Developing a Vision of Family Ministry

Family ministry raises many questions and often we each have our own answers. The church document from which our work is derived, Familiaris Consortio, has been described as the ‘Magna Carta’ of family ministry and it is appropriate therefore that we become familiar with its contents.   

We offer these quotes as a means of sharing the vision - the Pope’s vision - for, as is written in the Book of Proverbs, “Where there is no vision the people perish”.

This is only a small taste of the riches to be discovered within Familiaris Consortio. Take time to read and reflect on it. Use it in groups or individually - there are some questions to initiate your discussion - but please use it to further your understanding of what we are about and to develop your own vision of Family Life Ministry.                                                                        

Developed by Elizabeth Davies  April 1999
(Revised August 2001 - Contact us for copies)

Who is called to minister ?

Each and every one of us is gifted.  We all have something to offer; frequently our life experiences are our most valuable gifts. Family ministry works best when it is a like-to-like or peer ministry.

Within the ecclesial community -  the great family made up of Christian  families - there will take place a mutual exchange of presence and help among all the families, each one putting at the service of others its own experience of life, as well as the gifts of faith and grace. (69)

In this activity, married couples act in communion and collaboration with the other members of the Church, who also work for the family, contributing their own gifts and ministries.  This apostolate will be exercised in the first place within the families of those concerned, (and) will also become wider through works of spiritual and material charity towards other families, especially those most in need of help and support. (71)

 

Preparation for working with families

The Pope refers on a number of occasions to the need for training in family ministry though families themselves are sufficiently qualified by their experience.

..in the light of this responsibility is the importance of proper preparation of all those who will be more specifically engaged in this kind of apostolate….  (70)

The person principally responsible in the diocese for the pastoral care of the family is the Bishop. Bishops avail themselves especially of the priests, whose task constitutes an essential part of the Church’s ministry regarding marriage and the family.  When they have received timely and serious preparation for this apostolate (they) must act unceasingly towards families as fathers, brothers, pastors and teachers, assisting them with the means of grace and enlightening them with the light of truth. (73)

It is especially necessary to recognise the unique place that, in this field, belongs to the mission of married couples and Christian families, by virtue of the grace received in the sacrament.  This mission must be placed at the service of the building up of the church, the establishing of the Kingdom of God in history. (71)

 

New models of ministry

Family ministry calls for a radical new way of working which does not send family members in different directions. Families need help to spend more, not less, time together.

Since the Christian family is a community…the family’s sharing in the Church’s mission should follow a community pattern: the spouses together as a couple, the parents and children as a family, must live their service to the Church and to the world (50)

 

Family ministry is concerned with all families

It is quite clear that the Pope’s concern is for all families, not only Christian couples and not only those in ‘regular’ situations.

The Church’s pastoral concern will not be limited only to the Christian families closest at hand; it will extend its horizons in harmony with the Heart of Christ, and will show itself to be even more lively for families in general and for those families in particular which are in difficult or irregular situations. (65)

No one is without a  family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who “labour and are heavy laden” (85)

 

The special role of Christian couples

The importance of married Christians cannot be overestimated:  their witness and their role is fundamental to the future of both Church and society.

Their bond of love becomes the image and the symbol of the covenant which unites God and his people….. God wills and communicates the indissolubility of marriage as a fruit, a sign and a requirement of the absolutely faithful love that God has for man and that the Lord Jesus has for the Church. To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time.(12)

I praise and encourage those numerous couples who, though encountering no small difficulties, preserve and develop the value of indissolubility. But it is also proper to recognise the value of witness of those spouses who, even when abandoned by their partner, with the strength of faith and of Christian hope have not entered a new union: these spouses too give an authentic witness to fidelity, of which the world today has a great need.  For this reason they must be encouraged and helped by the pastors and the faithful of the Church.(20)

 

Definition of family

Without love, a family is clearly not a family; the verb makes it become what it is, not the noun.  Family is more than children, more than husband and wife: family is action - becoming what you are.

The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives.  Its first task is to live with fidelity the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons.  The inner principle of that task, its permanent power and its final goal is love: without love the family is not a community of persons and, in the same way, without love the family cannot live, grow and perfect itself as a community of persons.(18)

All members of the family….have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family  ‘a school of deeper humanity’: this happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day;  when there is sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows. (21)

Another task for the family is to form persons in love and also to practise love in all its relationships, so that it does not live closed in on itself, but remains open to the community, moved by a sense of justice and concern for others, as well as by a consciousness of its responsibility towards the whole of society (64)

 

The needs of families

We remember that the needs of families and of family ministers are similar in a situation of like-to-like ministry. The Pope emphasises the need for family catechesis, for training in family relationships, and for a wider understanding by the parish and diocesan community of the impact of their policies on families.

The absolute need for family catechesis emerges with particular force in certain situations that the Church unfortunately experiences  ..where.. ‘the Church of the home’ remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. (52)

In order that the family may be ever more a true community of love, it is necessary that all its members should be helped and trained in their responsibilities as they face the new problems that arise, in mutual service and in active sharing in family life. (69)

Every parochial community must become more vividly aware of the grace and responsibility that it receives from the Lord in order that it may promote the pastoral care of the family.  No plan for organised pastoral work at any level, must ever fail to take into consideration the pastoral care of the family. (70)

 

The Mission Statement

Loving the family means being able to appreciate its values and capabilities, fostering them always.

Loving the family means identifying the dangers and the evils that menace it, in order to overcome them.

Loving the family means endeavouring to create for it an environment favourable for its development

Questions for Discussion

What means are there for discerning  the gifts of people in your parish ?  Consider your own life experiences. How might these be offered  in the service of others ?


How many activities does your parish organise for families to do together ? How many activities are designed only for certain family members ? What more could be done to assist the community of the family ?


What do your parish families need ? What processes for listening to families exist in your parish ? What processes exist for matching up needs with experience ?


How does your parish strengthen family life ? In what ways might it hinder family life ?  How do your families enhance parish life ?  In what ways might your families hinder parish life ?


What organisations exist already in your parish ? How does their role match up with the needs of your families ? What adjustments could be made to minister to families without setting up another parish organisation ?


This document is available in illustrated hard copy for group work.  Contact Elizabeth Davies for details.

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