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Commitment to the Christian Family

During October the Polish National Catholic Church turns special attention to the Christian Family.  Since 1914, the Solemnity of the Christian Family, which was instituted at the Third General Synod, has reminded the members of the Church to pay special and close attention to the religious aspect of our family life.

We know that the lives of our individual families have certainly changed during the past many years.  Families were certainly larger years ago, and there was also the support, not only of immediate family, but often times many aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews and cousins which helped to form an extended family unit.  For many this is no longer the case, as families are smaller and people are much more mobile.  I can certainly remember when I was young that my extended family were of support to one another and we all helped each other in whatever sort of projects were going on.  I can also remember that we all attended Church and worshiped together as well.

It was exactly this sort of support that Bishop Hodur was speaking about when he wrote the notes for a sermon given on the Solemnity of the Christian Family in 1921.  There he says: “Life sometimes is like a journey through a desert.  The only stopping place is an oasis.  This is the place in which shade trees grow, and water springs from a source.  Such an oasis for a person is the family.  The family is the closest natural bond, composed of father, mother and children.  In a large sense, the family is also the church, the parish and the entire Church.” (Hodur: Sermon Outlines and Occasional Speeches, p. 112)

Looking beyond the traditional definition of a family that was the norm in the days of Bishop Hodur, the term oasis gives us an important image.  Bishop Hodur uses the image of an oasis in the very physical sense.  Like a place of stopping in the middle of a desert journey; but if we dig a little deeper into the words that are considered synonyms of oasis, we see through this to what Bishop Hodur is truly trying to get at.  The synonyms listed for oasis listed in an online dictionary I discovered are: “refuge, haven, retreat, sanctuary, shelter, and harbor.”  Each of these words speaks to us of something that is religiously centered, something that is holy.  We see that our family life is not just to provide for the material needs of the individuals there, but also there are some spiritual aspects to our family life as well.  St. Paul speaks of it as well in his first letter to Timothy when he says, “whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  (1 Timothy 5:8)  Within  our family life, the nurturing of a spiritual life and connection to Almighty God is just as important as meeting the physical needs of those around us.  This is part of the love, care and service that we show to each other in our family life.

Now looking to exactly what constitutes a family, we know that there are many definitions and responses.  Found in the book of Genesis we know that God originally created the human race as male and female and gave man and woman to each other.

We see in this that the individual family to which we belong has a very specific relationship to the work of God in the world.  We read in the book of Genesis: “God created mankind in His image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.  God blessed them and God said to them: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.’” (Genesis 1:27-28) And we also know that the ‘subduing’ that is spoken of here is an authority over all creation that is based on service and love.  As each family goes about its work, it does so in acts of love and service to each other and to all of creation.

But even throughout the pages of Scripture we also know that there are many different types of families, beyond just father, mother and children.  The Opening Prayer for the Mass on the Solemnity of the Christian Family says it wonderfully: “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.”  No matter what sort of family we find ourselves in at any particular time, these wonderful words show us that our definition of family must be one that is continuously being enlarged.  We know that it grows in natural ways, as children continue to be born into our immediately family and our extended families, but we must also begin to see that the “bonds of kinship” are stronger than that as well.  If we call the one God we worship “Father” and we call each other, “brothers and sisters in Christ” then these words must point to a greater reality that we truly are one great family because of the God we serve.

And we, of course, must then ask how do we put this reality into practice?  While it is quite easy to say that everyone on earth is my brother and sister, how does this knowledge affect me on a day-to-day basis.  It is here where the parish family and the entire Church family begin to take a role.  It is here where the love and service that we know is expected of us must be shown.  Again we pray during the Mass on the Solemnity of the Christian Family: “Heavenly Father, as a family united in the Eucharist, we entrust to Your love, care and correction the members of our families, both near and far.  Supply their needs, guide their steps, keep them safe in body and soul; and may Your peace rest upon us always.”  We acknowledge that because we receive the Eucharist together, because we are united to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the reception of His Body and Blood, we are then one family and therefore we then ask God to supply the needs and guide the steps of those who make up that family.  We also ask this knowing full well that God will certainly supply these things, but He will do so, not in some magic way, but through the work and commitment of other Christians around us, who follow and are commited to God and who also make up this family.

This then brings us to the place of our own commitment to the Christian Family: our own individual family, our parish family and our wider church family.  We must each ask ourselves: Am I committed to the family I share my home with, my spouse and my children?  Do I show loving care and kindness to my extended family and all those I call my relatives?  Am I worried and concerned about their welfare, their care, their spiritual lives?  Am I concerned about the welfare and stability of my parish family?  Do I put in the time and effort needed to truly be a brother or sisters of all who I worship with?  Am I doing the things that really makes me a member of the Christian Family?

And there are so many more questions that could be asked.  The questions flow easily, but the difficult part is to truly begin to see those around us as our brothers and sisters and to acknowledge that it is our responsibility to care for them as members of the Christian family.  It is in recognizing and accomplishing this that we will be for each other what Bishop Hodur was seeking, a haven where the children of God are loved and protected, a retreat where they will meet God and begin to know His love for all people, a sanctuary where God is worshiped and a harbor where there will be safety and rest from the storms of life.  There each family and the entire Christian family will be an oasis in the journey of life, as long as we, as members of that family, follow the words of Almighty God and acknowledge all God’s children as members of our Christian family.

 

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