I remember when I spent my first summer in Johnstown as a seminarian. I remember being struck by one thing about Johnstown which seemed very different from my hometown. Families. Grandmas, Grandpas, aunts, uncles, great aunts and uncles. Cousins. People had roots here.
When God created Adam, he did not desire him to be alone, so he created a partner for Adam-Eve. The family reflects this deeply rooted need for communion that is found in our hearts. The Catechism gives a good description of the family: “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation” (CCC 2205). If the human family is a sign and image of the communion of the Trinity, we can see why the marriage vow lasts for life: God doesn’t break his covenant with us, and husbands and wives are called to be faithful to one another until death. This, along with our Lord’s very clear command about the permanence of marriage, is why there is no divorce and remarriage. This sacramental nature of marriage is why Catholics must be married in the Church and this bond lasts until death. If you are in a union that is not blessed by the Church, come talk to your priest. He wants to help to work to remedy whatever the situation is that is keeping you away from the help of the Sacraments. If you are living as husband and wife, but are not married, come talk to your priest.
This union between husband and wife is necessarily fruitful: there must be openness to life. God is constantly creating, constantly giving life. Married couples are called to share in the creative work of God in cooperating in bringing about new life. This is why doing anything to actively stop this openness to life, i.e contraception or interrupting the marital act, are gravely immoral, and should be stopped and confessed. The Church does allow and encourage Natural Family Planning for those who are trying to be careful stewards of God’s gifts while being open to life. So throw out the contraception! The more generous we are with God, the happier we will be. What a sad thing it is for couples who cannot conceive children despite their best efforts. If this is the case, come talk to your priest. Sometimes there are legitimate courses of action to help. Yet, there is still a call to parenthood: perhaps through adoption, or sharing your life in some other way in the community.
In whatever situation we find ourselves, we have to get rid of the contraceptive mentality: we must all try to be generous with our lives! There is no room for selfishness in any state of life.
Living in a family teaches us about sacrifice, service, love, and patience, among other virtues. Nothing teaches moms and dads to ignore die to self more than diaper changes at 3am, wiping noses, and breaking up fights between toddlers over the lego airplane. The children learn virtues in living under parents and with brothers and sisters. What a great training ground for living in this crazy world of today. What a great shelter the family is for those members who are experiencing suffering of any kind.
We can only be open to life if we center our lives on God. Spouses have the duty to help each other to get to heaven–to grow in holiness. Parents have the serious responsibility to teach and form their children, and a grave obligation to give good example to their children. Moms and Dads, you have to teach your children to pray and to love God. They are children of God whom He has entrusted to your care. Your children belong to God, and he gives you the task to care for them, to educate them, to form them. That’s why if your son says he might have a vocation to the priesthood, support him! If your daughter says she wants to be a Nun, support her! Remember, they belong to God and you have been given the task to care for them and form them. It’s a good time to take a look at that hectic schedule. Do all these activities, sports, practices, etc, really help? Don’t forget–children need free time to play with friends, to explore, to imagine. One of the temptations now is to prepare children to be business people beginning before kindergarten. What an absurdity. They are children, after all–not mini adults.
The Holy Family should give us a good reminder of priorities: offering everything to God. Inviting Him into our lives, into our homes. Moms and dads, ask your children if they know who Rihanna or Lady Gaga are. Or who Ben Roethlesberger is. Then ask them if they know Saint Gabriel is. Who is Saint Benedict–our patron? Why is it we invite celebrities, pop stars, and sports stars into our lives, but we don’t know our friends who really matter–the ones who can give good solid witness to living a life that is authentic and devoted to God. Why have we relegated formation of our children to the television? There is so much caution about the dangers of strangers, but they’re already in our living room or the bedroom–on the television. The saints are friends who can help us get to heaven. The stars on tv will often lead us to turn away from God and end up in hell. Parents, protect your children. Tell them about the saints and their heroic lives. Children, tell mom and dad that you want to hear about the heroic adventures of the saints–men and women who were extremely happy in life. They were people who did not live mediocre or boring lives!
“Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life” (CCC 2225).
The family is such an ordinary thing, and it is supernatural to the core. That is how our Lord came into the world. He sanctifies family life, and He invites us into his own family at Nazareth. Find refuge in the Holy Family. Young parents who probably had plans for their lives, but they abandoned themselves totally into God’s hands. That is true romance! Go to Saint Joseph, the gentle, strong, faithful father. He worked with his hands, led the Holy Family from one destination to another, and didn’t speak a single word in scripture. He protected the Blessed Mother and the Christ child from harm, and protected the virginity of the Blessed Mother. Go to the Blessed Mother, the loving, pure, courageous mother who looks to the details that only a mother sees. Her totally pure heart and body is full of love for God, and thus she is able to love us no matter how we see ourselves. Look at the infant Jesus. His innocence calls us forth out of sin to convert our lives and go to Him. This great feast day reminds us of the holiness that is found in family life and the great adventure that faithful marriage entails.
Lord Jesus, help us ever to follow the example of Your holy Family, that in the hour of our death Your glorious Virgin Mother together with Saint Joseph may come to meet us, and we may be worthy to be received by You into the everlasting joys of heaven. You live and reign forever. Amen.
Collect Prayer at Mass:
O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.
Through Christ our Lord.