“The family, the great workshop of love, is the first school, indeed, a lasting school where people are not taught to love with barren ideas, but with the incisive power of experience.”
—February 13th Angelus Prayer, Vatican City, 1994
One of the many things I continue to admire in the life of Saint John Paul II is his ability to pack a dynamite’s worth of meaning into a single sentence. I own an eternal 2005 calendar, featuring “words to live by” for each day of the year, culled from the legacy of this venerable pope. Its nuggets of wisdom are worth a lifetime of reflection. In reading my calendar message for July 6, I unearthed the following power-packed sentence above. To bring out the extraordinary richness of this sentence, I will break down the infused meaning.
There can be no doubt that Saint John Paul meant an institution consisting of a mother, father, and children. As Catholics we are taught to model our families after the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and the Christ Child. This is not an arbitrary decision, for the family is also a mirror of the Blessed Trinity and, in having children, parents are in a co-creative relationship with God. This fundamental institution has served people throughout the world for the better part of human history.
This family workshop operates on a higher level than the ordinary workshop geared to producing material products. Its operation is directed towards nurturing human beings.
Family: School of Learning
The school of the family is an intimate one, one in which each child is given personal and loving attention. There is learning, to be sure, but this school does not end at a prescribed hour in the day. Here, the student does not “go” to school, but rather his parents lay the foundation for moral fundamentals. The family cuts to the center of things, my means of love and the personal relationships with one another. One can always learn from a pious parent; learning is indefinite and there is no commencement day.
Family: Nourishing the Soul
Day-to-day experiences in a loving family makes an indelible impression. Family life nourishes the soul and prepares the child for the challenges of the world. Lech Walesa, a close friend of Saint John Paul, was a great champion of the family. “My family is the foundation of my life,” he declared. This Nobel Prize Laureate was the father of 8 children, living in a milieu that strongly encouraged parents to have only one or two children. “You can see why the Communists pushed for small families,” he wrote, “because it’s hard to brainwash parents of a large family with doctrinal absurdities.” In many ways, Walesa’s family was an incarnation of the ten points elucidated above.
In 1992, a group of Catholic scholars held a symposium on Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio. Their essays were published under the title, The Family in the Modern World. The dedication has particular meaning for all those who understand the true nature of the family what it is destined to be: “These essays on the family are dedicated to Maria Victoria Walesa, daughter of Danuta and Lech Walesa, to whose christening came seven thousand Poles, expressing the belief that the Solidarity of the Family remains the Foundation of Freedom.”
Dr. Donald DeMarco, Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University, is a Senior Fellow at Human Life International and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. He is the author of Why I Am Pro-Life and Not Politically Correct, published in 2018.