huge value inside. Sacramental marriage is not a treasure box but a treasure mine: let us rediscover it!