On February 24-25, 2015 in Victoria, British Columbia, Fr. Thomas Rosica addressed the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Western Canada on the themes of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family and on Evangelization and Families. The text of his address on “Evangelization and Families” is found below:
In his homily at the Canonization Mass for Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II last April, Pope Francis described John Paul II with these words:
“In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”
Reflecting on the legacy of St. John Paul II, there is no question that he was a preeminent champion of marriage and family life. He believed that the family would play a vital role in the new springtime of evangelization and was much more than mere bystander in the Church’s evangelizing mission. He presented a deeply positive and bold view of marriage and family life. He was confident that no ideology, however daunting, can extinguish what God has set in motion. While the family finds itself in the midst of an eroding cultural crisis, facing militant attempts to redefine marriage contrary to reason and the Gospel, John Paul II reoriented our gaze to the truth of Christian marriage as a fruit of the redemption of Christ. How many times did he say: “The future of humanity passes through the family!”
John Paul II’s writings on this topic “Original Unity of Man and Woman” “Familiaris Consortio” and “Letter to Families,” presented the family as rooted in the economy of salvation: God’s act of creating the world and offering salvation through Christ—with an important role to play in the order of redemption. The family, as such, must continue the work of Christ and this work must begin first within itself, within each individual family before flowing outward to the extended community.
John Paul wished for us to understand the truth about ourselves and not settle for reductions of our personhood. Marriage faces the same reductionist onslaught which assails us, and this is the reason, in an era of anthropological confusion—who and what is a man and a woman? – that marriage between the two is under attack. Without a proper understanding of who we are, the purpose and meaning of marriage cannot be understood in its fullness.
The Evangelizing Mission of the Family
The “future of evangelization,” insisted St. John Paul, “depends in great part on the Church of the home” (Familiaris Consortio 52). In Redemptor Hominis, he wrote that “the missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for what is in man” (RH 12). In a seemingly radical statement John Paul proclaimed that “Man is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ Himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption” (RH 14). In his 1994 “Letter to Families”, he repeated this theme, stating that “Christ entrusted man to the Church; he entrusted man to her as the way of her mission and ministry.
The lingering question for John Paul II was this: How can the family begin to evangelize and build a civilization of love? He notes that in order for the family to be a sign of Christ’s presence in the world and to take up its mission as evangelizing community, each member of the family, particularly the spouses, must end the reign of sin in their lives (cf. FC 63). You cannot bear fruit if you are severed from the vine, you cannot give what you do not have. In order for the family to participate in this task it has to be constantly nourished and sustained at the wellspring of grace in the Liturgy. Furthermore “the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in faith” (FC 51).
John Paul II left us with a rich, impressive, profound and lofty theology of marriage and family life. His vision flowed from the inherent dignity of every man and woman, of every human being. Some people may be intimidated by John Paul’s reflections, seeing them as daunting, too philosophical and overly academic. Yet, despite the scholarship and depth of his writing, Pope John Paul II had no intention of having his teachings about the human person remain only on the academic level. I think you will agree that his reflections are deeply Christological and Trinitarian, and they are meant to change lives.
Pope Benedict XVI
Throughout his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI turned attention on many occasions to the sacrament of marriage and family life. The transmission of the faith from one generation to the next has always found a natural home in the family. In a May 2009 homily in Nazareth, he suggested that children need the benefits of a “human ecology,” need to be raised in “a milieu” where they learn: “To love and to cherish others. To be honest and respectful to all. To practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.”
At the Milan World Meeting of Families in 2012, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Falling in love is a wonderful thing.” However, the pope described falling in love as the start of a couple’s journey, not its highest point. Something “more wonderful still” awaits the couple, he said. Responding to a question asked during a June 2, 2012 “evening of witness” in Milan by an engaged couple from Madagascar, the pope said: “I often think of the wedding feast of Cana. The first wine is very fine: This is falling in love. But it does not last until the end: A second wine has to come later, it has to ferment and grow, to mature…The definitive love that can truly become this ‘second wine is more wonderful still; it is better than the first wine. And this is what we must seek.”
“Discover the greatness and beauty of marriage,” Pope Benedict said to young people participating in the March 2010 International Youth Forum south of Rome. In a message to the forum, he wrote: “The relationship between the man and the woman reflects divine love in a quite special way; therefore the conjugal bond acquires an immense dignity.”
Because “human beings are made for love,” the pope said, “their lives are completely fulfilled only if they are lived in love.” He explained that “the vocation to love takes different forms according to the state of life,” one being marriage.
Over the years, at different times and speaking from different perspectives, Pope Benedict directed attention both to marriage’s “greatness and beauty” and to family life’s essential roles. Viewing the family as evangelization’s natural home, Pope Benedict began the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization with the words: “a new evangelization is unthinkable without acknowledging a specific responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to families and to sustain them in their task of education.”
In his 2012 Apostolic Exhortation on the Church in the Middle East, he wrote: “Called to live a Christlike love each day, the Christian family is a privileged expression of the church’s presence and mission in the world.”
The Challenge of Evangelii Gaudium
Let us consider how Pope Francis is opening up the theological vision of his two immediate predecessors. In his first apostolic exhortation, on “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis takes the magnificent theology of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and shows us how to apply it in the trenches, in the peripheries of ordinary, daily life. This application is not without immense challenges. “The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism” (64).
66. (EG) The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.
LETTER OF POPE FRANCIS TO FAMILIES
From the Vatican, February 2, 2014
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
I am writing this letter to you on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. The evangelist Luke tells us that the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, in keeping with the Law of Moses, took the Baby Jesus to the temple to offer him to the Lord, and that an elderly man and woman, Simeon and Anna, moved by the Holy Spirit, went to meet them and acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Lk 2:22-38). Simeon took him in his arms and thanked God that he had finally “seen” salvation. Anna, despite her advanced age, found new vigour and began to speak to everyone about the Baby. It is a beautiful image: two young parents and two elderly people, brought together by Jesus. He is the one who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support… Nevertheless, if there is no love then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus. He offers us his word, which illuminates our path; he gives us the Bread of life which sustains us on our journey.”
In Rio de Janeiro during the mega-World Youth Day of 2013, Francis offered us five key elements of marriage and family life:
- Thursday, July 25 Address to Community of Varginha (Manguinhos): There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation; integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for the purposes of generating profit; health, which must seek the integral well-being of the person, including the spiritual dimension, essential for human balance and healthy coexistence; security, in the conviction that violence can be overcome only by changing human hearts.”
Friday, July 26 Angelus: “How precious is the family as the privileged place for transmitting the faith! Speaking about family life, I would like to say one thing: today, as Brazil and the Church around the world celebrate this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, Grandparents Day is also being celebrated. How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society! How important it is to have intergenerational exchanges and dialogues, especially within the context of the family.”
Saturday, July 27 Interview on Radio Catedral (radio broadcasting station of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro): “Not only would I say that the family is important for the evangelization of the new world. The family is important, and it is necessary for the survival of humanity. Without the family, the cultural survival of the human race would be at risk. The family, whether we like it or not, is the foundation.”
Sunday, July 28 Address to the World Youth Day Volunteers: “God calls you to make definitive choices, and he has a plan for each of you: to discover that plan and to respond to your vocation is to move forward toward personal fulfillment. God calls each of us to be holy, to live his life, but he has a particular path for each one of us. Some are called to holiness through family life in the sacrament of Marriage. Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy.”
Sunday, July 28 Address to the Bishops of Brazil: “In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith and who are a daily source of strength in a society that carries this faith forward and renews it.”
Last November 2014, Pope Francis addressed a Colloquium being held at the Vatican on the theme “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” Contrary to some thoughts circulating about this meeting, the colloquium was not called to serve as a corrective to October’s Synod. Francis began his address by dwelling on the word “complementarity”: “a previous word, with multiple meanings.” Although complementarity can refer “situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other” it also means much more than that. Christians, he said, “find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each.”
“Complementarity is at the root of marriage and family.” Although there are tensions in families, the family also provides the framework in which those tensions can be resolved.” He said that complementarity should not be confused with a simplistic notion that “all the roles and relations of the sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern.” Rather, “complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children.”
Pope Francis said that the crisis in the family has produced a crisis “of human ecology,” similar to the crisis that affects the natural environment. “Although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.”
To do that, the Pope said, “It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods.” He noted that the family is the foundation of society, and that children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and a father “capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”
He also called on participants in the Colloquium “to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart.” This is especially important for young people “who represent our future.” Finally, Pope Francis said the family is not an ideological concept, but an “anthropological fact.” That is, the family is not a “conservative” or a “progressive” notion, but is a reality that transcends ideological labels.
During his recent trip to Manila, Francis held a meeting with 20,000 Filipino families in which he blasted the “ideological colonization” of the family. It refers to the strongly held belief among many Catholics in places such as Africa, Latin America, and Asia that Western governments and NGOs, as well as international bodies such as the United Nations, are using their control over development aid to impose their agendas. That same night in Manila, Francis again departed from his prepared text to offer a strong defense of Pope Paul VI and his controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae that upheld the contraception ban.
“He (Paul VI) had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when many people were worried about population growth.”
On the return flight from Manila to Rome, Francis gave a long answer to a question asked of him about the meaning of ideological colonization. He told a story from his time as an Argentinian bishop about a government education minister needing a loan to build schools for the poor, and getting an offer on the condition that textbooks in these schools contain references to “gender theory.” This phrase refers to the idea that sexual identity is a social construct, not part of any natural law, and thus all types of sexual orientations and behaviors are perfectly acceptable. Francis described this colonization as an assault on the right of peoples to make their own choices and to preserve their own identity.
Some headlines from that in-flight news conference focused on the pope’s green light to limit the size of Catholic families, in part because he served up an irresistible sound-bite: “To be good Catholics, we don’t have to breed like rabbits.” Yet as insiders parse the pope’s words, they’ll discover that he was in no way talking about contraception, since he once again praised Paul VI and even said that Pope Paul was trying to ward off a “neo-Malthusian” ideology of population control.
Family as Domestic Church
The family functions as a small “domestic church” that can be a privileged route to evangelization. Cardinal Kasper has spoken and written about the rediscovery of the “gospel of the family,” the vision of the family in the Book of Genesis and in God’s plan. Kasper reflects on the structures of sin within the family, including family problems, tensions between men and women, and the suffering of women and mothers. But Cardinal Kasper also said that the main purpose of his now well-known address to the cardinals in consistory in February 2014 was to deepen the theological understanding of challenges facing the family, ahead of the first synod on that subject to be held in the Vatican last October. While the Church must remain faithful to its teaching on the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage, it is vital to “help, support, encourage” those experiencing difficulties in their family life. “The Church has to be close to them, to help, support and encourage them, to find a way between ‘rigorism’ (strictness) – which cannot be the way of normal Christians – and a pure ‘laxism’ (leniency) …I think this can be the only approach of the Church today…”
Pope Francis and Cardinal Kasper maintain the full teaching of the Church but the teaching has to be applied to concrete situations, as Jesus did and as Pope Francis does very often. The doctrine of the Church is not an ideology in the clouds. It’s about a God who wishes to be present and close to his people. Since the topic of this presentation is about challenges facing marriage and family life. I would like to propose to you several Scripture passages for your consideration. Passages which remind us that though we should strive for the highest ideals, we must also recognize and accept people where they are at.
Emmanuel, the Prayer and the Promise
Matthew’s infancy narrative (1:1-25), provides a wide-angle view of the Incarnation event, against a rich, biblical panorama. More than Mark and Luke, Matthew stresses the Jewish origin of Jesus: the genealogy presents him as “son of David, son of Abraham” (1:1) and goes back no further. Matthew is concerned with 14 generations, probably because 14 is the numerical value of the Hebrew letters forming the name of David.
While the genealogy shows the continuity of God’s providential plan from Abraham on, discontinuity and irregularity are also present. The women Tamar (1:3), Rahab and Ruth (1:5), and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba (1:6), bore their sons through unions that were in varying degrees strange and unexpected.
These “irregularities” culminate in the great “irregularity” of the Messiah’s birth of a young virgin. Matthew has drawn our attention to the peculiarities of these biblical women of the Old Testament, perhaps in order to warn us that something even stranger is coming, or perhaps to enable us, when the news is announced, to connect it with God’s strange way of operating in the past. Our God writes straight with crooked lines, and Jesus’ genealogy is living proof of that fact!
From Joseph’s perspective
Matthew’s story is told from Joseph’s point of view, while the more familiar account from Luke is told from the perspective of Mary. Joseph, a righteous man, is presented as a devout observer of the Mosaic Law (1:19). His betrothal to Mary was the first part of the marriage, constituting a man and woman as husband and wife. Subsequent infidelity was considered adultery. Some months after the betrothal, the husband would take his wife into his home, at which time normal married life began. Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary is overcome by the heavenly command that he take her into his home and accept the child as his own. The natural genealogical line is broken, but the promises to David are fulfilled; through Joseph’s adoption the child belongs to the family of David.
Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken, when he named his son “Jesus” and called him “Emmanuel.” At Christmas Eve each year, it becomes clear to us that the story of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem was no idyllic country folk tale. It was the true fulfillment of the hopes and longings, dreams and desires of the people of ancient Israel.
What do we learn from this powerful story of Jesus’ origins? God never abandons humanity, but rather enters into all that frequently makes life on earth so difficult. In the name “Emmanuel,” we find the answer to humanity’s deepest longings for God throughout the ages. Emmanuel is both a prayer and plea on our behalf, and a promise and declaration on God’s. When we pronounce the word, we are really praying and pleading: “God, be with us!” And when God speaks it, the Almighty, Eternal, Omnipresent Creator of the world is telling us: “I am with you” in this Child. The name Emmanuel is also alluded to at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where the Risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (28:20).
The Future of Humanity Passes Through the Family
Reflection on the Holy Family
There is a Gospel story unique to Luke (2:41-52) that relates an incident from Jesus’ youth. Luke’s infancy narrative, however scarce in details concerning the first part of Jesus’ life, mentions that “his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover” (2:41), an indication of their piety, and of their fidelity to the law and to the tradition of Israel.
“When Jesus was 12 years old, they went up according to custom. When they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing it” (2:42-43). After searching for three days, “they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (2:46). Jesus’ mysterious words to his parents seem to subdue their joy at finding him: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49) The later question can also be translated, “Did you not know that I must be immersed in my Father’s work?” In either case, Jesus refers to God as his Father. His divine sonship, and his obedience to his heavenly Father’s will, take precedence over his ties to his family.
Apart from this event, the whole period of the infancy and youth of Jesus is passed over in silence in the Gospel. It is the time of his “hidden life,” summarized by Luke in two simple statements: Jesus “went down with [Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51); and “He progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52). With this episode, the infancy narrative ends just as it began, in the setting of the Jerusalem Temple. We learn from the Gospels that Jesus lived in his own family, in the house of Joseph, who took the place of a father in regard to Mary’s Son by assisting and protecting him, and gradually training him in his own trade of carpentry. Indeed, the people of the town of Nazareth regarded him as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55), asking with surprise: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3).
Besides his mother, they mentioned also his “brothers” and his “sisters,” who lived at Nazareth. It was they who, as the evangelist Mark mentions, sought to dissuade Jesus from his activity of teaching (Mark 3:21). Evidently, they did not find in him anything to justify the beginning of a public ministry. They thought that Jesus was just like any other Israelite, and should remain such.
Does the story sound familiar? The anxiety and misunderstanding experienced by the Holy Family should not be hidden from families today that experience similar situations. We have often presented the Holy Family of Nazareth as the picture perfect snapshot of family life, without any blemish or difficulty. When we connect people with the real, daily life situations of the Holy Family, and allow the utter humanity of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to shine through, contemporary families will look to them for inspiration, intercession and hope.
In the midst of last October’s Extraordinary Synod, Peter Manseauoct wrote an article for the New York Times in which he asked the fundamental question: “What is a Catholic Family?” (NYT October 17, 2014), He concluded his article with these words:
“…a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God. A church that claims to descend from this most untraditional of domestic arrangements might ask itself: Was any family ever more irregular than that?”
It was through the irregularity at the beginning, ordinary daily living, and daily acts of faithfulness, kindness, generosity and love that surrounded Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, that provided for him a beautiful environment in which to grow and mature. Holiness flows from wholeness and goodness.
School of Nazareth
The moving words of Pope Paul VI spoken in Nazareth on January 5, 1964, are a beautiful reflection on the mystery of Nazareth and of the Holy Family. His words inspire all of us to imitate God’s family in their beautiful values of silence, family life, and work. He said:
Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ’s life was like and even to understand his Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God’s Son came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning.
First we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset, as we are, by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.
Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings – in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.
Finally, in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman’s son, we learn about work and the discipline it entails. I would especially like to recognize its value – demanding yet redeeming – and to give it proper respect. I would remind everyone that work has its own dignity. On the other hand, it is not an end in itself. Its value and free character, however, derive not only from its place in the economic system, as they say, but rather from the purpose it serves.
Contemporary Challenges for Marriage and Family Life
As bishops, priests and the entire Christian community, and as society in general, we must do more to encourage the committed relationship of man and woman that remains so basic to all civilizations, and has proven to be the best support for the rights and needs of children. The Christian family is no longer capable of singularly transmitting the faith to the next generation, and neither is the parish, even though it continues to be the indispensable structure for the Church’s pastoral mission in any given place. As the keystone of society, the family is the most favorable environment in which to welcome children.
We must reflect carefully on the social consequences involved in the redefinition of marriage, examining all that is entailed if society no longer gives a privileged place and fundamental value to the lifelong union of a man and a woman in matrimony. Care must be taken with the language we use to describe these consequences. Parishes, dioceses, and lay movements that do not have creative pastoral strategies and vocational programs about marriage for young people leave the door open to tremendous moral confusion and misunderstanding, misinformation, emptiness.
At the same time, we cannot forget that other bonds of love and interdependency, of commitment and mutual responsibility exist in society. They may be good; they may even be recognized in law. They are not the same as marriage: they are something else. No extension of terminology for legal purposes will change the observable reality that only the committed union of a man and a woman carries not only the bond of interdependency between the two adults, but the inherent capacity to bring forth children.
“The future of humanity passes through the family,” as Saint John Paul II would say so often. The foundation of society is the family. And the foundation of the family is marriage. The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman. The family is the most favorable environment in which children can be born and raised. We need young adults to say “I do” with joy, conviction, faith, and hope. They are our future and our hope. Without married people, we cannot build the future of society and the Church. Without committed, married people, our world will not give rise to the holy families of today.
The recently published Directory for Homilies includes two sections on marriage and family life:
From the Directory for Homilies
- The institution of the family faces great challenges in various parts of the world today, and it is entirely appropriate for the homilist to speak about these. However, rather than simply giving a moral exhortation on family values, the preacher should take his cue from the Scripture readings of this day to speak of the Christian family as a school of discipleship. Christ, whose birth we are celebrating, came into the world to do the will of his Father, such an obedience that is docile towards the movements of the Holy Spirit has a place in the life of every Christian family. Joseph obeys the angel and takes the Child and his Mother into Egypt (Year A); Mary and Joseph obey the Law by presenting their Baby in the Temple (Year B) and going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Year C); Jesus for his part is obedient to his earthly parents, but his desire to be in his Father’s house is even greater (Year C). As Christians, we are also members of another family, which gathers around the family table of the altar to be fed on the sacrifice that came about because Christ was obedient unto death. We should see our own families as a domestic Church in which we put into practice the pattern of self-sacrificing love we encounter in the Eucharist. Thus all Christian families open outward to become part of Jesus’ new and larger family: “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35).
- This understanding of the Christian meaning of family life assists the preacher in speaking about the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. The Apostle’s instruction that wives should be subordinate to their husbands can be disturbing to people of our day; if the homilist does not plan to speak about this directive, it might be more prudent to use the shorter version of the reading. However, the difficult passages of Scripture often have the most to teach us, and this reading provides an opportunity for the homilist to address a theme that may be uncongenial to modern ears, but which in fact does make a valuable and necessary point when properly understood. We can gain insight into the meaning of this text by consulting a similar one, Eph 5:21-6:4. There also Paul is speaking about the mutual responsibilities of family life. The key sentence is this: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). The originality of the Apostle’s teaching is not that wives should be submissive to their husbands; that was simply presumed in the culture of his day. What is new, and distinctively Christian, is, first, that such submission should be mutual: if the wife is to obey her husband, the husband in turn should, like Christ, lay down his very life for his wife. Secondly, the motive for this mutual subordination is not simply for the sake of harmony in the family or the good of society: no, it is made out of reverence for Christ. In other words, mutual submission in the family is an expression of Christian discipleship; the family home is, or should be, a place where we manifest our love for God by laying down our lives for one another. The homilist can challenge his hearers to make real in their own relationships that self-sacrificial love which is at the heart of Christ’s life and mission, and which we celebrate in our “family meal” of the Eucharist.
We need new strategies, new language, and creative pastoral outreach to encourage young adults to consider sacramental marriage and family life. We must develop better methods of evangelization and catechesis to convince young adults that marriage is good, beautiful and worthwhile! We must discover new avenues of communication and outreach to those recently married. What do we provide for them? How do we thank the thousands of couples who, day in and day out, before our very eyes, lay down their lives for others and serve the Lord and their families with great generosity. And let us never forget those who have loved and lost, and those who have suffered the pain of separation, divorce and alienation. May our field hospitals provide for them healing, consolation and loving welcome.
Pope Francis reminds us each day in word and by his actions of the importance of being close to people and accompanying them along the way. In Evangelii Gaudium, Francis devotes much attention to the homily at mass. I consider this a brilliant pastoral strategy to reach people today and let them know of the beauty of marriage and family life.
“The homily joins the living hearts of the Lord and his people. The people are silent and listen as God speaks.”
“The preacher is called to recognize in the people the living water of their faith and culture; where the desire for God is ardent and alive, as well as where the dialogue with God has broken down.”
“The Church preaches as a mother. There is trust in children when their mother speaks. Both mother and child listen to each other. Their conversation can lead to learning and correction.”
“Our preaching is to be maternal: close to the people, with a warm tone of voice, unpretentious and joyful.”
“When Jesus preached he looked beyond the weaknesses and failings of the people. He preached with mercy and kindness. He was filled with the joy of the spirit. He preached the truth with the beauty of images.”
“Our challenge as preachers is to communicate the truth of God’s love and to encourage the joyful living of good lives.”
“Our task is to help our people desire the joy of God’s embrace.”