The reality of family life today looks very different than it did when our grandparents were growing up. Influenced by multiple factors, societies change and are transformed from one generation to the next, slowly but surely, much like the individuals and families who make up society. So much so that the real picture of family life today is very different from that of our ancestors.
Nowadays, families must contend with many new challenges: work-life balance (for mothers and fathers), the education of children in a pluralist society with a myriad of values (some good, some not so good), organizing multiple extracurricular activities, the care of aging parents, etc. In addition to these basic challenges, some families face the grim realities of immigration, unemployment, family discord, separation and divorce. For different reasons, other families are suffering from being away from their loved ones, and do not know where to go to ask for help. Also, modern life is such that we run our daily lives (our lives do keep us running!) in ways that create distance between people when family relationships are what is really at the heart of happiness.
It is plain to see that modern families, including Christian families, deal with a host of challenges and issues. To put it bluntly, to build a resilient family that will last and to be a good parent is really not easy!
Another sign of the changing times is that, each year, more and more people, baptized or not, chose to live together and to build a family without seeking to have their union recognized or blessed by the Church. How do we explain these choices? Why do people no longer have the desire to anchor their love to the life of the Church and to Christ? These questions are inescapable and they are being pondered by the Church.
Is it because those people believe that the Church upholds an ideal of the family that is no longer relevant in this day and age? Or are they staying away because the concrete reality of their own family is a source of painful feelings, suffering, embarrassment or guilt in relation to the Church?
To be more straightforward, we can ask ourselves: Does the Church’s “unchanging” vision of the family speak to today’s family?
The Church’s answer to this question is YES!
Yes, the Church really does have much to say to today’s families: most importantly, the Church wants to say how much families are at the heart of God’s plan of love for humanity. Do you have a few minutes? Listen to Pope Francis speak on the subject.
Pope Francis is an ardent and impassioned advocate for today’s families. Ever the good teacher, he reminds us that the biblical vision of love and the family is not “a series of abstract ideas, disconnected from life, but (…) a travelling companion (…) for families” (The Joy of Love, n. 22). In fact, Francis reminds us, the Bible is filled with stories of families, births, love and betrayal and crises. Truth be told, it mirrors what today’s couples, and parents in particular, are living through.
The Bible teaches us that the family is at the heart of God’s plan for the world. This is for good reason because the family is, for every human being, the first place to experience the giving and receiving of love. In other words, it is in the family that we are taught to love. Moreover, “God is Love” (1 John 4). How could God not cherish the very first nucleus of love of each human being on Earth? It is for this fundamental reason that God desires to be the companion of every family.
Besides, Jesus’ life touched many families (including his own, the “holy family”); he was with families when he performed several of his most beautiful miracles (one of them being the one that took place in Cana); miracles that fully manifested the love of God the Father for families. We can say that each family on Earth holds a special place in God’s heart.
That is why God desires that all families feel at home in the Church, which is the great family of Christian families.
This is Good News for humanity. What message does the Church have for those who do not seem to “fit the mold” of a traditional family?
Pope Francis has some consoling words for these families.
The Church is your family. It is your home, especially when things are not going well
When a plan for love and fidelity breaks down, this can leave us with deep wounds. We may then be tempted to distance ourselves from the Church, fearing being judged or rejected byothers. These fears are unfounded: the Church is the family of ALL God’s children, no matter their difficulties or shortcomings. Jesus came to Earth to love and gather the sinners and the sick, not to put the so-called healthy ones first. Besides, in varying degrees, we are ALL in some way sick or in sin, and we are all searching for the inner healing that only Jesus can give us through his divine grace.
God created each one of us with a prime intention; to respond to his love in mind, heart and will
At baptism, Jesus Christ mysteriously made you one with him. This union develops throughout your life by faith, which must grow and become rooted more and more in Him, with the help of the sacraments of the Church. What is more, since your family is at the heart of your life, it is normal that Jesus would have a desire to be a part of it. He desires to heal your wounds, to bear your troubles with you, and guide you in the Spirit with the members of your family toward greater freedom and happiness.
God’s love for families is not defeated by crises, difficulties or suffering (including death). On the contrary, God remains faithful for the duration of their journey here on earth, and beyond. He sustains families namely through this most beautiful and fervent hope: one day, God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more” (Rev 21:4).
When we marry for love, we hope that it will last forever
That is precisely what the sacrament of marriage expresses: human love is called to last forever, in the image – as a sign – of God’s love for each one of us. When a family is broken, love is wounded. The children, who live to love and be loved, are particularly affected. For this reason, before considering a separation, the Church encourages each family in crisis to do ALL that they can to work for reconciliation and forgiveness which may well resolve family crises.
Have you experienced a separation or a divorce or any other difficulty in your relationship as a couple or in your family? Do you need to be listened to after a separation or divorce? Are you a single parent looking for resources to support you and your family? Would you like to take some time to be with God? The diocese of Montreal can offer you and your family all this and more.
If someone were to ask you: What is the relationship of your family to the Church? What recent or past memories would come to mind?
Memories of your family gathered together for the joyful celebration of baptism, first communion or a wedding? Perhaps sadder memories of your family gathered together to mourn the loss of a loved one at a funeral would come to mind.
For many families, the Church is a place to gather in moments of life’s great joys and in times of great sadness. Christians gather in Church to mark the beginning and the end of life but also times of transition; to celebrate rites of passage, such as a confirmation or a wedding (two Christian sacraments).
In God’s eyes, the Church is so much more than a place or building made of stones or wood. To God, it is a living community of women and men, children, teenagers, adults, older people, families, single or consecrated people, priests and men and women religious; all people who journey through life with a view to fulfilling God’s plan for them.
The Church is therefore a living community where God desires that people who make up families discover, by participating in a widespread community experience, a great human and spiritual family: that of the children of God, in JESUS, united in and by the Holy Spirit. God wishes that the Church become, for these families, a place of rootedness and belonging.
God also desires that families take part in the life of the Church because they are entrusted by God with a unique mission which He intended for families.
This special mission of Christian families in the Church and in the world hinges on three aspects or areas of focus (which we introduce here but will develop further in this document) families must:
be witnesses to God’s faithfulness and mercy,
welcome life, and
be living signs of communion with others.
To fully understand each of the three aspects let us look back to the promises a couple makes on the day of their wedding, the moment a new family is sacramentally formed in the Church.
A witness to God’s faithfulness and mercy
On your wedding day, standing before your friends and family, you made a promise to be faithful to your spouse. You promised that you would be faithful to each other “for better or for worse, till death do us part.” A promise, words with a profound significance that lead to a LIFELONG commitment. Why then is this obligation tied to a lasting commitment when many couples today are content with temporary or successive faithfulness?
As Catholics, we believe that this human faithfulness in marriage is a “living sign”, or a “sacrament” (a divine manifestation) of God’s unwavering faithfulness not only to each spouse but also to each human being; to all of creation in fact. Christian marriage between a man and a woman therefore reveals that the Christian God is a faithful God, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Moreover, God’s faithfulness toward us is only possible because He loves us first and forgives us for the many times that we are less then loving toward Him, ourselves or others (these shortcomings are called sins). God the Father’s everlasting love is usually manifested toward us through his mercy; the infinitely loving forgiveness that is always open to reconciliation. The faithfulness of God’s love toward us is also – and especially, the faithfulness of mercy.
Likewise, any Christian couple that promises each other a life of faithfulness and love would not last without mercy at the heart of their relationship. Even with all the good will in the world, daily life, natural human limits and the strength of ego result in Christian spouses hurting each other and wounding their love. That is where a good dose of human mercy comes in, drawn from God’s infinite mercy, given in the Sacrament of Marriage (and other sacraments that we may habitually receive), to purify their love and give it a fresh boost, and new strength. A Christian couple, to thrive, must constantly be immersed in human and divine mercy.
What is more, as we know, our world more than ever needs witnesses of mercy – of love that forgives and is open to reconciliation - in our homes, schools and workplaces. By their vocation, the spouses and members of the Christian family are bright witnesses of the divine strength of mercy for themselves and for the world.
A place where life is welcomed
Before your family and friends, on your wedding day, you also promised to be open to life. This expression means that each child is, in the Christian perspective, both a gift from God, Creator of all life, and the expression of the overabundance that unites the spouses; a love which goes beyond them and spills over to create something new: a child that is both the fruit of their love and God’s love for them. It is in this sense that Christianity affirms that children are God’s blessings.
Contrary to a certain view of love which sees the child to be born as a problem or something that will stifle freedom or personal fulfilment, Christian families in the heart of our world strongly affirm that each child is a gift of love that is unique and that cannot be repeated. For these families, the arrival of a newborn always inspires a sense of awe and gratefulness for the mystery of new life – eternal – given by God.
Christian families remind our world that tends to be obsessed with technological achievement that the greatest miracle, the greatest of gifts, is the appearance of the new human life of a child to be born, a gift that is unique and that cannot be repeated because it comes from God’s heart, and is entrusted to a family chosen from among all families to love and to teach the child to love God and fellow men.
A living sign of communion
From the first moment of conception, you have not been alone: one day you appeared into the body of a woman, your mother, with whom, you, her child, entered into an intimate relationship, nine months before you were born. That is how human life flows: to live, is to be in relationship with others, from birth to death – and beyond because, in Heaven, we are reunited with our loved ones who have gone before us, with whom we will be in relationship until eternity.
Moreover, authentic relationship seeks only one thing: communion with the other. A relationship which does not unite intimately at the level of being does not merit this name.
Your wedding was both a social and relational act. Your witnesses, a few of your good friends were with you and joined in your happiness. All of those people were with you that day made up the community of the Church; the great family of the sons and daughters of the Father. What is more, this great family is a visible sign that shows that Christians do not only live for themselves, but with and for others in true fraternal communion. It is for this reason that all Christian families should feel at home in Church, and discover or rediscover there – to strengthen it – the human and spiritual communion that is at the heart of their mission.
The family: a “domestic Church”
Because of the values of love (of God and of neighbour), of faithfulness, of mercy, of communion, and of openness to life that are lived out (and that define it), Christian Tradition considers the family to be a “little Church”, or a “domestic Church” (domus = home), meaning a place where God is present and makes Himself known through a multitude of benefits and blessings. Consequently, each member of a family-little-church should reflect and embody the love of God in his or her neighborhood, school and work. The domestic Church that is each family should become missionary beyond its own borders and strive to help the Kingdom of God grow in all hearts.
To learn more about the relationship between your family and the Church, please contact the Diocesan Centre for Marriage and Family Life.
What is Education? Why Educate?
The education of children is one of the greatest adventures of marriage and family life. It is also, truth be told, one of the most demanding.
To educate is to transmit something to help with the growth of the spirit, the soul and the heart; to educate is to communicate through our words, but more so with our actions. To educate, to be a parent, is to communicate what is best in ourselves, what we hold most dear, what defines us as a person; our language, history, values, beliefs and our faith.
To educate is a very heavy responsibility when children are very young. Later on, when they are grown and have become adults, educating continues but in more subtle ways, somewhat at a distance – because parents always remain the first role models for their children: they teach them how to live but also how to grow old well and how to die. To educate, is work that engages our whole person (mind, soul and heart) day and night, year after year!
It is normal to worry about the development of their personality (and their values), their grades in school, their social integration, their professional success. Each parent desires that there child succeed socially, professionally and personally. That being said, is this success the ultimate and most important purpose of education?
To educate in the meaning of life
The answer to this question, according to the great wisdom traditions, including the Catholic Church, is no. To educate a child, is not to be concerned with their worldly success; it is to introduce them to the meaning of life – in this instance, the Christian meaning of human existence.
I think the way the editor re-wrote this passge above is convoluted in English. I suggest using the version I wrote below:
[Parents are entrusted by God the Creator with this awesome responsibility of leading their children in their discovery of the world, helping them to discover reality as a gift from God, full of truth and worthy of wonder. It is so important that the promise to take good care of the education of our children is a vow we make on our wedding day!]
Happily, parents can share this heavy task; does African wisdom not say that it takes a village to educate a child? That is why Christian parents entrust the education of their children to others- to competent teachers, spiritual advisors, and trustworthy friends - who share the same Christian vision of life.
School and Catholic Education
Want to know more about Catholic education and local Catholic schools?
The mission of a Catholic education is to introduce and accompany a child to an integrated vision of life and Christian faith. Catholikos is actually the Greek word for universal. Recently, Pope Francis presented his vision of Catholic education to educators in Italy. Let us read an excerpt:
“Education cannot be neutral. It is either positive or negative; either it enriches or it impoverishes; either it enables a person to grow or it lessens, even corrupts him. The mission of schools is to develop a sense of truth, of what is good and beautiful. And this occurs through a rich path made up of many ingredients. This is why there are so many subjects — because development is the results of different elements that act together and stimulate intelligence, knowledge, the emotions, the body, and so on.”
“If something is true, it is good and beautiful; if it is beautiful; it is good and true; if it is good, it is true and it is beautiful. And together, these elements enable us to grow and help us to love life, even when we are not well, even in the midst of many problems. True education enables us to love life and opens us to the fullness of life.”
(Address with Italian school teachers, parents, educators, pupils and other workers, May 10, 2014)
A fully human and Christian education should also include the moral and sexual education of children. Before schools take it on, the responsibility belongs first to Christian parents whose role is summed up in two major points: to help their children to discover the beauty of being a sexual being created by God; to foster the development of the call to love (to giving) inscribed in their hearts and bodies, while teaching them how to regulate it according to solid and clear moral principles. (In the Catholic Church, this approach well developed by Saint John Paul II is called the “theology of the body.”
For more information on Catholic education in Montreal:
Some parents who are seeking this integral vision of education for their children may choose to send their children to a private Catholic school. The archdiocese of Montreal has a very long tradition of exceptional religious communities and dedicated men and women who have committed themselves to the work of collaborating with parents in the work of educating children.
Here is a list to familiarize yourself with some of the Catholic Elementary and High schools in our city:
Sacred Heart School
Loyola High School
Resources (Moral and sexual education):
A variety of English and French resources
The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality within the Family
“The Meeting Point” project for affective and sexual formation: Proposal for high school students
“Ruah Woods” Theology of the Body program
Christopher West and the COR project
Jason Evert and the YOU program
Resources (Faith education for children):
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family.
Pray as a family? We’re already too busy with school, the activities for the kids and work! How would we ever find time to pray as a family?
Do you see yourself in this reaction of a father or mother? A reaction which, to be honest, shows the reality of many of today’s families who are fragmented and scattered because the family members are involved in various activities that are not well synchronized.
That being said, even the many demands of modern life do not make it completely impossible to find the time to be together. Taking time for a good meal, a cultural activity such as a good movie is, in truth, possible.
Prayer brings us into communion with God and others
Prayer, even individual prayer, is less solitary than one might think; in fact, to pray is to enter into relationship with God, and with others in Him, through what the Church calls the communion of saints, that is the mysterious yet real union of all the Christians on earth and in heaven. That is why we are never really alone when we pray.
Pope Francis offers some very simple words of wisdom about prayer in the family today:
¨I would like to ask you, dear families: Do you pray together from time to time as a family? … But so many people say to me: But how can we? …But in the family how is this done? After all, prayer seems to be something personal, and besides there is never a good time, a moment of peace…
Yes, all that is true enough, but it is also a matter of humility, of realizing that we need God… all of us! We need his help, his strength, his blessing, his mercy, his forgiveness. And we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength! And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents….praying for each other. This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer.¨ (Homily for The Family Day, Saint Peter`s Square, October 27, 2013)
Pope Francis reminds us of what is crucial: prayer involves humility, simplicity and strength. Families who pray know that they need God to remain loving, strong and united. They turn to Him with simplicity, with open hands, to receive each day what they need to continue to move forward, with hope and serenity, even in the face of strong headwinds.
Prayer helps family members to be aware that they are all children of the same loving God that watches over the destiny of their family, each member having a place of privilege in his heart. As for the prayer of spouses, it unites them in a deeper way to God and to one another.
Keep it simple!
For family prayer to go well, it must easily fit in the daily schedule: before or after a meal, upon rising or before going to bed, or while going and coming back from school or work, during an evening walk, etc. Whatever form the prayer takes, it must be simple: an Our Father, one or several Hail Mary's, or one of the many prayers taken from the treasure of Christian tradition. The number of people praying may also vary: everyone together, one parent with one or more children, the two spouses, the children on their own etc. In the end, the important thing is that we move from the framework of individual prayer, and that two hearts or more are united with God for a time, even if it is for a short time.
Children have a great capacity for prayer! The small gestures of prayer that we learn in childhood become the foundation of our faith as adults. Through simple prayer, children learn that they are created and loved by God and that Jesus the Good Shepherd loves them and calls them by name. Aren`t these the very truths that we wish to pass on to our children?
Sunday mass is a privileged moment of prayer where we come together with the Christian community to worship God at the beginning of the new week. Christian families form a Christian community which, as one heart, all turn toward God to celebrate the goodness of divine life given in abundance. It is also a good occasion to develop friendships that will make daily life more beautiful.
The Bible is a fascinating account of God`s work in history that can touch everyone no matter what age: children will be fascinated with its stories of adventure and miracles while parents will find solace and guidance in its pages. Every family is encouraged to have a Bible visible and accessible in the home. There are even special Bibles for children that are very beautiful!
Let us listen to Pope Francis offer words of encouragement to parents to introduce their children to prayer!
In the following short video, Mgr. Christian Lépine, the Archbishop of Montreal, offers some insights into the meaning of family prayer and how it is a benefit to the whole family.
Challenges in daily life
The family today must face challenges that threaten unity and happiness. These challenges may be divided into two categories: those that have simple solutions; and those that are more complex to face.
In the first category, we find the individualism or egoism of family members, the invasion of technology and social media, some occupations that are very time consuming (sports or extracurricular activities), overly busy work schedules, etc. The challenges in this first category may be overcome through respectful dialogue and the willingness to resolve things. The ones in the second category require outside support - at times significant support.
Some examples of these challenges? A young couple may discover that they are infertile, another receives a very worrisome prenatal diagnosis during a routine test, a serious accident or a sudden serious illness forces a family to adapt to a new reality, radically different from what they had known before; aging parents or members of the family losing their autonomy and requiring demanding and frequent care, etc.
Many families that are faced with this type of challenge succeed in facing it on their own, with the help of their most devoted friends, at least for a time. That being said, sooner or later it happens that some families feel overwhelmed and even crushed by the extent of the challenge: they must then look for help - outside help. These are two types of challenges for which the Catholic Church offers support to couples and families who feel the need.
Sexuality and Fertility of the Couple
A healthy and whole sexuality is indispensable in the life of a married couple.
For this reason, the Catholic Church, desiring the whole happiness of the spouses, proposes a path of wisdom to help them to live well this essential component of their relationship. This is the wisdom which has stood the test of millions of Christian couples who were asking questions and who were experiencing sexual difficulties. For example, did you know that there are natural and scientific methods of discovering and regulating the rhythms of your fertility that are not contraceptive (chemical or other)? These methods are… free, but very few people know of them.
It can also happen that a couple has trouble conceiving a child: this ordeal may bring about a host of contrasting emotions which leave them feeling distressed and deprived: they then often look for an attentive ear to listen and advise them; where to find help? There is good news. The Church is there for you.
When the unexpected happens
A challenge facing many families is the unexpected sickness or disability of a child (while expecting, upon the birth or later during development); they then need to face limitations in their child which may be intellectual, psychological or physical. Such difficult ordeals give rise to much anxiety and fears regarding the future of the child AND the family. Despair can then overtake some people, and incite them to take decisions that cannot be changed, which they risk bitterly regretting one day.
Did you know that it is possible to live with such a challenge happily? – It is possible, once the initial shock has passed. Millions of parents in the world have done it, and can witness to it. But to do this, they at one time had someone to listen to them and offer wise counsel, help and support.
The Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family would be happy to listen, to offer help, advice and support. The Centre could put you in touch with communities and networks of families who have welcomed a child with a disability. They meet regularly to share friendship and support.
Caring for our aging parents
Sooner or later, all families experience the challenge of accompanying a parent in sickness and death. Although this is a natural trial, biologically foreseeable, it also brings up some questions, as well as ethical dilemmas – for example: what to make of requests for medically assisted death? The wisdom of the Church will answer your questions and propose options that fully respect human dignity.
It is not good for couples and families to be alone
Couple and families, like individuals are not made to live alone. They need to be surrounded by friends with whom they can share their days, whether happy or sad. In other words, couples and families need a supportive community where they can create strong relationships and friendships which will help them to grow.
For the vast majority of people, their spouse and family are the people who are the most precious to them. The necessities of life, however, make it that these are the first realities to be neglected. Yet, the couple and the family, like a plant, require sun and good nutrients to grow well and develop. If they do not have it, the very life of the couple and the family are affected or even threatened. It is then necessary to make an extra effort to save the plant, in hopes that it is not too late…
The Church of Montreal has a loving concern for couples and families, and is well aware of these difficulties. It therefore proposes several activities which seek to nourish and heal this love which is precious yet fragile.
These many varied activities respond to everyone’s needs, whether it be a couple discerning marriage, couples that have young children who wish to refocus their love, a couple experiencing some difficulties who need support and advice in order to keep moving forward, etc.
Here are just some of the activities offered by the diocese: retreats, days of formation, evening sessions, events for the whole family, summer camps…
Catholic retreat centre “Dominus Vobiscum”.
In the summer months, the camps is used for Catholic family camps.
Camping des familles
Sainte Thecle, QC
Semaine Cana - Communauté du Chemin Neuf
If you have any questions on these activities, please give us a call at the Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family. We are there for you!
This international organization has a chapter here in Montreal and they offer marriage and family courses called “Matrimonial love”.
“Through the separate perspectives of husband and wife in five case studies, couples have the opportunity to reflect upon the challenges to a deepening of love in an established marriage. The topics range from the love bond and the sexual person to marital communication, balancing work and family, and family life.”
Various programs opportunities for family enrichment and formation in the Theology of the Body are available through the Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family. Please contact us to find out about our latest events.
If you would like to have a priest visit you at home with your family, please reach out to your local parish priest or give us a call at the Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family.
Resources for family counselors are available upon request. Please contact the Diocesan Centre for Marriage, Life and the Family.
Ecclesial Movements and new communities that accompany and support marriage and family life
Over the past fifty years, the Church has seen the appearance of new religious movements and communities that have brought a renewal to some forms of Christian life, some consecrated, some not. These movements and communities are both places where members try to fully live their daily Christian life, in all its facets including marriage and family life and professional life. These movements and communities live according to their own personality, called charism – however, they all share a missionary ideal which leads them to enter into relationship with those they meet, and when needed to support them in different ways.
Here is the name and contact information for some of these new movements and communities within our diocese. Please note that some of these groups are unilingual French or English.