Bishop of Lake Charles
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"They took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord." Luke 2:22
Why do we say that vocations come from the family? St. Paul gives us an answer. In addressing husbands and wives, he writes, "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21). Husbands and wives should love and reverence one another because this is the same relationship that Christ has with His Church. "For no one hates his own flesh," St. Paul continues, "but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body" (Ephesians 5:29-30). "Children," he admonishes, "obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord" (Colossians 3:20; cf. Ephesians 6:1).
Because the family should reflect the unity found in Christ’s Church, His Body, as Catholics we often speak of the family as a domestic church. The family is the Church at home. And just as vocations spring from the life of the Church, priests and religious are born and nurtured in the life of the family. That is the ideal, and that is why the family must remain intact, as what we are called to be, both in the Church and at home.
There is a basic moral dimension to family. Without that moral dimension the family cannot exist or will be something less than it is meant to be. This moral dimension is what allows the family to live compatibly. St. Paul speaks of this, when he writes, "Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another forgiving one another…" (Colossians 3:12-13). All of these qualities exist, because without them we cannot really live the Christian life, and we learn them first in the family, because without them the family disintegrates.
Pope John Paul II spoke of this to in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World. "Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined and fostered by the law of God" (Apostolic Exhortation, Christian Family in the Modern World, Pope John Paul II). Husband, wife, and children should live as though to do the will of God was part of their vocation. "A sincere and active desire" to do God’s will is at the heart of what it means to be family.
When I look back on my upbringing, there is so much that I learned first within the family. I learned patience, waiting my turn, doing my work, taking responsibility for my actions, and how to pray. Each and every child learns this in a family. The schedule may be different, the way the lessons are taught may be different, but the child learns them. I think that this is what is implied in the beautiful verse from the Gospel, "The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom…" (Luke 2:21). Jesus brought to his upbringing the dimensions of a divine and a natural wisdom, but all of what He had came from God. Mary and Joseph encouraged and nurtured in Him what He already had been given by His Heavenly Father. To discover our gifts is to discover that they come from God. When we do, we grow strong.
For this reason, what we see happening to the family in today’s world is truly frightening. The dire statistics speak for themselves. Young people ask why must they marry and why must they have children. All the while, they pursue, like their parents and the society around them, their own selfish goals. As Pope John Paul II wrote to the youth of the world in an Apostolic Letter, "The materialistic and consumeristic civilization is penetrating this whole wonderful complex of conjugal and paternal and maternal love, and stripping it of that profoundly human content which from the beginning was also permeated by a divine mark and reflection" (quoted in a letter for "Worldwide Marriage Encounter", May 28, 1986). It is not merely a question of materialism and a "what’s-in-it-for-me" pursuit that destroys families. This rampant selfishness destroys what it means to be human, and when we forget we are human beings, then we forget God as well.
May God bless and strengthen the parents who try to do what is right and pass on a moral life to their children. May God, who alone knows the struggles that husbands and wives have, give them some insight into what it means to live reflecting the union of Christ and His Church. May God give us hope, so that we do not yield to defeat. May we not be consumed with the pursuit of material goods. May God preserve our families.