By Fr. Rich, O.P.
I am a family man. I’m a member of the Litzau/Feely clan, together with my siblings. I’m the father of Elizabeth and Jacob and a grandparent to four grandchildren. I’m a member of the Dominican family, priests, brothers, sisters and nuns. I’m a member of the Catholic family, baptized as an infant, raised in Catholic education. I’m a member of the family here at St. Thomas More, albeit, sort of a dutch uncle.
In celebrating the feast of the Holy Family, we could enumerate the family connections inherent in that little family, but we’re not going to; one should understand, at this point, the number of ways in which families are entangled. So this feast is expansive in its celebration.
“The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. [It’s] main purpose … is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the ‘domestic church’ … or the ‘church in miniature.’ … Just how does one live out the Church in the family? The best way is by making Christ the center of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, going to confession frequently, and so forth, all done together as a family unit.” (Michael Wellens)
The Church has not been unengaged in the tumultuous discussion around the nature of family; it has been committed and in the forefront of those conversations. On April 8, 2016, Pope Francis issued an apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”). The 264-page document is available on the Holy See’s website (w2.vatican.va).
Fr. James Martin, OSJ wrote about the exhortation in the April 8, 2016 issue of America: “The apostolic exhortation is mainly a document that reflects on family life and encourages families. But it is also the pope’s reminder that the church should avoid simply judging people and imposing rules on them without considering their struggles. Using insights from the Synod of Bishops on the Family and from bishops’ conferences from around the world, Pope Francis affirms church teaching on family life and marriage, but strongly emphasizes the role of personal conscience and pastoral discernment. He urges the church to appreciate the context of people’s lives when helping them make good decisions. The goal is to help families — in fact, everyone — experience God’s love and know that they are welcome members of the church.”
Fr. Martin offers 10 insights that we, as we read the document, might discover. I’m simply going to list them, without the additional commentary by Fr. Martin. I invite you to prayerfully, thoughtfully discern for yourselves the underlying thoughts of our Pope Francis.
- The church needs to understand families and individuals in all their complexity.
- The role of conscience is paramount in moral decision making.
- Divorced and remarried Catholics need to be more fully integrated into the church.
- All members of the family need to be encouraged to live good Christian lives.
- We should no longer talk about people “living in sin.”
- What might work in one place may not work in another.
- Traditional teachings on marriage are affirmed, but the church should not burden people with unrealistic expectations.
- Children must be educated in sex and sexuality.
- Gay men and women should be respected.
- All are welcome.
There is never a bad time to celebrate the strength and joy of our families. It is never a bad time to pray for the challenges that all families face in our world today. It is never a bad time to re-focus our hearts to bring them back into a family life that is centered in the Gospel. Take it from a family man.