On Sunday 26 June, the 10th World Meeting of Families concluded in Rome. The theme for this year was ‘Family Love: a Vocation and a Path to Holiness’. The previous night, Pope Francis gave the homily during a Mass of thanksgiving for the five-day event, praising families for their courage, sacrifice and service.

The domestic church

The family is often thought of in Catholic Social Teaching as the ‘domestic church’. Partly, this is because ‘the Church was born of a family,’ he said, ‘the Holy Family of Nazareth, and is made up mostly of families.’ The notion of family is essential to the Church’s identity.

Within the family, we first learn to love. But it is also within the family that parents get to learn from God the Father:

How important it is for parents to reflect on God’s way of acting ... God loves young people, but that does not mean that He preserves them from all risk, from every challenge and from all suffering ... God is not anxious and overprotective; on the contrary, He trusts young people and He calls each of them to scale the heights of life and of mission.

The journey of parenthood lies partly in enabling children to discover and accept their own vocation, so that they can be ‘gripped’ by the mission given to them and ‘find the strength they need to confront and overcome the difficulties of life.’ For this, Francis said, parents must ‘communicate to them a passion for life.’

The challenges of the family

Pope Francis spoke plainly about the challenges facing the family, challenges that come from within—from people’s brokenness and self-centredness—as much as from without:

And so, in praising the beauty of the family, we also feel compelled, today more than ever, to defend the family. Let us not allow the family to be poisoned by the toxins of selfishness, individualism, today’s culture of indifference and waste, and as a result lose its very DNA, which is the spirit of acceptance and service.

In choosing to have and raise families, people are doing something truly noble and heroic. They place their freedom at the service of others, Francis continued, echoing Paul’s words to the Galatians: ‘My brothers, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. Serve one another, rather in works of love’ (Galatians 5:13). Within the family, nobody is the sole centre of gravity.

Family as mission

The family is not simply a natural institution; it should be experienced as a mission, the pontiff said. When a family chooses to follow Christ together, they set out on a journey, one ‘without knowing beforehand where exactly it would lead, and what new situations, unexpected events and surprises would eventually lie in store.’

Throughout this journey, families must rely on the grace of Christ so that the personal failings of individual members do not overwhelm or threaten the integrity of the family bond. Fundamental to the mission of the family is the demonstration of ‘fidelity and patience despite difficulties, moments of sadness and times of trial.’

That is what it means to journey with the Lord. It is a lively, unpredictable and marvellous voyage of discovery.