Engaging the Gospel – The Holy Family

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph (Year C): Gospel – Luke 2:41-52

Joseph and Mary searched for Jesus “with great anxiety” before finding him in the Temple, a Gospel passage that may offer us hope, comfort, and strength as our own families suffer difficulties.

St John Paul II reflected upon the “demanding yet fascinating roles of the Christian family” in Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World). He concluded by invoking “the protection of the Holy Family of Nazareth” —

Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families. It was unique in the world. Its life was passed in anonymity and silence in a little town in Palestine. It underwent trials of poverty, persecution and exile. It glorified God in an incomparably exalted and pure way.

And it will not fail to help Christian families — indeed all the families in the world — to be faithful to their day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to be open and generous to the needs of others, and to fulfill with joy the plan of God in their regard.

…I entrust each family to Him, to Mary, and to Joseph. To their hands and their hearts I offer this Exhortation: May it be they who present it to you, venerable Brothers and beloved sons and daughters, and may it be they who open your hearts to the light that the Gospel sheds on every family (86).

Question for reflection: When have I brought my worries about a family member to the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 10:2-16

Jesus proclaims the indissolubility of marriage

“God Himself is the author of marriage,” as the Catechism reminds us (paragraph 1603).

“Since God created [the human race] man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man” (1604).

Sadly, when sin came into the world, this harmony was disrupted: “as a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman” (1607). “To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help” of God’s grace. “Without His help, man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them in the beginning” (1608).

Jesus comes “to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin,” and thereby “He himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God…This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life” (1615).

To learn more about God’s design for the family, see Love Is Our Mission, a guide prepared for the recent World Meeting of Families. Also, for practical helps, visit www.foryourmarriage.org, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The Power of Prayer: Saints Monica & Augustine

St. Monica provides a powerful case study of the value of intercessory prayer.

This devout Catholic woman, who lived in Roman North Africa in the fourth century, was grievously worried about her son Augustine. Living in a persistent state of grave sin, fallen into an heretical cult, and still not baptized, Augustine was a totally wayward youth in danger of losing his soul.

Monica poured out her heart to God, praying, fasting and weeping for her son. She kept up her persistent intercession over many years, despite all of her prayers appearing to go in vain.

But in fact, they were not in vain. Augustine eventually experienced a life-changing conversion, a heart-rending repentance. Washed clean in the waters of baptism, he not only turned away from sin, but sought the perfection of the monastic life and ultimately became the bishop of Hippo. Augustine turned his prodigious intellectual gifts toward the study of theology, leaving us a priceless heritage through his writings, and ranking as one of the most influential doctors of the Church.

We celebrate his memorial on August 28, the anniversary of his passing from this earthly life. But the Church remembers that there may well have been no St. Augustine without the constant prayers of his mother. Therefore we fittingly celebrate the memorial of St. Monica on the day prior, August 27.

Aside from giving hope to all mothers whose children are going in the wrong direction, Monica also offers an example to wives enduring difficult marriages. Her husband, a pagan named Patricius, was the cause of much suffering. But he was softened by her prayers and her steadfast Christian witness, and converted shortly before his death.

Beyond just being an encouraging model for us to follow, Monica stands ready and willing to help us now with her intercession before the throne of God. All of us – in heaven, on earth, or undergoing purification in Purgatory – are united in the Mystical Body of Christ, able to share spiritual goods in the communion of saints. Let us boldly ask Monica, Augustine, and our patron saints to intercede for us.

For more, see St. Augustine’s Confessions (Book III, 11-12, and Book IX, 8-13), and Catechism paragraph 2683.

Blessing & Adoration

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2626-28:

Blessing is a form of prayer that underscores how our prayer is a personal encounter, a dialogue, with God.

Recognizing that all of our gifts are blessings from God, we respond in kind by “blessing” God: “because God blesses, the human heart can in return bless the One Who is the source of every blessing.” A twofold movement occurs: our prayer of blessing rises to God, and His blessing descends upon us, in a continuous cycle of grace.

Closely linked to the concept of blessing is “adoration,” whereby we realize our status as creatures, utterly dependent upon God for our very existence.

Adoration necessarily involves a healthy sense of humility. By seeing ourselves as we truly are, and admitting our human limitations and frailties, we are better able to feel our need for God.

Children are especially open to this spiritual insight, and we can learn from their readiness to glimpse God’s presence. Asking our children how God has blessed them each day may be a helpful prelude to family prayer time.

Simplicity of Prayer

Do we sometimes complicate prayer, thinking that unless we’re reciting traditional formulas, we’re not “really” praying? But in truth, prayer is beautifully simple, as easy and natural as speaking with our family and friends.

For prayer is our conversing with God, as our prayer partners – the saints – have described it.

“Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God, or the requesting of good things from God,” St. John Damascene teaches us (quoted in Catechism paragraph 2559).

St. Teresa of Avila emphasizes the intimacy of our relationship with God, viewing prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him Who we know loves us” (quoted in 2709).

St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, reminds us that prayer doesn’t even require words: “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (quoted in 2558).

While our learned prayers and devotions offer us wonderful ways of engaging the Lord, let us also cultivate the habit of turning to Him throughout the day, whether to thank Him for a particular blessing, ask for His help in difficulty, or tell Him hello, just because.

Parents can encourage children to do likewise, and in the evening, family members may share one aspect of their prayer that day.

 

God’s Inspiring Plan for the Family

Today’s celebration of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is a sign of the dignity of the family itself, and a call to live up to God’s inspiring plan for our own families.

Marriage and family life have profoundly theological dimensions, as St. John Paul II explains in Familiaris Consortio.

God Himself is the author of marriage: He created man and woman as complementary partners, designed for a matrimonial union, to cooperate with Him in the extraordinary gift of transmitting new life. Husband and wife therefore enjoy a “unique participation in the mystery of life and of the love of God Himself” (29).

Parents are to bring children up in the faith – a task so important that St. Thomas Aquinas “has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of priests” (38). The family thereby fulfills its vocation of being a “domestic church.”

The family is also “the first and fundamental school of social living,” with each member called to self-giving for the others (37).

“The essence and role of the family” is summed up by love: “the mission to guard, reveal, and communicate love,” as “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” (17).

And to the lonely, John Paul offers a special word: “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone” (85).