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The Christian Family

During October the Polish National Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Christian Family.  It was established at the Third General Synod held in Chicago, Illinois in December of 1914.  At the time the Polish people, who predominately made up the membership of the Church, were worried about World War One which had broken out in Europe.  Soon thereafter the  United States would enter into the War.  In the Church there were also topics of great concern discussed at the Synod.  During this Synod the matters of clerical celibacy, mission and the possibility of elections for new bishops were discussed.  But among these weighty topics Bishop Hodur rose to propose to the Synod delegates establishing three holy days of the Polish National Catholic Church.  As listed in the Synod Minutes it mentions: “The Holy Day of the Arising of the National Church, on the second Sunday of March, The Holy Day of the Fatherland, on the second Sunday of May, The Holy Day of the Family, on the second Sunday of October.”  The minutes go on to say that the Synod body “with enthusiasm supported the thoughts given by Bishop Hodur.”

These three feasts in some ways go together as a response to the difficulties that the members of the Church were facing.  Three things would help to bring comfort and stability to God’s people in facing difficult times: their Church, their culture and their family.

The Church, at this moment in history, saw that the family was an important and vital part of the faith and the work of living and spreading the faith.  Seeing as we do today the breakdown of families, and the difficulties that this brings, truly we can say that the Christian family is something not only to be celebrated, but also something to be supported, prayed for and encouraged.

The Gospel reading for this solemnity is taken from the second chapter of Luke.  It is the one episode from the life of Jesus during his teenage years.  Jesus goes with Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem for the festival.  While there, He becomes lost and when His parents journey back to find Him, Jesus is in the temple “sitting with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (Luke 2:46b)  The Gospel reader begins to know that something is special and unique about Jesus as it says, “All who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (Luke 2:47)

While certainly this Scripture reading reminds us that Jesus is not just an ordinary child and is in fact the Son of God when He mentions that the temple is “My Father’s house,” the reading does not end here.  Luke’s Gospel goes on to say that “then He [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them.  His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)  This Gospel reading ends with the primary focus on family life.  Joseph and Mary sought the child Jesus when He was lost and Jesus, as a young boy, was obedient to His parents.

We then can ask, why was this part of Jesus’ life made a part of the Gospel?  Certainly Jesus had done many things as other children did in Nazareth. Certainly He had prayed prayers at home and went to  the Synagogue.  Why was only this episode
recorded?  We can see within this one event preserved within the Gospel that even in the midst of the earliest beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, family life was of great importance.

And of course this brings us to today, where we must ask ourselves, what is the state of my own family life and am I truly a part of the Christian Family?  It begins with our own individual families.  In the Mass Book as we each prepare for the celebration of Holy Mass with the Sacrament of Penance, there is a long section asking questions on our “Duties towards others.”  For children there is a section on our relationship to our parents, giving some concern to our attitude towards them and our willingness to listen to and trust their judgment.  We should make sure that our young members take a look at these questions each time we come to Mass.

For parents there is a section on our relationship to children, asking how well we know their life and their friends and are we striving to be good examples for them in all ways.  This section then goes on to one for husbands and wives.  This basic unit of the Christian family is one that needs to be strong if the faith is to be lived and shared and children are to be brought up loving and serving God.  As parents and spouses we also need to make sure that we review these questions often to strengthen our Christian family life.

At the beginning of this section on “Duties towards Others” there are also general questions about how we are in all of our relationships.  Are we nursing any hatred, dislike or grievance?  Have I hit anyone physically or hurt them by spiteful or unkind words?  And more positively we ask, do I encourage whatever contributes to good relations with other?

In our celebration of the Solemnity of the Christian Family, one thing that we are called to begin to see is that, in reality, these groups described above are sort of arbitrary.  If we truly examine our lives, within our own families, within the larger family of our parish and our Church, then we fulfill all of the roles at different times.  If we just give some thought to our lives, especially within our parishes, we are all children and parents, friends and relatives to each other.  First of all we are relatives.  St. Paul reminds us, “So then, whenever we have the opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:10)  We are not just individuals who happen to worship at the same building, but rather we are a “family of faith” with all of the responsibilities this relationship entails.  St. Paul again reminds us of these responsibilities to care for each other when he says, “And whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

But even within this family structure we fulfill the different roles at various times.  There are times when we are like children.  Certainly, at all times, we need to increase our understanding and our knowledge of our faith and moral life.  In this way we need to learn from others and all of us are required to follow the discipline of the Church.  Like children we must accept that there are times when we need to be corrected and shown the way by others.  In other ways we are like parents.  Each of us must be careful to give a good example of Christian life to those around us.  We are called to help point the correct way as well as to help those that are in need.

In other words, as a part of the great Christian family, we fulfill each role.  This is what it means to celebrate the Solemnity of the Christian Family, acknowledging our ties to each other and acting in such a way to strengthen the family virtues of love and caring.  So now that we have celebrated this Solemnity and spent time in prayer for our individual families and our family of faith, let us make sure that we are fulfilling our roles in a right Christian spirit. I encourage each of you, as you prepare for Sunday Mass this week and every week, take a look at the examination of conscience found within the Mass Book, especially that part that deals with families and relationships.  And of course, let it not only guide your confession for that day, but let it be the beginning or the strengthening of our resolve to truly be a Christian Family, individually and collectively.  As members of the Christian Family, let us strive to follow the admonition of St. Paul, “If you sow to your flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:8-10)

 

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