Families: A Mission of Love
A few weeks ago, I was visiting Philadelphia for the annual Knights of Columbus convention. The meeting brings together the leadership of councils and states from around the world to hear the annual report and elect new leadership, while setting new goals for the organization and drawing strength from the gathering of people of like mind who want to put their Catholic faith into practice.
The Knights do wonderful things in Maine. They are a tremendous support in many of our parishes. They can always be counted on to help out with the many projects so important for the life of our parish communities. We can find the Knights in the kitchen, or organizing events for the youth of our diocese, or proclaiming the Gospel of Life keeping the value of human life before us. They are also actively involved in their own charitable activities. It was, therefore, a pleasure to be with the Knights for the few days of their annual convocation, to be a support for our Knights in Maine, and to let Knights around the world know that we appreciate the efforts of these good men and their families.
While I was in Philadelphia, it was evident that everyone is excited about the upcoming visit of Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families. A million people in the center of a modern city is a big crowd. The preparations will be mammoth. Pope Francis is also visiting Washington, D.C., where he will address a joint session of Congress and New York City where he will deliver a speech to the United Nations. There has been much speculation about what Pope Francis will say when he is in Washington and New York.
It will be a full agenda for Pope Francis in this visit. But we should note very clearly what will be most important to the Holy Father himself. In talking with those preparing for the trip, Pope Francis told them that his presence at the World Meeting of Families was the purpose of his visit and what he wanted to emphasize. The Holy Father is well aware that family life is challenged in our world today. And yet, it is the foundation of our society. For this reason, Pope Francis has devoted significant attention to strengthening families as the place where love is learned and lived. Though the other speeches he gives will be important, it is good to recall what he wants us to learn from his visit, and that is to rededicate ourselves to strengthening family life.
Everyone will not be able to attend the World Meeting of Families and see and hear Pope Francis in person. The wonder of our Catholic media, both TV and radio will, however, bring these events to all of us. I hope you take the time to participate in this way in this historic event.
Far more important, however, it is essential that we commit, as a diocese and families, to recognize the importance of the mission of love of families and to work to strengthen that mission. In this regard, Pope Francis has challenged families to pray together. He presents prayer together as a very important way to strengthen the family. “It is,” the Pope said, “a matter of humility: of realizing that we need God: all of us! We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness.” Prayer, says the Holy Father, “makes the family strong.”
Recently, I heard a discussion of this on the radio. A current survey indicates that only 13% of families say grace together, a prayer before meals. The same survey indicated that the percentage of families who pray together at all is only 17%.
Pope Francis is known for his tweets. These brief daily statements often address the family. A few of them can help show us a direction for living in our families. “We learn many virtues in our Christian families. Above all, we learn to love, asking nothing in return.” We live in a world which speaks often of the rights of the individual. Family is the place where we learn to live together. Pope Francis sees prayer together as fundamental to learning to appreciate each other in a family. At its center, the family is grounded in marriage, the self-giving, life-giving love of husband and wife. “The most powerful witness to marriage is the exemplary lives of Christian spouses.”
The World Meeting of Families gives us all an opportunity to renew ourselves in the joy that faith brings to our lives and our families. It is also an invitation for us to renew a commitment to pray together, as families, in homes, and as parish families, in the great prayer of the Mass. There, God comes to us in Jesus Christ to walk with us and guide us and our families in the journey of life. I pray that this World Meeting of Families inspires our families to pray together.
Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley
12th Bishop of Portland