Catholic News Service
HARRISBURG, Pa. — In a society where many consider marriage vows to be contrary to human freedom, the “self-aholic” lifestyle leads to incalculable unhappiness, Harrisburg Bishop Ronald W. Gainer told some 400 Christian leaders and ministers.
Ultimately the human heart, created by God, thirsts to give and receive love, he said.
He made the comments at a conference on “Bringing Church Home: Reimagining the Family on Mission” held in mid-March at the Cardinal Keeler Center in Harrisburg.
“The renewal of family life hinges on the re-appropriation, the correct understanding of freedom. That freedom is a sincere gift of oneself to another, and in so doing, one discovers one’s own identity as a son or daughter of God,” Bishop Gainer remarked.
“In the end, nothing else can quench this human thirst but the merciful love of God in Christ Jesus,” he said.
Bishop Gainer was among about 20 plenary speakers and workshop presenters at the ecumenical conference. Members of various Christian churches gathered in an effort to rethink their ministry to families.
The annual conference, held March 16-17 this year, is a venture of the Amore Project, which trains married couples to minister and evangelize in their own homes, and Fresh Expressions, an international ecumenical project that helps develop new forms of mission.
In the opening plenary session on the centrality of the family in the new evangelization, Bishop Gainer remarked that “Jesus, who is the way of love, is the foundation and source of Christian spouses to love each other just as he loves us, the church, and to bear witness to that love as a beacon to others of God’s love in the world, which is the family’s mission.”
In the early church, families formed little churches in the home, and members grew in faith and love in these domestic churches as they shared their lives and their relationship with Christ.
The domestic church
As a church, the family is “a fundamental place for encounter with Jesus Christ,” as members discover who they are and proclaim the Gospel in word and in deed, Bishop Gainer said.
The domestic church is a place of prayer and worship, through the prayers that family members offer throughout the day.
It also is a eucharistic community, as family members encounter Jesus in their daily breaking of the bread, where, Bishop Gainer said, “the meal at home is perfected and consummated in the eucharistic communion of Sunday worship, where our domestic church has come together as a visible sign of Christ’s mystical union with the church.”
The theme of domestic church as the image of God was woven throughout the conference. Msgr. Renzo Bonetti, a priest from Italy who began the Amore Project, which calls married couples to be missionaries to others in their own homes, described the family as the “heart of humanity.”
“The deceiver, the devil, lays his falsehoods, making us look on the family as a problem, but in reality, the family is a solution” to the new evangelization, Msgr. Bonetti said. He presented his talks in Italian, while conference attendees listened to an English translation via headphones.
“Look at the treasure of the family,” Msgr. Bonetti urged. “We know that man and woman, two in one flesh, are the image and likeness of God. Jesus came to reveal to us who we look like, the Trinity, the unity and distinction of love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The family is the image of the Trinity.”
For spouses, “their life can be a divine experience and so they can communicate, make visible and be involved in the mystery of God’s love, which is the Trinity,” he said. “They are bodies that make visible the eternal Word without speaking. They are a symbol of the intimate reality of God. They are images that help to discover and manifest the mystery of God.”
In a world that is increasingly hostile to the church, the family can show the church’s true nature of being a place of welcome, Msgr. Bonetti said. Amore communities are such a reflection of fraternity, as couples and families invite others into their homes to share the presence of Jesus Christ in everyday life.
“The family is the center of unity. In the family, there is the composition of differences in harmony: male and female; young and old; self-sufficient and dependent; educated and non-educated; sick and healthy; believers and nonbelievers; people who practice and people who don’t practice. The family extends its strengths, its unifying ability, and expands around, not excluding anyone,” Msgr. Bonetti said.
“In the family, unconditional self-giving is what surprises the most, amazes and always reveals in a special and unique way the love of God. This self-giving concept can become a real instrument for evangelization,” he said.
Echoing the conference’s recurring theme that the family is not a problem but a solution, the Rev. Tory Baucum, rector of Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Va., spoke of his congregation’s journey into domestic church ministry, and its subsequent revitalization.
The journey included three key moments of understanding: family, nuptial theology and ecumenism.
“Through Jesus, the family is revitalized so that he can transform it. He orders the family to the love and the Kingdom of God. The family is no longer an end in itself,” he said.
Through the lens of nuptial theology, which he called the core of the Bible, one realizes that the love of God is the most powerful force in the world, said Rev. Baucum.
Finally, he spoke of the ecumenism of the family, urging Christians look into their own families for opportunities to make connections. “No matter what tradition you come from, you have family, and you want your family to flourish, you want your marriage to flourish.”
“Family is not an end to itself,” he added. “Its end is the kingdom of God. Its end is in the love of God.”
Reed is managing editor of The Catholic Witness, newspaper of the Diocese of Harrisburg.