Following a successful Year of Creation in the Diocese of Burlington, 2018 will be celebrated throughout the Catholic Church in Vermont as the Year of the Family with a particular focus on Pope Francis’ 256-page apostolic exhortation on the family, “Amoris Laetitia,” (“The Joy of Love”).
“Like last year’s Year of Creation, this Year of the Family offers us a year to ponder the Church’s teaching on the family and embrace it ourselves,” Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne said in announcing the special celebration.
Among the components of this special year will be a new diocesan Pre-Cana program, a World Marriage Day anniversary Mass, a Catholic men’s conference and diocesan women’s retreat, the annual Family Mass at St. Anne’s Shrine and other diocesan-wide and parish activities that are still developing.
“The purpose of the Year of the Family is to explore, reflect upon and implement the message of Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” explained Stephanie Clary, manager of mission outreach and communication for the Diocese.
The 2017 year-long focus on “Laudato Si’” and 2018’s year-long focus on “Amoris Laetitia” aim to assist the faithful in understanding these global documents at the local level and supporting Vermont parishes with resources and ideas for furthering these Vatican messages in Vermont communities.
“While certain events during the Year on the Family will focus on specific family situations (for example, Pre-Cana prepares a man and woman to start a new family together as husband and wife, and the annual Family Mass at St. Anne’s Shrine brings together multi-generational families of many forms for a celebratory day of joy), the overall focus of the Year of the Family is the joy and love that are experienced by being attentive to the important relationships in our lives and serving as an example of that love — God’s love — for those we encounter,” she said.
“No matter into what model our families fit — or don’t fit — they can serve as examples of joy and love in the world if they strive to be domestic churches committed to God’s will.”
Pope Francis writes of how “the Lord’s presence dwells in real and concrete families, with all their daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes” and “every family … can become a light in the darkness of the world.”
Emulating what Pope John Paul II did in writing “Familiaris Consortio” in 1994, Pope Francis seeks to highlight the challenges that families face today and proposes ways for the Church to proactively respond in a new way: “Nowadays, pastoral care for families has to be fundamentally missionary, going out to where people are,” commented Deacon Phil Lawson, executive director of evangelization, catechesis, divine worship, marriage and family and respect life.
The husband and father of six hopes his family exhibits love and joy. “The world needs more of both of these. As Pope Francis states in ‘Amoris Laetitia:’ The strength of the family ‘lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love’ and later on he refers to a ‘joy-filled witness.’ If my family and all our families can be agents of love and joy, we will have served our Lord’s mission well in the world,” he said. Michael Hagan, coordinator of religious education and catechesis for the Diocese, emphasized that that the Church truly is a community. “It is easy to make the faith strictly personal and forget that we are deeply connected with the other members of the Church as members of the Body of Christ,” he said.
“If we want to help and support families within our Church that are going through hard times, we will first have to take seriously the truth that we are deeply, spiritually connected to them.” He noted that Pope John Paul II many times made the point that the future of humanity is closely linked to that of the family.
“The claim, then, is that the world depends on the success of the family,” Hagan said. But how could the family hold so much significance? “The family reflects the Trinitarian community of persons, the family is the community in which God chose to become man, the family is where we first experience love, share ideas, form relationships, and the family is where we hone our skills to enter into society at large,” he continued. As persons seek to do God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven,” it is clear that the family is a gift from God to be both celebrated and protected, he said.
“The Church needs families!” enthused Josh Perry, director of worship for the Diocese of Burlington. “In so much as families hold the presence of Christ, the Church — which we know to be the Body of Christ — is strengthened by the presence of families. Throughout the document, the Church is referred to as a ‘family of families.’ The Church needs you!”
At the same time, the Church recognizes the many difficulties families face today. For some, Christ’s presence in the family can seem completely absent. “The Church tirelessly works to strengthen and support families through its accompaniment in pastoral ministry and its celebration of the sacraments,” Perry emphasized.
In keeping with the themes of joy and mercy, Pope Francis wrote, “It is my hope that, in reading this text, all will feel called to love and cherish family life.”
Ways parishes and families can celebrate the Year of the Family:
• Offer special blessings at Mass to families, anniversary couples, children, engaged couples, pregnant women and those celebrating birthdays.
• Get “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for special occasions at home.
• Gather the family and invite the parish priest to bless the home.
• Attend Mass as a family.
• Pray together as a family.
• Sponsor a parish family fun day that begins with Mass or adoration.
• Pray the rosary on a family car trip.
• Share the faith on social media.
• Begin an intergenerational faith formation program.
• Invite persons who might otherwise be alone to share a holiday meal or a Sunday dinner with your family.
• Reach out to an estranged family member.
• Read “Amoris Laetitia” and discuss it as a parish family.
Topics to explore during the Year of the Family:
• Reconciliation with a family member who has been hurtful
• How the loss of a family member affects family dynamics
• How to support a family member struggling with doubt about faith • Living in a model of family you never anticipated (single parent, widow, step family)
• The role of faith in your family
• How to help a broken family heal
• Nurturing good physical, emotional and spiritual health within your family
“The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church... the Christian proclamation on the family is good news indeed.”
— “Amoris Laetitia”
Originally published in the Winter 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.