The Solemnity of the Christian Family is one of the four unique feasts of the Polish National Catholic Church. It was instituted at the Third General Synod held in Chicago, Illinois, December 1, 2, 3, 1914. The minutes of the Synod are quite plain in how they describe its institution. “At 1:30 in the afternoon … The bishop [Bishop Hodur] raised the matter of establishing holy days of the National Church: 1. The Holy Day of the Arising of the National Church, on the second Sunday of March; 2. The Holy Day of the Fatherland, on the second Sunday of May; 3. The Holy Day of the Family, on the second Sunday of October. The Synod did not only receive the information but with enthusiasm supported the thought given by Bishop Hodur. The Holy Days were approved.” (PNCC: The First Eleven General Synods, pg. 90) I have always thought it unfortunate that the words of Bishop Hodur in situations such as this were not preserved, but we can see from this desire to have a Feast Day for the Christian Family that Bishop Hodur considered family life an important foundation of the Catholic Church.
Although we do not have these words of Bishop Hodur at the Synod, there are short notes from a homily given by Bishop Hodur in 1921 on the Christian Family where he speaks very beautifully. “Life sometimes is like a journey through a desert. The only stopping place is an oasis. This is a place in which shade trees grow, and water springs from a source. Such an oasis for a person is the family.” (Hodur: Sermon Outlines and Occasional Speeches, pg. 112) What a beautiful image of the family this is. We all certainly know that life can be difficult. There is the daily grind of supporting ourselves and our loved ones and we often must deal with the difficulties of sickness or financial problems or many other concerns. But in times like these it is the family that is an oasis for each of us. It is within the family setting that we can find rest, sustenance and support. God designed that the family would be a place where we could be ourselves, where we would be fully loved and fully supported as members who together love and follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
But we also know that this nuclear family is not the entire story. Jesus has reminded us in the Holy Gospel that, because we are all His brothers and sisters, that family life has now expanded. Bishop Hodur says this too in his sermon on the Christian Family. “The family is the closest natural bond, composed of father, mother and children. In a large sense, the family is the church, the parish, the entire Church.” In the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus say this explicitly: “While He was still speaking to the crowds, His mother and His brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.’ But to the one who had told Him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?’ And pointing to His disciples, He said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’ (Matthew 12:46-50) Although some might have been shocked that Jesus would treat His mother and brothers this way, it is rather that He has elevated all of us to the status of His brothers and sisters. Jesus elevated us to the level of family.
But being a part of the family of Jesus also places upon us some requirements. We know that within the family there are certain rules and expectations which are to be followed. Family life is not just a free for all. It is the place where we practice the commandments. It is the place where the two commandments of love should be felt and known most strongly. It is also a school of virtue. Not only for the young children, but for each of us as we continue to live and work and pray together.
From our catechism we know the seven virtues, they are listed for us in the Prayerbook as well: humility, generosity, chastity, charity, temperance, brotherly love and diligence. If we take a moment to think about it, these are exactly what we would hope for and expect in each other and our children and therefore we must live them in our families and within our parish communities as well. Each of these virtues should be lived within our family life and living them there should help us to express them eventually to our parish life and even beyond.
Humility helps us to live in harmony with others. If we are prideful and are always expressing how we are better than others, we become tiresome to be with and eventually set ourselves apart from others. This way of living can break down our family life and break up harmony within any community circle, either within our parish or within any other group. With humility we place ourselves within the midst of a community and therefore can begin to see the needs of others. It is then with generosity that we go the next step, from seeing these needs to fulfilling them. This is the putting of the Christian way into practice, to think more of others than we do of ourselves. Chastity must certainly be a part of any committed relationship of husband and wife, but the concept of chastity goes far beyond this. This virtue tells each member of the family, or parish or community, to keep themselves pure in thoughts, words and especially in actions. It is the rising above our more base instincts to the ways of our Lord. This virtue is especially important in the world today as messages which involve sexuality constantly surround us. It is important that we remind each other of the importance of this virtue.
Charity is certainly one of the paramount virtues. And we are thinking here not only about the giving that we do for worthy causes, but also digging deeper to the root word of charity. It means love and we should always act out of love whenever we are dealing with anyone, but especially with the members of our families or our parish communities. Temperance too is a necessary virtue, it not only helps us to share all of our belongings with others, but it encourages self-discipline. In our consumer world today it also reminds us that happiness will not truly be found in the possession of things, but rather in a love and knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We certainly know that possessions are not wrong, but if we only desire more and more for the sake of having more, this is a wrong pursuit that draws us away from the things of God.
As Polish National Catholics we certainly know that Brotherly Love must be an important part of our family and parish life. In the month of September on the second Sunday the Church puts aside a solemnity to focus our attention on this important virtue. In my sermons this year I have focused heavily on the fact that these two solemnities of Brotherly Love and Christian Family are intimately connected. They are two sides to one reality within the Church. It is Brotherly Love that makes the family and it is the Christian Family that shows brotherly love. And lastly there is the virtue of diligence. On this past Sunday we heard the parable of our Lord showing us that we must persevere in prayer. The reality is that we must persevere in all of our religious life, just as we do in our love shown within the family. This Christian Family life is not just for a few months or 18 years, or a generation, but it is meant to be everlasting. We must be diligent not only in our prayers but in practicing all of the virtues.
We see that this sort of family living was a part of the earliest Christian communities. St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians shows this teaching of practicing virtues in different words: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:12-17) Here are mentioned the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and gratitude. It also shows that within this family life there is to joy as we do all things in the name of Jesus Christ.
There is so much that can be said here about what kind of people we should be and what sort of church members we should be as part of the entire Christian Family that is our parish community. I encourage all Polish National Catholics to continue to pray for the families found within our parishes as well as to pray for our parish communities as a whole. But also let each of us examine our lives to see where we can put the virtues of our faith into practice within them. I leave you all with these prayers from the P.N.C.C. Prayerbook. Pray them each day as a way to strengthen your family and your parish and with the help of Almighty God, let what we pray for become a reality in our family and in our parishes.
Prayer for Families
God, our heavenly Father, You have blessed each of us with the gift of family, that through our family life we may learn to love and care for others. Open our eyes to recognize in all people the bonds of kinship. May we unselfishly serve them who with us have been made co-heirs with Christ. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Prayer for the Parish
My Lord and my God, hear my prayers for the well-being of my parish family. Grant us Your grace and all that is necessary for the spiritual growth and welfare of our congregation. Enlighten and guide my pastor and all who minister to the needs of Your people. Strengthen and awaken in us a living faith; comfort and heal the sick, lonely and brokenhearted; soften those who are contentious or stubborn; awaken the indifferent, and rescue the fallen. Lord, help us to continue to proclaim Your truth. Unite us with Christ in like-mindedness of purpose. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
The Family From (Contemporary Issues The Modern World and the Church) XIII General Synod
– October 1971
“What man does about home and marriage is of vital importance to the Church. The Church must be tremendously interested in man’s home life and the life of the family. The whole of the social life of mankind, its character, it strength, its sanctity is determined by the home. The home is the little State, and as goes the home, so goes the nation. So Christian marriage and its sanctity must be preserved at all costs. There is nothing more important in the Church’s work than the preservation of the sanctity of marriage and family life. (Most Rev. Thaddeus Zielinski, God’s Field, Vol. 47, No 1 January 16, 1971)
The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and the family. The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws. Hence, by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by Divine Will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. A man and a woman, who by the marriage covenant of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Matt. 19:6) render mutual help and service to each other through their intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union, as well as the good of the children, imposes total fidelity on the spouses and argues for an unbreakable oneness between them.
Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents. The God Himself Who said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) and “who made man from the beginning male and female” (Matt 19:4), wishes to share with a man a certain special participation in His own creative work. Thus He blessed male and female, saying, “Increase and multiply.” (Gen 1:28) Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and Savior, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day.
Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation. Rather, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life.