Why have a world meeting of families? Is it something like having a “family meeting?” It is, in fact. People come because they sense that the Church truly is a large family. It has its share of disfunctionality to be sure, but, yes, a family. The family has a head (Christ), and a structure (ordained, consecrated, lay faithful), a common bond (baptism, and the Creed), a common meal (the Mass), with annual family events and rituals (the liturgical cycle). We have newborns (newly baptized), poor members, rich members, sick members, dying members, and dead members (those in purgatory and those in heaven).
The earthly family of the Church, together with our heavenly ties, is made manifest when we gather to worship, especially with our bishops and even more so with the Bishop of Rome.
And so in Philly we are having a family meeting. Yes, it’s a meeting of families, but it is a family meeting because we want to learn, digest, and further discuss all of what our tradition has to say about being a family, and we do as the spiritual family that is the Church. And we are doing so in a culture that, in recent decades, has (in some sectors) intentionally moved away from the meaning of family that the Creator has inscribed into our very nature.
In our bones we sense that marriage is not merely a flexible social contract, but is in actuality a life-giving institution that elevates the biological joining of a man and a woman into a pathway of grace and growth. We sense that the human person is truly made for long-term, stable, sacrificial commitment, and therefore that divorce (while a reality) is not the preferred one. We know that two men or two women cannot generate life and unity in the form of marriage. We know that children take decades to raise, and therefore they need a mom and a dad to be there, together, for decades. We know that divided families and broken marriages lead to a fragmented, fast-paced, self-absorbed society. We know that children, even if they are a lot of work, are indeed a tremendous gift from God.
Since we know all of these things in our bones, we look around at the world and ask the question: “how can we help everyone else to see the truth and the beauty of what we ourselves have learned- in our bones?” “How can we stop the wreckage and proclaim the better pathway?” “How can we shore-up our own families because we know that the way of the Gospel is often hard, even if life-giving?”
And so we call a family meeting, as the Church- a family of families. And we invite our earthly father, Pope Francis, to speak in the name of our Heavenly Father some words of joy, wisdom, and challenge. And we gather in the presence of tens of thousands of others who all want what we want: the Gospel of the family to be preached and lived in every land. There is strength in numbers, and therefore there is strength here in Philadelphia. Here the family is alive, both the biological family in all of its mess and wonder, as well as the spiritual family that is the Church in all of her diversity, complexity, beauty, power, and truth.