Archbishop's Homily on the Family

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My dear brothers and sisters, we continue our celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, Jesus Christ on this Sunday that follows Christmas. As soon as we talk about the birth of a baby, we very quickly begin to think about the family that welcomes this baby. On this Sunday following Christmas we turn our minds and our hearts towards the family of Jesus – to Mary and Joseph and their new child. And of course when we do that we also immediately think about our own families.

Are our families important? Of course they are - each and every one of them; just as important to us as Jesus’ family was to him. We don’t know very much about those years of Jesus’ growing up. St. Luke gives us a little glimpse of this new family as it carried out all the observances of their faith required after the birth of a child. Unusual and dramatic things happened to this young couple and their baby boy as they were there in the temple in Jerusalem that day.They encountered an elderly man named Simeon whom St. Luke says “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” Simeon revealed to them a message which came from God. He told them that their little boy was “God’s salvation, which God has prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Jesus is the one who brings consolation to us, and God’s salvation to us. He is a light in our darkness and he reveals to us God who is love.

Then St. Luke tells us simply that after Mary and Joseph had finished what the law of God required, they went back home to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.” He was part of his family and in that family he learned how to become strong and healthy and to become wise and faithful to God.

The Church gives us this Feast of the Holy Family to be a help for our own families. We have an image of the Holy Family, and it is probably very different from the reality that is our family life. I am sure that we see the Holy Family as perfection where all is calm and all is bright all the time. Our families are not like that. Yet our families are one of the most important realities in our lives.

Pope Francis spoke to a group that was meeting in Rome to discuss certain aspects of marriage. He reaffirmed our basic belief about families. He described the family as “the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others' gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of living together.” He went on to say that the family provides the principal place where we can begin to “breathe” values and ideals.  In our families we learn right from wrong, we learn what is valuable and what is a waste of time. It is within our family that we learn to realize our full capacity for living a good and productive life and learning how to love.

But very little of that is clear sailing. You know that better than I do. The road of family life for all of us is filled with pit falls and challenges, of successes and failures, of huge obstacles and pressures which work against our family values and goals. Families are places of tensions: between selfishness and generosity, between reason and strong emotions, between immediate desires and long-range goals. None the less it is also in our families that we are provided the frameworks we need for resolving such tensions.

It would be incorrect for us to think that the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus was immune from any of that. Simeon also told Mary and Joseph that their son would be “a sign that would be opposed”…and that “a sword was going to pierce Mary’s own soul.” We know what lay ahead for this little family. It would be a rough road that they would travel. So we can easily call on them to be our guide and our example when our road gets rough.

We can call on them to be our light in dark times and to be our salvation from those things that threaten the good of our family life. I believe that it would be great if all our families would have a picture of the Holy Family somewhere in their house, just to remind us who is always there to help us.

We do need help for it is not easy today for Catholic families to be what we want them to be. Pope Francis urges us to keep a sharp eye on the world around us, for there are many things there that threaten the life and dignity of God’s people and their families.

I am not telling you something new when I say that we live in a society today which is materialistic, consumerist and individualistic. That puts tremendous pressures on families and pushes them hard to spend all their money on things they don’t need. Because, in a consumer mentality, a person’s entire worth can depend on wearing the right underwear…or sneakers, or whatever it is that is “in.”

Pope Francis says that in our day, marriage and the family are in crisis in our society. It’s not that hard to agree with him when we look around, even in our own families. He says that we now live in a culture of the temporary. Everything is temporary, nothing is lasting, nothing is for life. In this kind of culture, more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. There has been a huge change in manners and morals in our own communities, even in our own families. This is praised as giving us freedom. But does it?

The Pope said that this has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Evidence is mounting that the decline of marriage is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, affecting women, children and the elderly more than any others. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.

I would like to give you one last quote from Pope Francis’ speech: “I urge you to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart. Let us bear in mind especially the young people, who represent our future. It is important that they do not give themselves over to the poisonous mentality of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern: this must be done.”

Is this challenging for us? Of course it is. But we are not alone in taking up this challenge. Christmas has reminded us yet again that Jesus is “God-with-Us." We are never without His presence in our family. We have the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to strengthen us as we take up the challenge of Catholic Family Life here today. A challenge that gives us great hope and promise for our future and those of our families.

Ever watchful scrutiny of the signs of times…what threatens the life and dignity of God’s people. EG 51

Reaction to a materialistic, consumerist and individualistic society 65

Vacuum of secular rationalism  63

The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the church to the sphere of the private and personal. Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and the steady increase in relativism. These have led to a general sense of disorientation, especially in the periods of adolescence and young adulthood. 64

marriage and family, which is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others' gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of living together. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can begin to “breathe” values and ideals, as well to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families are places of tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. (On Monday, Pope Francis addressed a Colloquium being held on the theme “The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage.” 17/11/14)

In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.

I urge you to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart. Let us bear in mind especially the young people, who represent our future. It is important that they do not give themselves over to the poisonous mentality of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern: this must be done.

FULL TEXT:

Dear sisters and brothers, 

I warmly greet you. I thank Cardinal Muller for his words with which he introduced our meeting.

I would like to begin by sharing with you a reflection on the title of your colloquium. “Complementarity”: it is a precious word, with multiple meanings. It can refers to situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other. But complementarity is much more than that. Christians find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body's members work together for the good of the whole-everyone's gifts can work together for the benefit of each (cf. 1 Cor. 12). To reflect upon "complementarity" is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is the key word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, because the Holy Spirit, who is the Author of harmony, achieves this harmony.

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is at the root of marriage and family, which is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others' gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of living together. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can begin to “breathe” values and ideals, as well to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families are places of tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. This is important. When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children -- his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.

In our day, marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.

The crisis in the family has produced crisis of human ecology, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.

It is necessary first to promote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is "indispensable"; that it "transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple" (n. 66). And that is why I am grateful to you for your Colloquium's emphasis on the benefits that marriage can provide to children, the spouses themselves, and to society.  

In these days, as you embark on a reflection on the beauty of complementarity between man and woman in marriage, I urge you to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity, and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart. Let us bear in mind especially the young people, who represent our future. It is important that they do not give themselves over to the poisonous mentality of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern: this must be done. With regard to this I want to say one thing: Let us not fall into the trap of being qualified by ideological concepts. Family is an anthropological fact - a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it with concepts of an ideological nature, that are relevant only in a single moment of history, and then pass by. We can't speak today of a conservative notion of family or a progressive notion of family: Family is family! It can't be qualified by ideological notions. Family has a strength of its own [per se].

May this colloquium be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, families, communities, and whole societies.

I wish to confirm that, God willing, in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families.

I thank you for the prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. And I pray for you, and I bless you from the heart. Thank you very much!

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