In the book, Seven Habits of Effective Families, written in 1998, Stephen Covey directs families to develop a mission statement that will guide them. He firmly believes that if you want to achieve a goal you have to begin with a statement of your purpose – a clear description of who you want to become. Covey believes that the family who takes the time to “write a mission” will come to know who they are and what they need to do to be who they are. In other words, a mission statement helps answer two of life’s most pressing questions, “who am I?” and “what am I to do?”
Is it possible that Stephen Covey referred to a leading Catholic Church document on the family when he was researching for his book? For the encyclical, Familiaris Consortio, which was written in 1981 by Pope John Paul II, directs all parents to follow a mission statement as well. And the Pope gives very concise directions on the basis for the mission statement. He states, “The family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is to say, a community of life and love in an effort that will find fulfillment… Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love” (On the Family #17).
The Pope (and even Covey) has hit the nail squarely on the head. If you want to be an effective parent, the first thing you have to do is start with the end in mind. This means that you have to identify the main purpose of your parenting efforts – to help your children be who God created them to be. James Stenson, a Christian parenting expert, describes it this way, “parents bear in mind you are raising an adult, not a child.” Children grow and develop into adults and a parent’s job is to ensure that the child becomes a capable, responsible and selfless adult.
The Mission of the Family
But how does a parent keep focused on the end game of raising a competent, considerate and loving adult? The first step is to break this mission into manageable and realistic tasks. Believe it or not, Pope John Paul II took the time to do that for us. He identified four main tasks that parents should undertake if they truly want to raise a virtuous adult. The tasks are:
Form a community of persons
The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives. Its first task is to live with fidelity the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons.
The inner principle of that task, its permanent power and its final goal is love: without love the family is not a community of persons and, in the same way, without love the family cannot live, grow and perfect itself as a community of persons.
…”Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” (#18)
With the creation of man and woman in His own image and likeness, God crowns and brings to perfection the work of His hands: He calls them to a special sharing in His love and in His power as Creator and Father, through their free and responsible cooperation in transmitting the gift of human life. …However, the fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted solely to the procreation of children, even understood in its specifically human dimension: it is enlarged and enriched by all those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and through the children to the Church and to the world. (#28)
“…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. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create 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 every society needs” (#36)
Participate in the development of society
The family is “the first and vital cell of society. (It) has vital and organic links with society, since it is its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of service to life: it is from the family that citizens come to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence and development of society itself.
Thus, far from being closed in on itself, the family is by nature and vocation open to other families and to society, and undertakes its social role. (#42)
Share in the life and mission of the Church
Among the fundamental tasks of the Christian family is its ecclesial task: the family is placed at the service of the building up of the Kingdom of God in history by participating in the life and mission of the Church.
In order to understand better the foundations, the contents and the characteristics of this participation, we must examine the many profound bonds linking the Church and the Christian family and establishing the family as a “Church in miniature” … in such a way that in its own way the family is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church.
It is, above all, the Church as Mother that gives birth to, educates and builds up the Christian family, by putting into effect in its regard the saving mission which she has received from her Lord. By proclaiming the word of God, the Church reveals to the Christian family its true identity, what it is and should be according to the Lord’s plan; by celebrating the sacraments, the Church enriches and strengthens the Christian family with the grace of Christ for its sanctification to the glory of the Father; by the continuous proclamation of the new commandment of love, the Church encourages and guides the Christian family to the service of love, so that it may imitate and relive the same self-giving and sacrificial love that the Lord Jesus has for the entire human race.
In turn, the Christian family is grafted into the mystery of the Church to such a degree as to become a sharer, in its own way, in the saving mission proper to the Church. (#42)
Each of these tasks directs parents to a specific set of practical behaviors. Each of these tasks will require effort and discipline – but the outcome of the work is the accomplishment of the mission – to raise an adult who is pleasing to the Lord. In the next section, look for the practical actions that will accomplish these tasks.