‘Family Love: A Vocation and Path to Holiness’

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CNS photo/Paul Haring
Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass of the VIII World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia in this Sept. 27, 2013, file photo.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life has published the theme for the World Meeting of Families, scheduled to take place in Rome from June 23-27, 2021.  The meeting will focus on “Family Love: A Vocation and a Path to Holiness.”

It is an apt reference point for our times. Catholics in particular are perhaps too accustomed to associating the “call” related to vocation with the celibate priesthood or religious life. But the Second Vatican Council, re-discovering ideas that have ancient roots within our faith, highlighted that all the baptized have a vocation in the world. Each of us is called and sent by Christ to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Mt 10:16) and to “bear fruit that will last” (Jn 15:16). There is perhaps no better description of this than being missionary disciples, a phrase popularized by the Aparecida document.

The Rome event will be the 10th of such gatherings, the most recent took place in Dublin and the one before that was the reason for the pope’s visit to Philadelphia, with all the memorable scenes that visit provided us.

My friend, colleague and co-editor on a number of projects, Professor Mary Beth Yount, was the director of content and programming for that papal event. She is currently an associate professor at Neumann University, where she directs the doctoral program in pastoral counseling.

She emphasized the importance of the WMF to me this week: “The World Meeting of Families was a transformative experience for our diocese and our church. The fruits of it continue to grow in our individual hearts, our families, and the many parish and diocesan follow-up programs.”

She recently told me about her own children seeing themselves close to the Holy Father in a library book they came across about the event. One can only imagine their adolescent enthusiasm in both of those moments, seeing him in person and then seeing themselves with him years later. It is precisely such examples of direct connection that continue to mark the Francis pontificate, and stamp themselves indelibly in our minds as members of his flock.

One of the pope’s favorite images is that of a co-traveling People, a church walking together (“caminando juntos”) through history, accompanying one another in times of joy and challenge, of vivifying trust in the Lord and of those universal experiences of doubt that make faith in God possible — because the opposite of faith is not unbelief, but rather certainty.

The Rome event will highlight that those called to walk this path are not only priests and bishops, monks and nuns, but all of the holy and faithful people of God. There is no human being who has ever lived who does not have familial connections and histories, even if they are all too frequently imperfect or tragic ones. This includes our Savior. In our baptismal promises and mandate, we realize that we are, too, part of God’s family, by divine choice and not blind chance, and that sometimes then water can ultimately be thicker than blood. That is what is acknowledged in the WMF theme about vocation and the demanding but universal path to holiness, and which the church will continue to proclaim to the world in this event and others like it.

Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University, Chicago.