In addition to the small circle of the couple and their children, there is the larger family . . . Friends and other families are part of this larger family, as well as communities of families who support one another in their difficulties, their social commitments and their faith. — Amoris Laetitia, 196
The English title of Amoris Laetitia, the post-synodal exhortation by Pope Francis, is On love in the family. The basis of the document are the two recent synods on the family. Bishops, consultants and lay observers gathered from around the world to discuss modern realities facing families and how the church can help them.
But, perhaps it is time to move beyond the model of the church (and her male leadership) as an all-knowing body to turn to for answers to life’s questions and crises. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that, for most families, wisdom and support is more readily found among family and friends; in the love between families.
Recently my husband and I spent a glorious evening with our faith community of friends. We are part of a Marianist lay community that has been meeting in one form or another for almost 40 years. Our life journeys have intertwined through university years, to newlyweds, and the parenting years. Our children are all adults now, and many of us are grandparents.
We sat on the deck, enjoying the first warm evening of spring. Good food, good drink, good conversation, good friends — a touch of heaven! Talk came around to how our community was truly church for us.
Over these many years we’ve celebrated the joys of family life and found support for the many struggles and challenges. We talk of faith easily and naturally. We sing and we pray from the heart. We swap stories of parish and diocese. Many of us have had close ties and connections to the local church. Some still do. We never did “suffer fools gladly,” and do so less and less as we age.
Our faith community and many other longtime friends have been both gift and life-saver over the years. Weekly mom’s and tot’s tea-times, rowdy multi-family dinners and gloriously chaotic weekend family sleep-overs: these are the “big heart” moments that fed and nourished us.
It is natural to look to peers for support. Newlywed couples seek other couples. Young moms seek other young moms. Empty-nesters seek other empty-nesters. Families facing health crises seek others travelling the same difficult journey.
We look for mentors among those who are further along in the family adventure. Mentors can be found a generation or two ahead or simply a few months or years. Parents of a three-month-old or a toddler can be great mentors for friends with a colicky newborn.
We see our children forming these same bonds of friendship and support. After long work-weeks and sleepless nights, they will schedule family time with their friends despite the extra work of travel or hosting.
When family life is discussed in the church, well-meaning souls wave the Catechism of the Catholic Church while deploring the present state of families, blaming it on a lack of catechesis. The simple and obvious solution, then, is to provide more adult education in parishes — preferably from the “official” teachers in the church.
Debate the theology of family all you want, but experiential wisdom will usually trump ivory tower pronouncements. Black and white rules no longer speak to many of us who are living in the messiness of the grey in-between. We learn more from personal stories than doctrinal diatribes.
Families are often best qualified to minister to other families. Churches could support this ministry by encouraging and empowering existing family networks and small communities, and provide opportunities for encounters where none exist.
Moyer blogs at http://catholicdialogue.com/. She lives in Gimli, Man., with her husband, David. They have five adult children and four grandchildren.