Exploring the Family’s “Evangelizing Potential”
by David Gibson
Will the world Synod of Bishops that assembles in Rome Oct. 7-8 to discuss the new evangelization prove of interest to married couples and their families? One thing certain is that couples and families will prove of interest to the synod.
Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who heads the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, suggested in a speech this summer that “the family founded on sacramental marriage” is essential to the new evangelization. There is a need, however, to explore the family’s “evangelizing potential” more fully, he indicated.
Just days before the June 10 opening of the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, where he served as papal legate, Cardinal Ouellet spoke to an International Theology Symposium at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland. The family founded on sacramental marriage, he said, is a “resource” for the church.
“The church can and must count on the resource of the family founded on sacramental marriage in order to confront the challenges of secularized societies,” Cardinal Ouellet said.
But he told the Maynooth symposium that “the evangelizing potential of such a sacramental reality still remains to be discovered and promoted so that the church’s endeavor for the new evangelization can become a reality.”
“New evangelization” is a term used for the endeavors in today’s church to renew faith within church communities or the lives of individuals, to reach out to Catholics who no longer practice their faith and to others who may never have heard of Jesus or do not know what the church is.
A point frequently made is that the new evangelization demands an ability to communicate clearly and credibly both in the form of words and through the example of a faith that is lived out.
The theme of this October’s assembly of the world Synod of Bishops is “The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” A general assembly of the synod usually is held every three years, bringing together bishops and various other delegates from the church throughout the world.
The urgency and demanding nature of the new evangelization were highlighted in the working paper the Vatican Synod Secretariat released in June for the upcoming synod assembly. Many people today “distrust” everything that “has been passed down about the meaning of life,” it observed.
Underscoring a point heard often, the working paper said the new evangelization is everyone’s responsibility in the church. “Transmitting the faith is not the work of one individual only, but instead is the responsibility of every Christian and the whole church,” it said.
Thus, the laity, including families, are considered vital participants in the new evangelization.
In August, Pope Benedict XVI expressed support for this role of the laity, carried out in a “familiar” dialogue with church leaders.
In a message to the international Catholic Action Forum, held in Romania, he urged lay people to ready themselves to serve throughout society as “credible witnesses” of their faith. He hoped others would see and hear through them that the Gospel can bring hope to people experiencing difficulties and trouble.
Pope Benedict encouraged lay people to try to meet the “challenge of the new evangelization” by speaking of faith in ways that can be understood by others in these times of rapid change and transformation.
Evangelizing the Extended Family
Parents clearly play a role in transmitting faith to their children. But the family’s role in the new evangelization extends well beyond the walls of a home.
The U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis talked about this in a document last spring titled “Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization.”
“It is estimated that only 23 percent of U.S. Catholics attend Mass each week,” the committee noted. Who are the 77 percent who are absent? They are “not strangers: They are our parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends,” the committee said.
Accenting the valuable role of couples and families in the new evangelization, the committee said that “a culture of witness is sustained within the church through marriage and the family.” It added:
“It is within the sacrament of matrimony that the husband and wife evangelize, become evangelized and share their witness of the faith to their children and to society.”
The committee said, “It is through the example of mothers and fathers, grandparents, siblings and extended family members that one most concretely witnesses how to live a Christian life.” It is “vital,” said the committee, that the different generations, “including grandparents,” be “engaged with the faith formation of younger family members.”
The family’s role in the new evangelization is valuable, as well, for those “journeying back to the faith,” the committee commented. Through the family they “can be awakened to, affirmed in and encouraged by the love and mercy of Christ.”
The working paper for the October synod noted that families often need support from the larger church community in their role of transmitting faith. Families often “are subjected to great stress due to the hectic pace of life, the uncertainty of work, increasing instability and fatigue in the education of children, which is becoming more difficult,” it said.
Groups of families organized in parishes and other church-related contexts were mentioned as settings that can provide the kind of support families need “to cope with the difficulties they are encountering.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.