See also past Guest columns.

Theme five: Creating the Future Print
Guest column
Thursday, Sep. 24, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
Andy Galvin

To prepare for the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia this September, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Diocese of Madison is providing a monthly series on a particular theme on marriage and family. Each theme is a chapter in the preparatory catechesis developed for the event entitled Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, available in paperback from or for free online at

Not long ago, I met a young mother of an energetic two-year old. I'm always drawn to young moms who dutifully watch over their young ones, even in the midst of great chaos and energy!

After commenting on the awesomeness and privilege of having kids, we started talking about our families. After letting her know of my five kids, she was quick to comment how that's great for me, but two was the limit for her and her husband -- they were "done."

How common it is to hear parents use that language: "we're done," or "we've got our boy and girl now, so we're finished." It's frequently talked about as if it's a badge of parenting; why in the world would one want more children than two!

The fifth theme of the World Meeting of Families preparatory catechesis is entitled "Creating the Future." While it would seem logical to begin this discussion with the Church's teaching on contraception, that actually comes later in the book. While that is important and necessary for all families to have a firm understanding of the issue of contraception, there is something far deeper to understand on this topic than just the "yes" and "no" of family planning.

It starts with the word 'yes'

Each person experiences many relationships in his or her life. We have acquaintances, coworkers, casual friends, lifelong buddies, our parents and siblings. Each of these relationships includes love, loyalty, and commitment at different levels; they also include various levels of physical intimacy appropriate to each. At certain times, especially when pain, sufferings, or joys are shared, these relationships include very high levels of personal intimacy.

But of all these relationships, the relationship of marriage is unique, and Sacrament of Matrimony even more so. Most importantly, it's unique because it serves as a model of love that's meant to be an icon of the complete love God has for us, a mirror of the covenantal love God has with his entire Church.

The "yes" of a married couple in their wedding vows is a participation in the very covenantal love that God desires with all people. Marriage is a community of life and love, reflecting the very community of the three persons of the Holy Trinity -- tell your spouse that the next time you get in an argument!

Love is raised to a new height unattainable in any other human relationship. We see this in a couple's commitment of their vows: they promise to be faithful to one another, they promise to be committed for life, and they promise to be open to children. Their "yes" means "yes" not only to one another, but in sacramental marriage it's a "yes" to God and his divine plan for love.

God's plan for love

We often get caught up in the rules of Christianity, what can we do and what can't we do. Jesus summed it up pretty succinctly when he was asked what is the greatest of the commandments. He responded by affirming that the greatest is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and body, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Love is God's plan for humanity. True love is self-giving. And all questions about how to effectively and authentically live out love between husband and wife must be measured against our call to love as God loves, and not against our own self-focused human criteria.

The catechesis "Love is Our Mission" states, "In the end, the question of becoming parents rests on the same rationale as sacramental marriage itself: love in the shape of service, sacrifice, trust, and openness to God’s generosity."

Too often we measure our openness to children by how it affects our pocketbook, or if we'll be able to afford college for them. Let me be clear, there are real and legitimate conditions in which couples may find themselves that would cause them to postpone pregnancy -- that’s covered in future chapters of the catechesis! But as a general rule, couples need to see the great gift of fatherhood and motherhood as a way of entering into God’s gift of love, even when it may come at great cost.

Consider this: each time a couple enters that sacred one-flesh union of love, they open themselves up to the possibility of being co-creators with the creator of the universe that could result in the creation of a new soul that will live for all eternity. Little Johnny who causes you to pull your hair out sometimes is part of God's divine plan for all humanity!

Importance of parenting

The preparatory catechesis states that "when spouses become parents, the inner dynamic of God’s creation and the marriage sacrament is made visible in a beautiful and particularly clear way." The same love that animated a couple's love and oriented it towards procreation is now also oriented towards that child's education and spiritual formation. The vocation to marriage is transformed into the vocation of parenting.

This has eternal consequences, but also very practical ones. Pope Francis reminded us when he recently baptized 32 babies at once that "children are links in a chain . . . a chain of faith!" From the beginning of time, man and woman have participated in this chain by being open to God's great gift of life and for the past 2,000 years, parents have continued this baptismal chain of faith.

The domestic Church

Parents frequently look to their parish for religious formation, and they should because they have an important role to play. But what are often overlooked are the specific responsibilities of the family in developing a Christian soul.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the family the "domestic Church" and explains "it is in the bosom of the family that parents are by word and example . . . the first heralds of the faith with regard to their children."

Parents have a responsibility to pass on the faith: not just the rules and precepts but most importantly a fervent relationship with Jesus Christ and an understanding of vocational call.

Family prayer is the most important way to form your children and ensure that they stay connected with Jesus. Pope Francis recently commented that having such a relationship with the Lord is like keeping the window of our lives open so that he can make us hear his voice and hear what he wants us to do.

What ways can you strengthen your familial prayer life? Consider a family Rosary once a week; strive to pray before every meal you share; read the daily Gospel reading for an evening prayer. All of these are ways to strengthen our relationship with our heavenly father.

Family prayer also orients us to openness to God's will in our life. Every one of us has a purpose, a specific calling of what God expects of us. This vocational approach to life requires self-sacrifice and looking away from ourselves. This is especially hard today with the many cultural distractions that swirl about us.

The family and parish life

Lastly, we must consider the relationship between the family and parish. Both rely on one another and as Catholic families we have a duty to participate and be involved in the life of the parish.

How important it is to show our children the beauty of the Mass by regularly participating in it. I'm convinced that children have radar for parental hypocrisies. If you don't model what you preach, you lose credibility instantly. The source and summit of our faith is the Eucharist and we are called to participate in it. Take your children (toddlers and teens) to Mass every Sunday!

I'm frequently asked how to engage children more in Mass. First, be a model. If you're engaged, they will be engaged. Do you arrive early with relative calm in your family? Does your family sit at the back of church? Do you and your spouse sing and respond when appropriate? If you're not engaged, your kids won't be either.

For young children, sit up front and avoid the cry room. Engage your child by explaining what's happening, pointing out the various statues or stained glass windows. For many years, my children were enthralled when I would quietly whisper in their ear what the priest was doing during the consecration. I'd explain the words, the vestments, the hand gestures, and anything else that would hold their attention. They loved it!

For older kids, get them engaged. Have them serve if they can, sing in the choir, be an usher. Kids crave responsibility and will rise to the challenge if given the opportunity. It takes effort as a parent to make Mass a priority over the many other competing interests on a Sunday morning. But you won't regret it.

As we are called by God to be a gift of ourselves, we can do that by sacrificing our time and talents for the parish. In particular, we can be present for those in need of our help or our friendship.

The catechesis points out that "no one . . . should be lonely in a parish family." There’s nothing better than ordinary parishioners reaching out to their brothers and sisters in need, and that's a very powerful message to our children of the life-giving and selfless love God calls each of us to.

Andy Galvin is the marriage and family coordinator for the Diocese of Madison. He and his wife Chris are the parents of five children and attend the Cathedral Parish of St. Raphael in Madison.