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A Christian Family, This Year and Always

During the National Clergy Conference, which was held at the end of 2017, the bishops, priests and deacons of the Polish National Catholic Church gathered together to share their thoughts and concerns about many of the issues which are confronting our Church and our society.  At the end of a number of these discussions, the clergy were asked to choose one item which would be the focus of 2018 for the Future Direction program of the Church.  They overwhelmingly chose “The Year of the Family.”

We are probably all aware that the family is under attack in many places and for many reasons within our society.  The relationships of parents to children, of spouses to each other, of brothers and sisters are all facing difficult times.  Some of these difficulties arise from outside issues which may be beyond our control such as the fact that families are now much wider spread and people have become much more mobile for work and other activities.  But some of the issues are those which every individual chooses every day, such as the alienating effects of lack of respect and even the use of social media and technology.  Along with all of this there is also the fact that our society no longer encourages respect, or even love, between family members who may live in the same house.  Any way in which we look at it, the family is being degraded all around us.

If we really spend a moment to think about this situation though, it might really not be all that much different than what was confronted many years ago.  In 1914 the Polish National Catholic Church established what we now refer to as the Solemnity of the Christian Family.  At that time, the members of the Church were facing difficult times in which the immigrant families struggled because of lack of respect and faced many challenges within the wider society.  To counter this the Church established this solemnity, which is celebrated on the Second Sunday of October, this year on October 14, as an opportunity for all of us to focus our attention on the role of the family within the Christian faith.

No Christian truly stands as an island in the life and practice of the Christian Catholic religion.  It is rather in connection to a community, that we practice the faith, live the faith and share the faith, and of course this begins for each of us in our own individual family.  So much of our Christian understanding points us to the importance of the family as the beginning of the life of faith.  We hear it in the opening prayer for the Solemnity of the Christian Family: “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.”

There is so very much here to examine and each part of this prayer says something to us.  First, is that to live and be brought up in a family is itself a blessing  of God.  But of course as with most gifts of God, they can be used for good or for ill.  So this blessing places great responsibilities, not only on the parents of children, but also for husband and wife in their relationship with each other, and on brothers and sisters and even extended members of a family.  The prayer goes on to say that a part of the blessing is “that through our family life we may learn to love and care for others.”   And we know that this is something that must be taught from the earliest of ages and also continually lived out in each and every family interaction.

In regards to this situation on young children we quote from a P.N.C.C. publication called, “The Home Sanctuary: The Child’s First Church,” which was written in 1994.  It states “To Parents!  Your child is God’s gift to you.  God is their heavenly Father. … One of the striking things about the ministry of Jesus was the great concern and love He had for little children.  The human instinct to protect and care for these innocent little ones was never more highly developed than in our Master.  What an honor and responsibility is ours as parents!  Having children is more than a physical union between man and woman.  It is the consummation of a love that grows as it creates and creates as it grows.  The primary task of a parent is to build in his or her child faith in God.  It is an unwise parent who makes the statement ‘when my child is old enough, I will let him or her choose for himself or herself the faith to live by.’  Man does not have this option, for children will live by their parents’ faith.  Each day, by observing his or her parents, they will be making this decision.  The religion of the child is a fusion of the religion of the parents.  We are representing God to our children.  What the child sees in his or her parents, they will imitate and accept as his or her own.”

We must also continue through the prayer given for the Solemnity of the Christian Family to see how all of this expands.  The prayer reads: “Open our eyes to recognize in all people the bonds of kinship.”  This reminds us that in a very concrete way, that we, in fact, belong to multiple families, each of which expresses a bond of love and service between people.

It is in this way that we can examine something that was done at the 1914 General Synod in a little different light.  During that Synod in the afternoon session on the third day of deliberations the matter of holy days was entertained.  The Synod record states: “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.”  Each of these feasts continues to be celebrated within the Polish National Catholic Church to this day, although the Feast of the Fatherland has been changed to the Heritage Sunday, now celebrated in October.

We see here that in essence, the Church is pointing out three of the ‘families’ to which each of us belongs: our individual family, the family of the Church, and the family which is our larger community. This also falls in line with a statement from the Confession of Faith of the P.N.C.C. which was also approved at the 1914 Synod which states: “I also believe that all people have sacred obligations towards God, themselves, their nation, state and all of human society.”  Again we are a part of a family from which we receive blessings and to which we have sacred obligations.  It is these blessings and obligations that form the bonds that we have, one to another, within these family groups.

A similar sentiment was put in the Eleven Great Principles of the P.N.C.C. in 1923 when Bishop Hodur wrote: “Nations, as one Great Family –Nations are members of one great family of God on earth, therefore, it is not right for one nation to rob another nation of land, their political, religious and social freedom, their right to create a native culture; as it is not right for one man to rob another of his property, his good name, freedom of conscience, and the pursuit of happiness, insofar as that pursuit does not interfere with the common good.  The right to live and develop is the highest of all rights.”  We see  an extension here from the individual family in which love and commitment are first practiced, to the relationship of one individual to another, to finally the relationship among a group of individuals as one great family of God.

It is to all of these levels of family that the words of Scripture are ultimately addressed as well.  During the journeys of St. Paul, we hear the jailer speaking to Paul and Silas: “‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They answered, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’  They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.” (Acts 16:30b-34)  Those who were the first missionaries and preachers were bringing the message of the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, not to individuals alone, but often to whole families and even larger family type communities.  St. Paul also shared with St. Timothy a message to be taught to others: “And whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Our family bonds and obligations, at every level, are of serious concern as we must put into practice the call to “unselfishly serve them who with us have been made co-heirs with Christ.”  This calls not only for unselfish service but also the recognition that we all stand as equal members of the family of faith.

The XXV General Synod as Family

This edition of God’s Field will be the last one before the clergy and lay representatives of the Polish National Catholic Church will gather in Belleville, IL for the XXV General Synod.  It is important for all of us, not only the delegates, but in fact the whole Church, to acknowledge that we are, in fact, one great family of God.  This being said, and more importantly being felt within our hearts, we know that we are all responsible for the outcome of the Holy Synod.  The delegates will gather and hopefully take in a very serious fashion their role within our synodal family as representatives of their parishes and the whole Church.  They must put aside any personal issues that they bring to the synod and instead put the thriving of the Church family at the forefront.  Likewise the clergy must continue to exercise their pastoral roles in now bringing the presence of Jesus Christ, not only to the parishes in which they serve, but to the whole Church gathered in Holy Synod.  In other words we must gather as a family, a Church family.  Yes, there might be disagreements, like there are in any family, but as a family we must always keep the “bonds of kinship” at the forefront and strive always to “unselfishly serve them who with us have been made co-heirs with Christ.”  This must also be true of those who are not delegates, since, as a family, they must be in support of the action and work of the delegates and also remain united in prayer for the family of the Church.

As long as we strive together as a family in Christ we will, as individuals and together as brothers and sisters, come to better know, love and serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and also to build up our family home, which is, not only the parishes that we worship within, but more broadly the kingdom of God on earth.

This is the role of the family, our individual families, the parish community families and the family which is our holy Church.  Let us live this at the time of the Synod and then truly celebrate it in the Solemnity of the Christian Family and beyond.

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