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I Will Draw All People to Myself:
A Theological Reflection on the Significance of the Second World
Gathering of Families with the Holy Father.

Fr. Frank Pavone

Pontifical Council for the Family
Rome

 

October 4-5, 1997 will see a great gathering of families from throughout the world with the Holy Father in Rio de Janeiro. It will be a festive gathering, rooted in a common reflection on the Word of God and in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Its theme will be "The Family: Gift and Commitment, Hope for Humanity."

Some of the benefits of such a gathering are obvious from the start. There is mutual encouragement when families hear the testimony of other families about how they dealt with trials or grew in faith. There is a renewal in one's sense of the Church by being in the presence of the Holy Father. The memories of a pilgrimage such as this can strengthen individuals and families when more difficult moments come.

Yet there is a more profound meaning and purpose for a gathering like this. It is a meaning drawn from the very sources of revelation about what the family is and, and reflected in the three dimensions of the Rio theme: gift, commitment, and hope.

The first aspect of the theme reminds us that the family is a gift. It is not a mere human creation, but begins with God's initiative. Because He has spoken, we cannot change the message. Because He creates the family, we cannot refashion it at whim. Because His word is the truth, we can be liberated from the divisive forces of error pulling us in so many contradictory directions. An attentive hearing of God's word about the family will therefore mark the events of Rio.

The very unity of the family is a gift, and not a merely human achievement. God's saving activity is expressed in Scripture as a "bringing together." "As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered...and bring them back to their own country" (Ezekiel 34:12-13). St. John tells us that Jesus "was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (Jn.11: 52). "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself" (Jn.12: 32).

Sin scatters, grace unites. In divorce or various forms of marital infidelity, for example, the relationship of husband and wife is disrupted, causing, in turn, disruption in other family relationships. In abortion and other forms of disregard for the rights of children, the bond of parents to children is disrupted. The examples can be multiplied. In Rio, the families present, and those joined with them in spirit, will pray anew for the gift of family unity.

Receiving such a gift in turn requires a commitment, the second major point of the theme of Rio. This commitment, simply put, is the response of love. The meaning of this word, which is so misused, abused, and confused, is discovered at the cross. By going to the cross, Christ demonstrated the love of God (See Rom. 5:8). He showed that love means self-giving. It means pushing ourselves out of the way so that others may have life, rather than pushing others out of the way so that we may live as we please. So many evils that destroy the family derive from the attitude that we can sacrifice another person for the good of ourselves. The cross shows us that love means we sacrifice ourselves for the good of the other person.

In short, we live the words by which Christ gave us the Eucharist. Strangely, those who promote philosophies and lifestyles contrary to the good of the family use these very same words: This is my body. "This is my body," some will say, "so I can do what I want, whether it is free sex, abortion, or anything else. It's my body and I will live as I please." But what does our Lord say? "This is my body, given up for you." He does not cling to His body so that others die; rather, He gives it away so that others may live. We do the same, thanks to the grace given to us in the Eucharist, which will be the culminating event of the Rio gathering.

When families live in this way, the world has hope. The third dimension of the Rio theme, and its climax, is hope. This hope will be celebrated in the presence of the Vicar of Christ, who in his own ministry calls on the world not to be afraid to hope! Sins against life and family are so often sins of despair. But the task of our day and the nature of our mission as the People of Life is to say, "Have hope! The power of life is stronger than death. The power of live is stronger than hate. The power of the family is stronger than all the forces which threaten it!" May the Second World Meeting of Families with the Holy Father in Rio de Janeiro kindle this hope in every human heart.

 

Pontifical Council for the Family

 

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