By Ricardo Márquez
Where do we learn how to relate to one another? To express ourselves? Where do we experience protection, security and love for the first time? Where do we face feelings of abandonment, sadness and fear for the first time? Where do we hear about God, about what is transcendent, about the great mystery?
In the heart of the family, we learn by modeling, repetition of behaviors and time. That’s what builds habits, customs and beliefs in the newly born. The routines at mealtimes, breastfeeding, baths, sleeptime, prayer. Those first expressions, the tone of voices, the joy or tension in the air. Everything affects and shapes this new human being.
It’s only by having the opportunity as adults to examine the history of our life that we can recognize how these first experiences have marked it. Without being aware of how radically key our role is as fathers and mothers at the beginning of our children’s lives, we continue to repeat and transmit unhealthy behaviors and values that dominate societies of our time: individualism, separation, isolation, apathy, injustice and war.
If we feel the crisis in our world, it’s because the family also is in crisis. To recognize this reality and not deny it gives us an opportunity to see the potential that family offers to renew humanity. That’s the central message of Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “The Joy of Love.”
During the week of June 22 to 26, we’re invited to join the celebration of the 10th World Meeting of Families. On this occasion, due to travel restrictions and the pandemic, it will be celebrated simultaneously in Rome and in all local Churches across the globe. In our diocese, we will celebrate families with a special event on Sunday, June 25, at the Pastoral Center.
This event has an explicit pastoral intention: to recall, re-energize and revive family life. It’s a call to transform ourselves and to act. It’s not a formality to check off on our calendars; rather it’s an invitation to come together and support one another in the task of valuing, reviving and protecting family activities. We must do these concrete activities regularly, such as prayer, attending Sunday Mass, visiting the grandparents, going on picnics, and volunteering to distribute food. If we fail to adequately prepare ourselves to do them, we will set ourselves up to fail, and that’s not an option in the hard reality that we live in.
We have to begin by recognizing the fear and anxiety that we feel in our family life, the disappointment and frustrations that accompany us. We have to create an environment of trust and fraternity to be able to share what is in our hearts. Support and prayer groups can help us in this process. These Marriage and Family Life ministries already exist in our parishes and at the diocese; we don’t have to invent them.
When we recognize and see with compassion what’s happened to our family life, and what we yearn for, we begin to feel an inner peace. It’s not about pretending to be something we’re not, nor doing something we don’t believe in. We draw strength from our weakness because we accept that we cannot change alone. From the depth of our abyss, we cry out to the Lord, asking for His guidance and strength, turning ourselves over to His mercy. That is the gift of faith that our parents gave us in our families.
We can begin today. We can begin to consciously nourish the human and spiritual formation of our families. We can seek help, tapping into the ministries that serve our community. We can humbly open ourselves up to the love of our God, expressed through Jesus and present in the Holy Spirit, which is unconditional.
Ricardo Márquez is associate director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.