Sunday, December 28, 2014

God's Family Planning

The Feast of the Holy Family has an essential lesson for the contemporary world.  In the Gospel of Luke 1: 31-35 we read that Mary conceived her child through the Holy Spirit and “the power of the Most High.”  (See also the angel’s words to Joseph in Matthew 1: 20.) Mary did not need Joseph, her espoused, to conceive Jesus.  But Jesus needed both of them—Mary and Joseph—to be the Holy Family.

On November 17, 2014, at a conference sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on “The Complementarity Between Man and Woman,” Pope Francis said: “Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s growth and emotional development.”

Why do children have this right which is under attack today?  Because of the complementarity of the sexes.  St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, have all spoken of the importance of recognizing and supporting the unique contribution of women—“the feminine genius.”  In “The Joy of the Gospel” #103, Pope Francis wrote of “the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess.”  He went on to write about “the special concern which women show to others” and which can be called a mothering or nurturing instinct. 

Men, in turn, have their own “distinctive skill sets” which, if we look at Pope Francis’ Inaugural Homily, are found in St. Joseph.
 He is a guide and protector.  In the words of Pope Francis, “Joseph is a ‘protector’ because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions.”  Joseph reveals the fatherhood which has God as its origin.  St. Paul, as he begins a prayer for the Ephesians, writes, “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…” (3:15). One could say that “the masculine genius” is to reveal to children something of God’s fatherhood.

Sometimes circumstances like death, conception out of wedlock, and the break-up of a marriage lead to single-parent families.  While this does indeed happen, it is not the way God intended families to exist. 

The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes” #52, called the family “the school of deeper humanity.”  It is there where children best learn the lessons of life, of what it means to be human. 

In his homily for this feast last year, Pope Francis talked about the lessons that are learned in families: 

“Today our gaze on the Holy Family lets us also be drawn into the simplicity of the life they led in Nazareth.  It is an example that does our families great good, helping them increasingly to become communities of love and reconciliation, in which tenderness, mutual help, and mutual forgiveness is experienced.  Let us remember the three key words for living in peace and joy in the family: “may I”, “thank you” and “sorry”.  In our family, when we are not intrusive and ask “may I”, in our family when we are not selfish and learn to say “thank you”, and when in a family one realizes he has done something wrong and knows how to say “sorry”, in that family there is peace and joy.  Let us remember these three words.  I would also like to encourage families to become aware of the importance they have in the Church and in society.  The proclamation of the Gospel, in fact, first passes through the family to reach the various spheres of daily life. Let us fervently call upon Mary Most Holy, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, and St Joseph her spouse.  Let us ask them to enlighten, comfort and guide every family in the world, so that they may fulfil with dignity and peace the mission which God has entrusted to them.”
As our ancestral parents were tempted in the Garden of Eden to redefine themselves as gods who could determine for themselves right and wrong, good and bad, so contemporary society is seeking a power that does not belong to it.  This same demonic temptation to change nature according to one’s own desires appears in the first temptation that Jesus faced in the desert. He was hungry and was tempted to change rocks into bread.  But it is not the nature of a rock to become grain which in turn is baked and becomes food. 

In a similar way, the world wants to change the nature of marriage and family.  According to Pope Francis, this has devastating effects. In his November 17, 2014 address he said: “Marriage and the family are in crisis today. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people reject marriage as a public obligation. This revolution of customs and morals has often waved ‘the flag of freedom’, but it has, in reality, brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.”

As we reflect of the importance and beauty of family life today, let us pray for families everywhere and for the Synod of Bishops that will meet in October, 2015. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
in you we contemplate
the splendor of true love,
to you we turn with trust.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
grant that our families too
may be places of communion and prayer,
authentic schools of the Gospel
and small domestic Churches.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again
experience violence, rejection and division:
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may the approaching Synod of Bishops
make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,
and its beauty in God’s plan.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
graciously hear our prayer.

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