by Bishop Robert Hermann
Bishop Robert Hermann, auxiliary bishop of St. Louis, led the participants in WFF’s Day of Recollection in a study of the role of the family, from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. Bishop Herman gave three meditations, which have been combined for publication here. (Day of Recollection News Release)
Today we will study Pope John Paul II’s teaching contained in his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. First let me present my over-arching image of the family as a guiding context for our exploration today:
I see the family as a monastery which creates a climate for the education, evangelization and the sanctification of each and every family member in order to send into the world missionaries who bring the saving leaven of Jesus Christ into a hostile world. I consider every member of the family as a potential missionary taking on the culture of death. We might say that the family is essentially a school, designed by God, for the evangelization and sanctification of all its members, and through them the larger Church.
Now I realize that one family cannot save a nation just as one snowflake cannot derail a train, but the same God who allows snows that result in avalanches is also the same God who inspires families to embrace the saving mystery of His son so as to transform the current culture of death into a culture of life and love. Again and again I will call us back to the Cross and the Sacraments from which we receive His transforming power.
Before we get into the study of Familiaris Consortio itself, however, I think we need to review some recent history that has deeply affected the family.
Assaults on the Family during the Past 45 Years
When the Second Vatican Council began in 1962 the American family was very much intact. Parents were still having multiple children. Pastors could not build schools fast enough. Sunday Mass attendance was very high. But within the next decade, forces in society were unleashed that undermined much of what was good and wholesome.
The Second Vatican Council was a great event in the Church, but so much harm has been done to the Church since the Council by those within the Church, those who misinterpreted the good things the Council was doing.
The bishops who attended the Council took along theological experts to help them understand new developments in theology. Rather quickly the so-called theological experts became the self-appointed press spokesmen for the Church. The press went to these theologians, and reported their theological speculations about the future of the Church. (Some of these theologians became media stars.) As a result, many of the Church’s teachings were misrepresented and the laity and many priests became very confused. This is especially true in the area of human sexuality.
Some theologians began to teach that the sin of sexual self-abuse was no longer a sin. Some indeed said that it was healthy self-expression. Many began to openly question the Church’s position against artificial contraception.
Upon the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) issued in July 1968, there was open rebellion among many moral theologians. More than 600 Catholic theologians and members of academia signed a statement at Catholic University of America protesting the Holy Father’s encyclical. Father Hans Küng, a Swiss theologian, wrote a book questioning papal infallibility.
At the same time on college campuses there were massive protests against the war in Vietnam. The Kent State massacre took place on May 4, 1970. The entertainment industry began to put nudity on the stage and screen. The 1968 rock-musical Hair is just one example of this. There was widespread rebellion against all forms of authority, including that of the Church.
European existentialism hit our universities during this time and took its toll on the faith of many of our students. A common theme on our college campuses was that “God is Dead”.
In the summer of 1964, Bobby Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, and Sargent Shriver got together at the Kennedy home a team of moral theologians to help craft a pro-choice position for Democrats so that they could, as Catholics, support the pro-abortion agenda. Among these theologians were Father Robert Drinan, SJ, who later became a pro-choice Congressman. Included also were German Jesuit Father Joseph Fuchs, a “proportionalist” moral theologian, Father Richard McCormick SJ, and Father Charles Curran, who would later lead the protest against Humanae Vitae at Catholic University (cf. The Birth of Bioethics by Albert R. Jonsen, pp 290-291).
In addition, materialism was now becoming a strong force in shaping society. In 1973 the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe vs. Wade. The war against poverty became the war against the unborn. Abortion was seen as a quick way out of poverty.
Out of all of this we developed a secular society based upon the principle that since God does not exist, mankind is free to do as he pleases without any consequences. If there are no future consequences, then we need to get all the power and pleasure we can amass as soon as we can. The moral and ethical fiber of our society became very weakened.
To help you understand the impact all of these forces had upon the Archdiocese of St. Louis and its priests, between 1964 and 1981, 101 priests left the priesthood sad to say.
At about the same time, however in the mid-sixties new charisms began to arise in the Church. The Cursillo movement began in Spain and quickly spread throughout the Church. The “charismatic renewal” movement broke out in the Catholic Church in 1967 beginning with a weekend retreat held at Duchesne University, as participants reflected on the Acts of the Apostles. Beginning in 1970, annual charismatic conferences began to be held on Pentecost Sunday at Notre Dame University.
At the 1974 charismatic conference, Father Michael Scanlan announced that he received an inspiration during the event to accept the presidency of Steubenville College, which he had resisted until that time. In 1976, 50,000 charismatics gathered at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for a five-day conference. Of these half were Catholics and half were other Christians.
Pope Paul VI did everything he could to deal with the forces of darkness working against the Church. At times he openly wept at the deteriorating condition of the Catholic Church. On June 30, 1968, he wrote The Credo of the People of God, strongly reaffirming core beliefs of the Church necessary because of the effect of these forces, as he described:
[W]e are aware of the disquiet which agitates certain modern quarters with regard to the faith. They do not escape the influence of a world being profoundly changed, in which so many certainties are being disputed or discussed. We see even Catholics allowing themselves to be seized by a kind of passion for change and novelty. The Church, most assuredly, has always the duty to carry on the effort to study more deeply and to present, in a manner ever better adapted to successive generations, the unfathomable mysteries of God, rich for all in fruits of salvation. But at the same time the greatest care must be taken, while fulfilling the indispensable duty of research, to do no injury to the teachings of Christian doctrine. For that would be to give rise, as is unfortunately seen in these days, to disturbance and perplexity in many faithful souls. [§4]
When Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978, he brought with him marvelous gifts of leadership and governance to help re-direct the leaders of the Catholic Church. He brought a lot of faith-filled youthful energy, strengthened by suffering under Communism in Poland. He also brought to the Church a profound teaching on the biblical basis of human sexuality in his Theology of the Body. He dealt firmly with Catholic theologians and the bishops. He brought back clarity and credibility to traditional Catholic theology.
Today we are in a different position as a Church. There are many signs of a new springtime in the Church. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life are on the increase. So many of today’s youth are hungering for the Truth. They want solid teachings. They want to know what the Church really believes and teaches.
Father David Meconi, SJ, a theology professor at St. Louis University, is having great success in bringing Catholic college students back into active participation in the Sacraments as well as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In an article entitled:
“Be confident, bold and loving for Christ has won!” he states:
The “revolution” of the sixties and seventies has obviously not come to pass and now after years of sway, the barque of Peter has been steered back on course. The self-appointed revolutionaries have grown old and with the passing of each day those battles lose immediacy and intensity, as what the Church teaches and where she is heading is clearer than ever. Today we encounter not so much an entrenched group of anti-Catholic ideologues, but rather a vacuum crying out for evangelization: for a bold and clear love of Jesus and the witness of His ability to convert all of humanity.
Most of the young people I know here at St. Louis University, for example, pray and worship and serve in a “post-dissent” Church. They take their daily reception of the sacraments very seriously, they clamor for Eucharistic Adoration and common recitation of the rosary, and they organize their own Stations of the Cross on Fridays. They love John Paul II and they are simply enamored with Pope Benedict; they pray for their priests and cannot wait until the next World Youth Day. (Homiletic and Pastoral Review, June 2010 -www.hprweb.com).
This summer 130 seminarians are attending a ten-week Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha. This is a sort of novitiate for diocesan seminarians. Archbishop [Robert] Carlson and I both had the privilege last week to address these students. They are very enthusiastic about the future of the Church. They are taking their spiritual life very seriously. They represent great hope for the Church.
I have spend some time describing the darkness which has come upon us during the last four decades in order that you can see more clearly from where we have drifted and where the Church is leading us. Perhaps society has never looked as dark as it does today. But the good news is that the renewal forces unleashed in the Church will be a powerful leaven that our Lord will use to renew the Church during the coming generations.
Pope John Paul and Familiaris Consortio
Pope John Paul II was a living witness to these events. He wrote Familiaris Consortio just three years after he became pope. In its introduction he states that the family in the modern world has been besieged by a number of forces that have really tested it. Some families have weathered the storm well, others have become “uncertain and bewildered over their role or even doubtful almost unaware of the ultimate meaning and truth of conjugal and family life”.
He points out that the Church ought to apply herself “to understanding the situations within which marriages and the family are lived today”. He goes on to say that applying the Church’s “unchangeable and ever new Gospel of Jesus Christ” is the work of evangelization. In short we might say that this letter is about “re-evangelizing the family”.
He wants to reassure families of the Church’s teachings and her support for their critical role in society.
The Precious Value of Marriage and of the Family (Section 3)
The Church offers to married couples a profound understanding of the meaning of marriage, together with the gifts of faith and the sacraments to make marriage possible. The pope states: “Only by the acceptance of the Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and in the family capable of being fulfilled”.
The reason for this is very simple. Marriage is a very challenging vocation in which both husband and wife have to live together intimately; inevitably revealing to each other their personal weaknesses. To be able to make these adjustments to grow together instead of apart, they need the help of the Gospel to make this possible.
I think it is worth reflecting on the reliance couples must have upon the grace of God to make marriage work. Far from being a life of self-indulgent use of each other’s bodies for selfish satisfaction, it is a call to be intimate in mind and heart. Pope John Paul puts it this way: “Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ and have need of His graces in order to be healed from the wounds of sin and restored to their ‘beginning’, that is, to full understanding and the full realization of God’s plan”.
Fulfillment in Christ can only take place if each party is aware of his or her own need for forgiveness and the grace to modify behaviors so as to embrace with love the spouse with whom they are called to union.
I might add that for the faith-filled couple, the discovery of personal faults can become a source of joy to the extent that it brings that person to his or her knees, begging God’s forgiveness and thus leads to a closer relationship with Christ and with the other spouse. Repentance always brings with it a profound joy! This is how union with God and with each other becomes possible.
Pope John Paul stresses that since today the family is being attacked by so many forces in society, it is the duty of the Church to state clearly God’s plan for marriage and the family. To the extent that the Church is building up the family, it is building up society and the family of God.
The Situation of the Family in the World Today (Section 6)
The pope describes both the positive and the negative influences at work on the family in the modern world. Among the positive influences he states that
[T]here is a more lively awareness of personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in marriage, to promoting the dignity of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children. There is also an awareness of the need for the development of interfamily relationships, for reciprocal spiritual and material assistance, the rediscovery of the ecclesial mission proper to the family and its responsibility for building a more just society. (Emphasis added.)
As we reflect back on the past 30 years, we have to be most grateful for such gifts as Marriage Encounter, which has helped very many couples make breakthroughs in their ability to communicate with each other, and in helping couples develop a greater respect for the person of the other. I think it has also helped men develop a greater understanding of the emotional and personal needs of women.
Among the negative influences the Holy Father mentions is
… a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.
Underlying these negative attitudes is the mistaken notion of freedom, understood not as a capacity for embracing the truth that leads to freedom for self-giving, but to an autonomous power of self-affirmation against the well-being of the spouse.
Our culture has had devastating influences on the institution of marriage. If there is no God, then there are no moral laws. Therefore many couples choose to live together before marriage because “everybody is doing it”. Co-habiting is mistakenly perceived to be more practical and cost effective. Furthermore, why not test out the relationship before making it legal to see if it works? The problem with this kind of thinking is that there is no commitment on the part of the couple for a lifelong relationship, without which marriage cannot last. It is a union of convenience for the sake of satisfying selfish pleasure.
If there is no God, then artificial contraception is okay, and so is abortion. The pope puts it this way: “thus life is often perceived not as a blessing, but as a danger from which to defend oneself”.
It is to be noted that many couples who live by the above norms still do believe in a God, but they act as if He did not exist. The challenge we face today is the necessity of “recapturing the ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values”.
Again and again we will see throughout this Apostolic Exhortation that unless couples open themselves up to prayer and the Sacraments they will not be able to embrace God’s plan for the redemption of their lives and the transformation of society.
Clearly, family values have taken a severe beating over the past forty years, and the Holy Father recognized this. He presented to us the precious value of marriage and the family, described some of the positive and negative forces and then pointed out that the role of the Church is to help re-evangelize the family by applying the Gospel and the Church’s unchangeable teachings to the current situation in which the family finds itself.
Next we will explore how Christ, the Bridegroom, is present in our families, in the Sacraments and in prayer, to help them grow in holiness. We will take a closer look at Sections 9, 13, and 14, in which Pope John Paul speaks of conversion, the sacrament of matrimony, and the gift of children.
Gradualness and Conversion (Section 9)
“What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward”.
What the Holy Father is telling us here is that to the extent that families embrace and live the Gospel they will help transform our culture. He sees each family as a living cell inviting into itself the living Christ and His grace of transformation. This cell, living the Gospel with joy, then shares the fruits of redemption with society.
Christ, the Bridegroom (Section 13)
The pope states in this section that the communion between God and His people finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom who loves humanity so much that He becomes its Savior.
Here I want to introduce a concept from the Songs of Songs (4:9), which helps us understand how God is so deeply in love with His people. In this passage, the Lord says to His beloved Israel: “You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes….”
We sinners have “ravished” Christ’s heart. His three years of public ministry were the actions of a lover madly in love with his bride. On the Cross He gave Himself up in sacrifice in order to make it possible for us to be completely united with Him in love.
I dare say that couples who turn to Him for help “ravish” His heart. He wants to hear their cry for help, forgive their sins, heal their hurts, and enable them to experience a deeper communion with each other and with Him. Christ the Bridegroom is always solicitous about His bride, yet while His offer of love is always there, He will never impose it upon anyone, but is most lavish in bestowing it upon those who humbly ask for it.
Pope John Paul goes on to say that in the sacrifice of Christ, “there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation; the marriage of baptized persons thus becomes a real symbol of the new and eternal covenant sanction in the blood of Christ.”
He then quotes Tertullian as expressing this conjugal life in Christ and its beauty:
How can I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined together by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angel and ratified by the Father?… How wonderful the bond between two believers, with a single hope, a single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both brethren and both fellow servants; there is no separation between them in spirit or flesh; in fact they are truly two in one flesh, and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit.
The pope points out that by baptism the man and the woman are placed within the new and eternal covenant and that therefore the “intimate community of conjugal life and love, founded by the Creator, is elevated and assumed into the spousal charity of Christ, sustained and enriched by His redeeming power”.
Their belonging to each other, and their longing to become one, represents the relationship of Christ with the Church. “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witness of the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers”.
To put this in simpler language, spouses participate in the “spousal charity of Christ” on the Cross, which means they participate in His ability to sacrifice for their beloved, each other and their children. He goes on to say that this sacrament
gives them the grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children….
… it gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems….
… it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ.
Let us take a look at each of these three graces.
The grace and duty of commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them before their children simply means that when parents attend Sunday Mass and receive the Holy Eucharist, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, celebrate the great feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost in a special way, they are bearing witness to their children about Christ’s saving events, which help us overcome sin and grow in love of each other and with God.
When he says that it “gives them the grace and duty of putting into practice in the present, towards each other and their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems…” the pope is really saying that parents translate for each other and for their children Christ’s love which forgives and redeems. This good, this love which comes from Christ’s spousal love, redeems spouses and children.
This is at the heart of what it is to be espoused to Christ and to each other. This connection to Christ’s spousal love must always be kept open and flowing with His redeeming love. Sin clogs the flow of this love but prayer and the Sacraments open up this channel of redeeming love. Always remember, forgiveness redeems. Children are very receptive to this redeeming love. However, the spouse’s first duty is always to the other spouse. If love and forgiveness flows between them, it will flow to their children also.
(I am reminded of the couple who made a Marriage Encounter and on Sunday evening when they returned the children were duly impressed by their affection for each other and for the children. On Wednesday the six-year-old daughter said: “Mom and Dad, don’t you think it is time for you to make another Marriage Encounter?”)
When the Holy Father says that it “gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ”, he simply means that if the man and woman are living this spousal relationship with Christ and with each other, teaching their children about a future encounter with Christ fills them with the hope of good things to come in their coming to know Jesus Christ as a personal savior, and in experiencing the hope of eternal life flowing from a life of fidelity to Christ.
Children are so susceptible to the virtue of hope! It energizes them, it fills them with expectations, and it helps them make sacrifices for the sake of the future. Hope lubricates family life with the expectation of good things flowing from self-sacrifice. Children are willing to make sacrifices if there is hope of reaping some fruits from the sacrifices, including family peace which is no small gift!
The conjugal love of spouses, a participation of Christ’s spousal love, “aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity that beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility”.
Because spousal love is directed to union with the beloved with the very spousal love of Christ it is so demanding. Striving for unity requires humility, mercy and forgiveness. It requires us to plead for all the help we can get from Christ and because it is that demanding, it is that purifying.
Children, the Precious Gift of Marriage (Section 14)
In this section Pope John Paul tells us that “love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal ‘knowledge’ which makes them ‘one flesh’, does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new human person”.
Conjugal love is a gift given by God at the very beginning, by which man and woman become one flesh and are called to become one spirit. It is also a gift because it makes it possible for them to receive the greatest possible gift of becoming with God cooperators in bringing new life into the world. Connected with this is the further possibility of making it possible for their offspring to spend eternity with the parents who received this gift. That is why the Holy Father goes on to say that “parental love is called to become for the children the visible sign of the very love of God, ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named’”.
The Family, a Communion of Persons (Section 15)
The Holy Father describes beautifully how the family is a communion of persons. A family is composed of a complex of interpersonal relationships, that of husband and wife, motherhood and fatherhood, filiation and fraternity, “through which each human person is introduced into the ‘human family’ and into the ‘family of God”, which is the Church.
“The Church thus finds in the family, born from the sacrament, the cradle and the setting in which she can enter the human generations, and where these in turn can enter the Church”.
This is a very succinct but pregnant sentence. The family is the cradle where the Church can enter human generations and where these generations in turn can enter the Church. This says something about just how powerful fidelity to each other and to God is for the sake of future generations. God will redeem our children and our children’s children if we but pass along to them the great mystery of Christ’s love for the human family.
The Role of the Christian Family becoming what you are
The family finds in the plan of God “not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do.” It is called to be a family of life and love. The mission of the family is “to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of, and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church His bride.”
In order to help the family carry out its mission of love, the Synod fathers assigned four tasks for the family:
1. Forming a community of persons
2. Serving life
3. Participating in the development of society
4. Sharing in the life and mission of the Church
Forming a Community of Persons
Since it is love that makes a family a family, I want to spend some time on this topic of forming a community of persons.
Pope John Paul tells us that the family’s first task is “to live with fidelity the reality of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community of persons”.
He says that “without love the family is not a community of persons and, in the same way, without love the family cannot live, grow and perfect itself as a community of persons. What I wrote in the encyclical Redemptor hominis applies primarily and especially within the family as such: ‘Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him. If he does not encounter love, he does not experience it and makes it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it”.
Since love is at the root of developing a communion of persons, I want to develop at this point the role of prayer and the sacraments in developing a community of love. (These are covered in sections 55-62 of the Apostolic Exhortation.)
You will recall that earlier we quoted Pope John Paul II as saying, “What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward”.
Here I wish to develop what is needed if we are to achieve that “continuous, permanent conversion” of which he speaks and the role of prayer, the frequent and devout reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
We cannot live together, love each other and work together without inviting the transforming power of Jesus Christ into our daily life. Therefore I want to begin with the role of daily prayer and the worthy reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the life of the husband and wife, first, and then in the children. (This is covered in §§58-62).
No one is born with a halo and no one lives with a halo. We are born into this world as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. We all need redemption if we are to live and work together in love. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the intimate life of husband and wife.
Prayer is as essential to our spiritual life as breathing is to our bodily life. Without prayer we become increasingly more unconscious of our personal failures and more acutely aware of the other person’s failures. The spouse who sets out to change the other spouse is beginning a war that he or she cannot bring to a peaceful conclusion. It begins with withholding affection, and continues with ever more strident criticism of the partner. The downhill spiral will end in separation and infidelity, if not worse, unless divine grace intervenes.
The wholesomeness of the family must begin with the wholesomeness of the spousal relationship. Without regular prayer and the frequent reception of the sacraments, it is impossible to develop this wholesome spousal relationship.
Prayer can take any number of forms, but meditating on the mysteries of the most Holy Rosary is an excellent method for growing in holiness. As we meditate on the mysteries of our Lord’s life, we draw strength from His cross and resurrection to meet the personal and interpersonal challenges that come to us daily.
Prayer also helps us to love the person for whom we are praying. This is especially true if we are dealing with hurts between husband and wife. Personal prayer for the other should lead to forgiving the other person unilaterally, not just when they come and ask. Often we are bound down in our sins and cannot ask the other person for forgiveness and therefore it is important that we generously extend this forgiveness to the other person, even if we don’t tell them.
Nowhere in the Gospels does anyone ask Jesus for forgiveness. The paralytic, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the lame man, and Zacchaeus did not ask for forgiveness. Jesus extended it to them because He knew they were bound down in their sins and could not ask for it. When we extend unilateral forgiveness to another, frequently that other person will come back to us offering gestures of friendship and reconciliation.
Prayer for the other person also helps us to keep the Evil One out of the relationship. Saint Paul tells us that our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and the powers of this world of darkness (Ephesians 6:12) and he also tells us that we should not let the sun go down upon our anger so as to give Satan a foothold (Ephesians 4:26). When we forgive the person who hurt us, it is like feeding Satan anthrax. He can’t take it!
It is also important to remind ourselves of the great authority we have over Satan by the exercise of our baptismal vows. If we are overwhelmed by anger or lust, it might be that we are dealing with more than flesh and blood unawares, and even hate ourselves for our anger or lust, when Satan is the invisible instigator in the situation.
The temptation to lust is so prevalent in today’s culture of pornography. For the person addicted to this I encourage that person to go to confession weekly and never to receive Holy Communion without first having made a worthy confession after committing a sin of lust. I also encourage individuals to develop a good daily prayer life and as soon as the temptation arises, address the spirit of lust, saying: “Spirit of Lust, in the name of Jesus Christ I command you to get out of my life and go to the feet of Jesus”. And then immediately begin meditating on the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary.
The temptation to lust is especially intense if there is unforgiveness or resentment present. It is a way for the body to receive a temporary distraction from the spiritual hurt that comes from harboring resentment.
In addition to unilateral forgiveness there is empathetic forgiveness. This is especially effective when one is facing the situation described above where one person is on a mission to change another person’s bad habit. When we have empathy for someone we begin to identify with and to understand another person’s situation, feelings or motives. Empathetic repentance consists of inviting the Lord to show me in my life the very tendency which I see is holding someone else back from growing closer to the Lord.
When I begin with myself, and I humbly ask the Lord to show me the same dispositions or acts of selfishness, I become convicted by the Holy Spirit. This leads me to repent of this habit. If I stay with this agenda, I myself will no longer be so concerned about the other person’s bad habit, because I know how hard it is to overcome bad habits. Also, if I have made strides in overcoming this bad habit, then the other person’s bad habit will no longer remind me of my own, and therefore it will no longer bother me personally.
However, another mysterious thing happens. So often when we repent of a weakness we see in others, that person changes for the better without our ever saying anything about it. This is a mystery and I do not fully understand it. However, one thing is true, and that is, if I have repented of a sin, I become a much stronger intercessor for others. In addition to that, Satan can no longer use my weakness to get at the other person.
In my relationships, I use this all the time, and it works when I use it! When I fail to use it, I repent of my failure and try again. It simply makes relationships so much smoother. The other person becomes happy with what they see and observe in me. They can relax and no longer have to be on the defensive. I am no longer a threat to them.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Section 58)
In this section the Holy Father states: “Repentance and mutual pardon within the bosom of the Christian family, so much a part of daily life, receives their specific sacramental expression in Christian Penance. In the encyclical Humanae vitae, Paul VI wrote of married couples: ‘And if sin should still keep its hold over them, let them not be discouraged, but rather have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God, which is abundantly poured forth in the sacrament of Penance.’”
Both popes are very much aware that family life cannot be lived harmoniously without mutual forgiveness, and the sacrament of reconciliation is a very vital component of a strong and vibrant family life.
I strongly recommend that couples go to confession at least monthly, and even weekly if there is a habit of serious sin involved.
Frequent confession helps us to become more aware of our shortcomings and our need of God’s mercy. Confession also lifts our burdens so that we do not carry the weight of our guilt into our daily activities. It also takes away from Satan a reason to harass us.
Satan cannot accuse us of any sin that was confessed in a worthy confession, because it does not exist anymore. Furthermore, God forgets all our confessed sins and if He forgets ours, then we should forget our own confessed sins and forget the faults of others.
It is wholesome to see that where pastors are offering more frequent confession, the people are coming. At the cathedral basilica we offer confession daily after the 7:00 a.m. Mass, Monday through Friday, and people are coming because they are experiencing spiritual growth.
Frequent confession also leads to a deeper humility, and a deeper humility has never hurt any marriage. It also leads us to experience an ongoing joy, as we repent of our faults during the daily examination of conscience. Inner joy always makes marital relationships mutually nurturing. It leads each spouse to express gratitude to the other for who the other person is in their life.
Creating an Environment for a Family of Love (Section 59)
Here the Holy Father tells us that family prayer is “prayer offered in common, husband and wife together, parents and children together. Communion in prayer is both a consequence of and a requirement for the communion bestowed by the sacraments of Baptism and Matrimony.” He goes on to say that “from the earliest years children should be taught, according to the faith received in baptism, to have a knowledge of God, to worship Him and to love their neighbor.” Further on he states: “Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother exercising their royal priesthood penetrate the innermost depths of their children’s hearts and leave an impression that the future events of their lives will not be able to efface.”
If the husband and wife have developed a habit of daily prayer, it will be very easy to bring the children into this way of experiencing God’s love in our midst. Family prayer heals hurts, helps members forgive one another and to love one another. Pope John Paul II tells us “The words with which the Lord Jesus Christ promises His presence can be applied to the members of the Christian family in a special way: ‘Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’”
He also quotes Pope Paul VI, when speaking to parents, saying: “Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you prepare them, in conjunction with the priests, for the sacraments that they receive when they are young: Confession, Communion and Confirmation? Do you encourage them when they are sick to think of Christ suffering to invoke the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the saints? Do you say the family rosary together? And you, fathers, do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community, at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action, joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of worship of singular family. In this way you bring peace to your homes.…”
There is no better way of evangelizing children than by daily prayer. In family prayer children and their parents can feel Christ’s love for them and mercy toward them. This is a cell of redemption that Christ can use to transform the parish, the community and the nation.
The Eucharist (Section 57)
Pope John Paul II tells us that “the Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage. The Eucharistic Sacrifice, in fact, represents Christ’s covenant of love with the Church, sealed with His blood on the Cross. In this sacrifice of the new and eternal covenant, Christian spouses encounter the source from which their own marriage covenant flows, is interiorly structured and continuously renewed.” He goes on to say that in the Eucharistic gift of charity the Christian family “finds the foundation and soul of its ‘communion’ and its ‘mission’ by partaking in the Eucharistic bread, the different members of the Christian family become one body, which reveals and shares the wider unity of the Church.”
Because the Eucharist is so essential in our lives, it is important that parents never excuse themselves or their family lightly from the obligation to fulfill the Sunday Mass obligation!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2180 tells us: “The precept of the Church specifies that law of the Lord more precisely: ‘On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass’”. It quotes Canon Law 2147, which adds further: “they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body”.
I can tell you that all the Hermann children rejoiced that on Sundays the only manual labor expected of us children was the performance of the necessary daily chores. We rejoiced in this aspect of keeping Holy the Sabbath! On this day we were free to visit our neighbor’s children and play with them, or to hunt, fish, or simply take hikes in the forest. In the hot hay fields during the week, we looked forward to Sunday!
I spent some time with the Sabbath rest because that is such a wholesome time for the family simply to be together and enjoy each other’s company. (Sometimes I think that the family should be protected from too many organized sports for their children.)
When children are brought up in this atmosphere of faith, prayer, and the regular and worthy reception of the Sacraments, they are brought up in an atmosphere that values love and sacrifice. Such children become a great joy to their parents and to each other. There is an atmosphere of faith, of give-and-take, and a great respect of other persons. There develops a willingness to share very limited resources. Sacrifice means something. Children learn to give back to the family and to the Church. When their personalities are respected, they in turn are taught to respect the personalities of their brothers and sisters, as well as their parents. This is real training for life and real training for enabling the family to make its contribution to building up our society with family values that deeply affect our community and nation.
This section of Familiaris Consortio, “Serving Life” (§§ 28-31, 33-39), consists of two parts:
1. The Transmission of Life, and
2. The Right and Duty of Parents Regarding Education.
Because of time constraints we will not be able to discuss each of these two topics as they should be discussed, but I will touch upon the essentials of each.
The Transmission of Life
This is perhaps one of the most challenging and challenged teachings of our day, and we will not understand the Church’s teachings without the help of prayer and informing ourselves what the Church is really offering. For your further formation, I strongly encourage each of you parents of childbearing age to prayerfully study the Church’s teaching on natural family planning (NFP) as well Pope John Paul’s teaching on the theology of the body. Our youth are devouring the teachings on the theology of the body. It is giving them a much deeper understanding of the mystery that they are and the gift they are and the gift they have to offer God and society as unique individuals.
In section 28, Pope John Paul II tells us:
With the creation of man and woman in His own image and likeness, God crowns and brings to perfection the work of His hands: He calls them to a special sharing in His love and in His power as Creator and Father, through their free and responsible cooperation in transmitting the gift of human life.
He continues, “Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person”. In other words, God has given mankind the privilege of cooperating with Him in the “procreation of the divine image from person to person”.
I have often thought that when a man and a woman give themselves to each other in the marital act, they are giving God an opportunity to gift them with an offspring with whom they hope to share all eternity. For all eternity the offspring will be grateful to the parents for this opportunity to experience eternal life with the Blessed Trinity, Mary, the angels and saints in the company of their parents who made this possible through their generosity. For parents to make material gifts available to their children is a source of great pride and joy, but to be able to make it possible for God to gift the parents with children with whom they may share an eternity is joy beyond comprehension!
This noble gift from the Creator also requires great generosity and sacrifice on the part of the couples. God’s plan, made clear through the teachings of the Church, is very simple and challenging. It is namely this, “that the love between husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new life” as we see in the encyclical Humanae vitae.
To be able to embrace this teaching requires studying what the Church is teaching and much prayer, and a profound conversion from the mentality of the world.
I have heard moving examples of couples who had decided not to have children, or to limit their family to one or two by the use of artificial contraception. Sometimes the conversion came about through involvement in a renewal experience, or through the loving witness of the parents of a large family.
One couple in Chicago had two children and had filed for divorce. They agreed to enter the Neo-Catechumenate, got back together and had another eight children! Recently I met a mother who was expecting her ninth child. She told me that after she had her second child, they decided that that was it until she met the mother of ten children who told her that they were just getting started! She also discovered that it is easier to raise three or more children than it is just to raise two. After they raised three children, the children participate in helping each other, and the parents become the formators and managers. She gets plenty of grief from other people who are telling them that they need to get advice on how to stop having children but she replies to the critics that they don’t know how much joy they are missing! For this they need the help of the Church and other parents of deep faith.
The Holy Father speaks of the married couple’s need for support from others: “It will be easier for married people to make progress if, with respect for the Church’s teaching and with trust in the grace of Christ, and with the help and support of the pastors of souls and the entire ecclesial community, they are able to discover and experience the liberating and inspiring value of the authentic love that is offered by the Gospel and set before us by the Lord’s commandment”.
The Right and Duty of Parents regarding Education
In section 36, the Holy Father states: “The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of married couples to participate in God’s creative activity: by begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself or herself the vocation to growth and development, parents by that very fact take on the task of helping that person effectively to live a fully human life”.
Quoting the Second Vatican Council, he says: “since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring”. Parental love is the most basic element of education, and it must also be the “animating principle and therefore the norm inspiring and guiding all concrete educational activity, enriching it with the values of kindness, constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice that are the most precious fruit of love”.
Finally, the pope makes it very clear that sex education is both the right and duty of parents and must be carried out under their attentive guidance. Education in human sexuality must bring children to a “knowledge of and respect for the moral norms as the necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in human sexuality”.
In short, bringing children into the world brings with it the great privilege of forming them in the knowledge of God and what God is offering them, both in this life and in the life to come.
The Christian Family as a Believing and Evangelizing Community (Part IV, Sections 51-54)
“Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church” is the overall title of this part of Familiaris Consortio, in which the Christian family is called to become more and more each day a believing and evangelizing community. In §51 we read:
As a sharer in the life and mission of the Church, which listens to the word of God with reverence and proclaims it confidently, the Christian family fulfills its prophetic role by welcoming and announcing the word of God….
Christian spouses and parents are required to offer “the obedience of faith”. They are called upon to welcome the word of the Lord which reveals to them the marvelous news the Good News of their conjugal and family life sanctified and made a source of sanctity by Christ Himself.
In other words, it is a source of great joy for parents to realize that their family is a “meeting place of the loving covenant between God and man, between Jesus Christ and His bride, the Church”.
It is truly edifying to be around a family that finds its joy in its members. The children find joy in each other and in their parents and the parents find joy in their children, and when I visit such families I find great joy in witnessing what Christ’s love has done through the sacrifices of the parents. It is truly a joy to witness Christ’s love en-fleshed in the family members. Such families are a source of great joy and edification to the entire parish.
The Christian Family’s Ministry of Evangelization (Section 52)
The family I have described above automatically becomes an evangelizing community. Here Pope John Paul quotes Pope Paul VI, who wrote: “The family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms a part” (Evangelii Nuntiandi 71).
From the above it is easy to see that “the family is essentially a school, designed by God, for the evangelization and sanctification of all its members, and through them the larger Church”.
Pope John Paul reminds us that the parents’ ministry of evangelization is also most important during the adolescent years when children often resist or reject the teachings of the Church. Parents are called to accept with great courage and great interior serenity the difficulties that such challenges often bring. Again and again I have counseled parents to make certain that they process their inner feelings in prayer in order to remain loving in their response to the difficulties they are facing.
A family is called to have a missionary spirit, to reach out to the world. Sometimes this reaching out needs to be exercised within the family, when some member of the family grows lax or drops out of practicing the faith. This requires much patience, courage and love. Remember, parents never cease being parents.
Perhaps never in the past 100 years has the family been as threatened as it is today. The threats seem endless beginning with the attack of the unborn, and from threats that come from divorce and broken homes, from the influences of violence and pornography in the mass media, and the greatly diminished support for the family in our society.
Yet the same God who can use individual snowflakes to cause avalanches can also use your fidelity to create a new society that will support family values.
May God bless you all as you prayerfully reflect on whatever the Lord has put into your heart today. At Cana in Galilee Mary said: “Do whatever He tells you!”
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