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We are all called to a life of holiness.[1] That holiness is achieved through our chosen vocation whether we are called to the religious, married or consecrated life. The way in which we live out our vocation is known as our spirituality. The Church has a long history of spirituality for the monastic, religious and consecrated life. However, lay spirituality, particularly in the family, is essentially undeveloped.

Monastic spirituality is based on a person giving himself or herself to a contemplative life of prayer and worship, typically in solitude, for the salvation of the world. An example of monastic spirituality is the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia (c.480–547). During the 1,500 years of its existence, it has become the leading guide in Western Christianity for monastic living in community. St. Benedict’s followers practice a communal life of prayer and work (ora et labora), so “that in all things God may be glorified.”[2]

An example of religious spirituality is found in the Dominican Order established by St. Dominic de Guzman in the 13th century in France. Also known as the Order of Preachers, Dominicans seek to bring Gospel-revealed truth and their passion for God to others. Although they are set apart in a religious community, they work in the world. Dominican Spirituality is based on four pillars: Prayer, Study, Preaching and Community.[3]

Another way of life is that of consecrated virginity, where a woman offers the gift of her physical virginity to Christ, as a sign of the dedication of her entire being to Him. Living in the world in a diversity of professions, consecrated virgins share a common spirituality of living as a bride of Christ, the spirituality of the Church herself, and of our Blessed Mother.[4]

Throughout the history of the Church, most people have lived out their faith within a family. Yet no distinct family spirituality has emerged. Clearly, there is need for the development of a family spirituality (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Vocation: Community, Call and Spirituality

In our post-Christian society, and with the loss of multigenerational households, there is no mechanism to teach newlyweds how to live out their vocation to marriage and family. A well-developed family spirituality will help couples to learn what it means to be family and how to live it well.

A Proposed Family Spirituality

We propose a family spirituality based on St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio. In this Apostolic Exhortation he urged families to “become what you are.”[5] He explained that God’s plan for the family is to be an “intimate community of life and love.”[6] The Holy Trinity is a divine intimate community of life and love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph – is the earthly model of this intimate community of life and love, lived in respect, obedience and humility to God the Father and to each other.

Mary, the epitome of purity, charity and obedience, is the earthly example for how to live family life well. She submitted herself in humble obedience to God’s plan for her life. All members of the family – husband, wife and children – should follow Mary’s example of being obedient to God’s will for their lives.

And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:35, 38)

Jesus is the ultimate example for families. He came solely to do the will of the Father, to offer Himself for the salvation of the world. God prepared Jesus’ body as a living sacrifice in reparation for the sins of all men.

For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” (Heb 10:5-7)

God also prepared Mary’s body to be a holy tabernacle so that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14). Each person in the family is called to follow Mary’s example of being a holy temple, a fit dwelling for Jesus.

A spirituality of family needs to emphasize that our bodies are not our own. We have been ransomed from sin and death by Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. At our baptism we received the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The family is called to be a “little church,” holy and pure, with each member living their faith so fully that others see Christ through their witness to the Spirit within.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

Finally, families should emulate our Blessed Mother at the Wedding Feast of Cana. Her words are prophetic regarding how we are to live our lives as an intimate community of life and love: “His mother said to the servers, ‘Do whatever he tells you’” (Jn 2:5).

What has Jesus told us to do?

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 14:37-39)

Family members need to view each other as precious brothers and sisters in Christ. When a husband looks at his wife, or a child looks at her mother, they need to see the face of Christ. Likewise, they need to see the face of Christ in all people. In doing so, they will be creating the intimate community of life and love that will transform the world, where Christ reigns as Lord and Savior.

As the Second Vatican Council recalled, “since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children…[creating] a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which society needs.”[7]

Husbands and wives, as the primary educators of their children, need to evangelize their children, inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Then the family is to evangelize the world around them, fulfilling their mission of creating “an intimate community of life and love”.[8]

[1] Paul VI, Vatican II Council, Lumen Gentium, §39, November 21, 1964; http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html (accessed September 18, 2016).

[2] Benedictine Spirituality; http://www.mountmichael.com/pages/school/spirituality/benedictinetradition (accessed September 18, 2016).

[3] Dominican Spirituality: The Four Pillars; http://www.barry.edu/campus-ministry/dominican-life/spirituality.html (accessed September 18, 2016).

[4] Consecrated Virginity; http://consecratedvirgins.org/whoarewe (accessed September 18, 2016).

[5] Familiaris Consortio, §17.

[6] Ibid., §11.

[7] Ibid., §36.

[8] Ibid., §11.