In founding the Knights of Columbus. Father Michael J. McGivney sought to respond to the crisis in family life affecting Catholics in 19th-century America. As a young man he witnessed firsthand the challenges his widowed mother faced with seven children at home. Later, as a priest he confronted on a daily basis the problems affecting the families of his parish community due to poverty, violence, alcoholism, immigration, anti-Catholic prejudice and discrimination.
Father McGivney’s vision for family life was not simply that each family might find financial and material aid. He understood that holiness is the calling of all baptized Christians. And, seeing as his two brothers followed him into the priesthood, we can understand how truly important the “sanctuary of the home” was to the McGivney family.
His family was a living example of what the Second Vatican Council later taught — that each man, woman and child is called to holiness through proclaiming the Gospel and communicating the divine gift of love through the activities of their daily lives.
When Christian families respond in this way to the design of the Creator, they become a “domestic Church” that, as Pope Paul VI explained, mirrors “the various aspects of the entire Church” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 71).
Since the Second Vatican Council, and especially during the pontificate of St. John Paul II, it has become clear that the family is “the way of the” In one sense, this obviously means that the family is the object of the Church’s evangelization efforts.
In other words, the “mission” of the family in the task of evangelization is to be what it is called to be — that is, to live its daily life as a Christian family, or as St. John Paul II said so often, “Families, become what you are!” (Familiaris Consortio, 17). This mission is at the heart of the “community of life and love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1603). That begins with the married couple in the sacrament of matrimony.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter. … It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1643).
In other words, sacramental marriage involves not just an agreement between the spouses but a radical transformation of the spouses.
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, “Marriage is based on an exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love” (Deus Caritas Est, 11).
In this way, the witness of husband and wife within the daily life of the family can guard, reveal and communicate love as they make their own the gifts of marriage: unity, indissolubility, faithfulness and openness to new life.
A recent Vatican document on the role and mission of the family has stated “the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent in the work of evangelization” (Instrumentum Laboris, 103) It also pointed to the necessity to better understand the “missionary dimension of the family as a domestic church” (Instrumentum Laboris, 48).
These observations echo those of St. John Paul II, who said in 1979 during his meeting with the Latin American bishops that “in the future, evangelization will depend largely on the domestic church” (Pope John Paul II, Address to the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate).
Clearly, the role of the family in the work of evangelization is not primarily a matter of programs, projects or strategies. These all have their place, but they are secondary. Their place is to be at the service of what is essential: the love between a husband and wife which, sanctified through the love of Christ, radiates to each member of their family.
The family as “domestic church” encounter with Christ within the community of a particular Christian family — a place where each member of the family has an important role.
The family’s mission to “guard, reveal and communicate love” like the parish community does not exist in an ideal place. The truth and beauty of the family remains to be communicated to every Christian family, even those that are fragile, wounded or broken. These families too may read the words of St. Paul with confidence: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom 8:35). And they may find in that confidence a path of hope and healing.
During his visit to the Philippines, Pope Francis cited the need for “holy and loving families to protect the beauty and truth of the family in God’s plan and to be an example for other families” (Pope Francis, Address to Families at the Mall of Asia Arena). Building the Domestic Church is one concrete way that the Knights of Columbus, in solidarity with Pope Francis, can offer “holy and loving families” for the Church’s mission of evangelization in our time.