I never grow tired of hearing the Christmas carol “Joy to the World.” Sung by the choir of angels to the surprised shepherds to announce Jesus’ birth, it triumphantly proclaims what happens when God enters our lives.
The joy affirmed in this first Christmas song is joy to the whole world, but it also expresses the joy experienced by Mary and Joseph. Jesus is God’s great gift given to them and to us. God’s incarnation of the person of Jesus makes all creation sacred and sacramental. And nowhere is this shown more clearly than in family love.
As a father of both biological and adopted children, I know some of that kind of love and joy. The joy associated with being present when new life comes into being is deep and powerful, and lasts a lifetime. While there are difficult moments ahead (ask the Holy Family), this joyfulness remains.
Pope Francis begins The Joy of the Gospel” with these words: “The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” He goes on to note that this joy, the joy of being a disciple of Christ, “is constantly born anew.” God creates the possibility of human joy and joy is a sign of God’s constant presence.
The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the first to evangelize their children, and that the Christian family is “the first school of love.” In this school of love children learn that they are loved by their parents and family, and that they are also loved by God.
This message of love is offered primarily though the thousands of parental acts that support the life of the child. The “message” is embodied in all their gestures of care and love, however small they may seem. These “acts of love” communicate the messages that the child is loved by parents, and loved by God. Love of neighbor and love of God are seamlessly connected.
We know that caring for a newborn is quite demanding. It is truly a twenty-four hour task. While different, teens are similarly demanding. Whatever their ages, children need to know that they are loved and that this love has no end. As the years pass, acts of parental care, kindness, forgiveness, and love multiply and change. Eventually the child becomes capable of returning the love that has been given.
Pope Paul VI wrote that not only do parents evangelize their children but that children do the same for parents. All acts of family love bring joy to the hearts of both parents and children. Thus, to return to the thought of Pope Francis, the message of the Gospel will reach not only to the ends of the earth but also to the depths of family life.
David M. Thomas has been a leader in Catholic Family Ministry for many years. He holds a Ph. D. in Systematic and Historical Theology from the University of Notre Dame. He has served as a consultant to the US Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life and as a Peritus to the U. S. Bishops, World Synod on Family in 1980. He currently serves as Theological consultant to the Bishops of England and Wales, Committee on Marriage and Family. He served as General Editor for the revision of the RCL/Benziger Family Life Program.Sign Up for Our E-Newsletter!