Family.... Become What You Are.
Three men sat hopefully and expectantly in the hospital waiting room. A nurse from the maternity wing entered the room. She said to the first man, “Congratulations! You’re the father of twins.” “That’s great! What a wonderful coincidence--I’m a member of the Minnesota Twins baseball team.” Then the nurse addressed the second man: “Congratulations! You’re the father of triplets.” “WOW!” said the new father, “another wonderful coincidence. I work for the 3M Company.” The third man jumped to his feet, “I’m outta here! I work for 7UP.”
Life is like that. The actual occurrence never seems to match our expectations. Sometimes we get more, sometimes we get less than we had expected or hoped. But, as a people of faith and hope, we know that it is beyond our human power to put limits on what to expect from God. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1Cor.2:9)
I chose to begin my presentation with this Scripture passage as a reminder for all of us. Sometimes we can get so darned discouraged. Certain things haven’t turned out the way we expected or had hoped. Maybe our dreams of long ago are now clearly off the radar screen. Or, perhaps we are experiencing some pretty stormy weather in our relationship with our spouse, our children, or maybe even with our Church. Maybe, we are just plain scared or anxious about the future—getting or keeping a good job, health concerns, anxieties about our children as they grow through these difficult times. We look around us and wonder what’s happening to our families. Again, remember what we just heard St. Paul tell the people of Corinth: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” So, it’s all about love isn’t it?
To answer the question: “What is the mission of the family in today’s world and in the Church, the answer, quite simply is the mission of love. Parents translate for each other and for their children Christ’s love—a forgiving and unconditional love. The family finds in the plan of God not only its identity, but also its mission, what it can and should do. So, in order for the family to become what it is, it must be about its mission of love.
The title for this opening presentation at this Family Forum event is taken from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation, entitled, “On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World,” written back in 1981. He said each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored and specifies both the family’s dignity and its responsibility.
The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love. This love is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church, His bride. For the few minutes we have together this morning, I would like to explore with you three essential elements
that families must recognize and embrace if they are to accomplish their mission to “Become What They Are.” Families are: 1) communities of love; 2) communities of holiness; and 3) communities to treasure.
Family is about relationships. Remember we are made in the image and likeness of our God. Our One God is Trinity, a community of love: the love relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, made in the divine image, we are defined by and called to relationships of love.
More often than not, when someone asks, “Who are you?” we respond by identifying ourselves by relationships that we have. I am the daughter or son of… sister of…friend of… Or we identify ourselves in relation to our workplace: I work at or I work with…Or we identify ourselves in relation to a place… I come from or I was born in… All these responses set a relational context that help identify ourselves. We never stand alone. For a Christian: I am a child of God, the Father who created me, the Son who redeemed me, and the Holy Spirit who empowered me. Blessed Mary is our mother, as is the Church, the people of God. The saints are our brothers and sisters. Then we add our unique biographical details: “In addition, I am the son of Ronald and Doris LaValley. I have two brothers and three sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.”
The divine family of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the human family are what define us first and foremost. Your goal and mine is union, an intimate relationship with the Triune God and with others in God. That is why God created you and me--to be one with each other.
I join those who make the observation that as society became more affluent, the sense of relationship, the need for one another seemed less urgent. Haven’t we seen a certain shift in our culture after World War II, a subtle shift in the definition of self? There has been a move from a relational definition of the self to a definition that looks inside the person as an individual, to the wants of the individual. One almost gets the sense that society today suggests that you are, most importantly, an inner self with inner desires, an isolated person. The Gospel, on the other hand, suggests you are first and foremost a member of the divine family. Our secular culture believes you are just an individual. Our religious faith starts with the belief you are a family member. The first is lonely. The second is a matter of belonging, granted with all the messiness that comes with it.
Our children need to experience relationships, connectedness with people, and not just the connection we make with our i-phones and all the other wonderful communications gadgetry available today. Connectness means presence—real, live physical presence to each other. It means paying attention—eye contact, physical touch, active listening. Every family member having his or her own TV and computer in the bedroom, although good in of itself, does nothing to build
family or strengthen relationships between family members. It certainly does not help our children learn social skills or experience sacrifice.
In our past, our moral lives had external rules, but now there seems to be only internal authority, not external authority. What’s important is me. It’s all about me. If it’s right for me, it’s ok. If it’s right for you, that’s all right. Many do not accept the absolutes, the moral standards that trump individual desires. Many deny that moral absolutes exist for the common good. It’s only the individual that counts.
Our task now, for ourselves and our children, is to recover—or rediscover, the incarnational and redemptive Christian view, where relationships take precedence over our inner selves and where one looks outside of oneself to find meaning and fulfillment. Isn’t that the definition of love--outward looking instead of navel gazing?
That’s why, for me, the image of all of us being on a pilgrimage to the Father is a powerful one. By virtue of our baptism, we have entered into the Divine Family. Jesus, our Lord and brother, has shown us the way to the Father. So our task is to follow Him. But, you and I do not follow Him as isolated individuals. No, we follow Jesus as fellow companions on the journey. We help each other get to heaven as members of the one Body of Christ, as a family of faith. Pope Benedict, in a recent statement, told a group that “the road is the same, that of life, but the situations that we pass through on this route are different…We are one family of brothers and sisters.”
Because Christians enter into a covenant of love with Jesus Christ, we are called to act with a consciousness of Christ’s presence in our family lives. A family striving to place Christ at its center becomes the most basic Christian community: a domestic Church. Although it may struggle at times, it will strive to communicate effectively, love deeply, forgive frequently, and share its values with one another. It will also be life giving: bringing children into the world and rearing them responsibly; developing the potential of all its members; handing on values and traditions. The Christian family will respond to a call of service in society and church by modeling love, generosity, kindness, and caring and by reaching out to others in need.
We cannot reach out to others, we cannot get beyond ourselves, we cannot live together, love each other, and work together without inviting the transforming power of Jesus Christ into our daily life. Prayer increases the strength and spiritual unity of the family, helping the family to partake of God’s own strength. Believe in the power of prayer! Prayer is as essential to our spiritual life as breathing is to our bodily life. Without prayer, we become increasingly more unconscious of our personal failures and more acutely aware of another person’s failures. The family has much to hear from God and it has much to say to God, so let us pray.
No one is born with a halo and no one lives with someone who owns a halo. We are born into this world as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. We all need redemption if we are to live and work together in love. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the intimate life of husband and wife.
The wholesomeness of the family begins with the wholesomeness of the spousal relationship. Without regular prayer and the frequent reception of the sacraments, it is impossible to develop this partnership of life and love that defines marriage.
The Second Vatican Council reminds us that since the Creator of all things has established the conjugal partnership as the beginning and basis of human society, the family is the first and vital cell of society. The family has organic links with society, since the family (mom and dad) is society’s 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 virtues.
From their earliest years, children should be taught, according to the faith received in baptism, to know God, to worship Him and to love their neighbor. Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother, exercising their royal priesthood, penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events of their lives will not be able to erase.
Because the Eucharist defines who we are and is so essential to our lives, it is important that parents never excuse themselves or their family lightly from the obligation to fulfill the Sunday Mass obligation. But, look at it not so much as an obligation, but a blessed opportunity. Keep Sunday holy, except for those necessary daily chores. When children are brought up in an atmosphere of faith, prayer, and the regular and worthy reception of the Sacraments, they are brought up in an atmosphere that values love. There is an atmosphere of faith, of give and take, and a great respect of other persons. They learn how to sacrifice. We are depriving our children of a tremendous lesson in life if we do not enable them to learn sacrifice.
I don’t need to tell you that family life is hectic and fast-paced. But if we remember that faith is the underlying foundation of family life, a solid thread that is part of every aspect of life for ourselves and our families, then there is plenty of time for faith, right in the midst of all of the responsibilities, activities and tasks at hand. In fact, faith in Christ can give all those other parts of our lives new and greater focus. Faith must inform our every decision.
We do not walk the journey of faith as lone rangers. An extremely important mission of the family today is that of living out this intimate relationship of love between family members always linked to the family of faith, the Church.
Look for opportunities to become relational, connected, with your local parish. You cannot simply leave your faith at the door when you leave Mass each week.
A second important concept that families should embrace in order for them to become what they are, closely related to being a community of love, is to recognize that they are called to be communities of holiness. Families have the awesome responsibility to transmit life values, respecting and fostering personal dignity within and outside the home. Families should be schools where our youngsters learn why each and every human person from the moment of conception to that of natural death is precious. Parental insistence on their children’s participation, as well as their own (mom and dad’s) in the parish Christian Formation program is crucial. We must all be formed in the Gospel and teachings of our Church. That’s where evangelization begins…in the home.
For a community of holiness, witness and good example is a must. When daddy treats mommy with respect, affection and devotion, Sonny learns how dads should treat moms. To be kind and gentle is not to be soft and mushy. I can preach until the cows come home, but what do I live? Virtues, Values, Respect are words and concepts quickly in danger of being pulled out of Webster’s Dictionary due to non-use.
Obscene, vulgar, sexually suggestive language is absolutely everywhere from the classrooms to the boardrooms to the bar rooms to the living rooms to the dining room tables. From the TV and computer screen to bumper stickers to T shirts, our adolescent immaturity has become a perpetual state for too many of today’s adults. There’s a hardness and meanness of spirit that seems to pervade everything. We have politicians hurling verbal missiles at each other and TV spin doctors, who, I suspect, unable to find a productive job, are screaming in our faces or shouting in our ears. We eat it up! We start communicating in similar fashion. If nowhere else, our children should find a safe haven in our homes from such mean-spiritedness and disrespect for the dignity of every person. Again, Christian modeling is so very important. I know, it’s not always that easy. That’s why, again, prayer and staying connected with the Church and fellow pilgrims for support are required. We cannot do it all on our own.
Of course, Sunday celebration at our supernatural family meal is essential food for the journey---support for the trials of the week ahead, thanksgiving for the blessings of the week past. Connect with other parish prayer, service and educational opportunities—all tremendous aids to living and teaching virtuous lives...all ways for families to become communities of holiness. Take your family regularly to Church to celebrate the Sacrament of Confession.
At home: share meals with your entire family regularly. Joseph Califano, Jr., of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University explained an extensive survey that was just completed. It concluded
that when families decide to sit down and eat together—children have better grades, stay longer in school and are statistically less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol and tobacco, more likely to hold jobs and stay out of trouble. Do you require everybody in your family be present to at least two main meals during the week? This is another way of staying connected that provides for the kind of attention and communication required for the healthy family today. Know there is a holiness in the messiness of your family life. Meal time provides an opportunity for family members to recognize the divine thread in the midst of the sometimes chaotic days.
A third mission that I see for the family of the third millennium is that of the need to appreciate the treasure of being family. With so many things quickly discarded in this throw-away society, with so much just taken for granted, we must possess an attitude of gratitude for those we call family. We must have a truly profound sense of gratitude to Almighty God for the precious gift and awesome responsibility of being a member of a family.
We all know that love is not just some warm and fuzzy feeling. It is an act of the will. Every day, husbands and wives, recommit themselves to the labor of loving, accepting real sacrifice. Do we take time out at the end of every day, or at the start, to literally count all of our blessings? Why not do it as a family? The world looks a whole lot different and much brighter when I know I have been blessed and remember that throughout the day. Instilling in our children that we should never take anything for granted is important. I know that sometimes in the heat of trial, considering the family as a treasure or a blessing, may take real effort. But when we treat each other as truly a precious gift from God, then we become instruments of God’s love and genuine evangelizers.
Do we appreciate the thread of God’s presence in the gift of family life? As parents beget children on earth, they should never forget that they are also begetting them for God. Yes, parents are the first and most important educators of their children. When a new person is born, he/she brings into the world a particular image and likeness of God Himself. Begetting is the continuation of creation. What a gift—one with earthly and eternal implications!
In July 2006, Pope Benedict in a homily at Mass for the Fifth World Meeting of Families said: “None of us gave ourselves life or singlehandedly learned how to live. All of us received from others both life itself and its basic truths, and we have been called to attain perfection in relationship and loving communion with others.” It’s about being companions on a journey.
In his Letter to Families given on the occasion of the Year of the Family in 1994, Pope John Paul II sums it up so well: “how deeply the Church desires to stand at the human person’s side as he/she follows the paths of their earthly life. The Church shares in the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of people’s daily pilgrimage, firmly convinced that it was Christ Himself who set her on all
these paths. Christ entrusted the human person to the Church; He entrusted the human person to her as the way of her mission and her ministry.”
We are all pilgrims of eternity, people of hope. It is true. Although we may not play for the Twins, work for 3M or for 7up, we will face the unexpected many times in our journey as family. Thank God we have each other as travel companions. As we go about our lives trying to deepen the love relationships we call family, we find great hope knowing that, indeed “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him.” And we do love Him!
This family of faith of St. Mary’s, St. James and Augustinian Academy, indeed every parish family throughout the Diocese of Ogdensburg earnestly seeks to ensure that there is no family left to walk alone. The Church will stand by your side from the moment you were conceived in your mother’s womb until the day you are laid to rest in anticipation of that great family reunion with all the angels and saints in heaven. May the Triune God bless all our families