A Permanent Nazareth: Family Life in the Mission of the Church

It is hard to imagine evangelisation in the Catholic Tradition at any level without direct reference to the evangelising action of the family. Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council gave the family a beautiful title – “domestic Church” (Lumen Gentium n.11). This means that the family is a kind of Church in miniature. The Church is the family of God. The vision is that, imitating the Holy Family as a community of love, the family is the place where “the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI, n. 71). It is the place where evangelisers are formed and from which they go out to evangelise the world. In short, families become a kind of permanent Nazareth.

Blessed John Paul II declared that evangelisation in the future depended in great measure on the family (Familiaris Consortio, 1981, 65). The role of the married couple forming a union of love and life reflects the nuptial union between the Risen Lord Jesus and his Church. The family forms the basic building block of society. It “has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (Familiaris Consortio, 17).The desire for a healthy society depends on the health of family life. In other words, the more the family is encouraged and strengthened the more our shared life in society is protected from every danger and threat.

Even before, however, a family looks to its future mission, it must contemplate in profound awe and wonder on its origins. Contemplation precedes and animates all pastoral action to support families. Recall again the long years that Jesus spent in the silence of his family at Nazareth. We imitate the FIRST family, “the prototype and example for all Christian families” (Familiaris Consortio,86).

Our silence in the Nazareth family will ultimately draw us to contemplate the origin of all love and faithfulness. It will draw us to contemplate the Most Holy Trinity. The incredible mystery of the love sharing (unitive) and life giving (procreative) love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will offer us the true source of family love and all human love and all energy for evangelisation. We cannot fully embrace this mystery of the Trinity’s gift-love. It must fully embrace us. We know, however, that the Trinity is not simply a remote idea or theological abstraction. As Benedict XVI often reminded us, we worship “the God who has a human face” (Spe Salvi [2007], 31). Namely, this encounter of our Triune God is by way of Jesus, “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus living in the soul of the family is the source of the family’s life and mission. The Permanent Nazareth for all families begins here.

Given this brief summary of Catholic Tradition and its link with the missionary nature of the family, the arising challenge presents itself. All must be done to encourage families to take up their missionary role. It is largely the task of the laity, but involves the entire Church.