Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The first Friday of Advent, I glanced at the front page of The Leaven featuring a photograph of four children gathered around an Advent wreath.
It was a striking photo that was a great visual reminder of the importance of prayer in the home during the Advent season.
As I began to turn away from the photo, I thought that the oldest girl looked a lot like my great-niece Grace. I examined the photo more closely only to discover that it was, indeed, Grace and her three siblings — Jacob, Joey, and Emily. I need to give our Leaven photographer a bonus, because it was a minor miracle to capture all four looking very pious at the same moment.
Each year on the Sunday after Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. It reminds us that Jesus was born into a family and, in so doing, sanctified all family life. With the extraordinary synod on the family this past October, the World Gathering of Families in Philadelphia in September, and the Synod of Bishops also devoted to the family next October, 2015 is a special year for families. The entire church throughout this year will be focused on the importance of marriage and family life.
The family is the foundation for society, our nation and our church. Strong, healthy families form great citizens and leaders for local communities and for our country. The family is the human tool that God uses to pass on the faith from one generation to the next.
In Scott Hahn’s recent book “Evangelizing Catholics,” he talks about the importance that the Christian family has played in evangelizing culture. Hahn writes: “Millennia ago, the witness of Christian families in the ordinary course of life made countless converts in pagan Rome. By showing love in the little things — in the way spouses cared for each other, tended their children, performed their daily work, and showed kindness to their neighbors — these families testified to the transforming power of grace and the beauty of Christian life” (p. 86).
Vibrant, joyful Christian families are attractive. It is quite natural for others to desire the love and happiness in families where our Catholic faith is lived and celebrated. If you are considering making resolutions for the coming year, I encourage you to consider what you could do to strengthen your marriage and family life.
Based on what married couples have told me, the single, best thing you could do to deepen your love with your spouse is to participate in a “Living in Love” retreat. For information about the “Living in Love” weekends, please go to the Marriage and Family Life page on our archdiocesan website at: archkck.org.
I also encourage you to check out School of Love (schooloflovekc.com), a ministry started by Mike and Kristi Dennihan. At the School of Love website, you will find excellent Catholic materials to strengthen your marriage and enhance your family life. Mike and Kristi are a local couple who are devoting their lives to helping married couples discover the joy and abundant life Jesus desires in every marriage.
One easy, but powerful, way to strengthen the faith life of your family is to make Sunday the center of your week and the Eucharist the center of Sunday. Prepare for Sunday Mass by reading together as a family the Scriptures for the Eucharist. Invite each member of the family to share how the Lord spoke to them through the readings.
In “Evangelizing Catholics,” Hahn again writes: “In the year 304, in the North African city of Abitibi, Roman authorities arrested whole families for their Christian faith. When those families came before the judge, he offered them an easy out.
“All you have to do, he told them, is not go to Mass on Sunday.
“They didn’t have to renounce Christ. They didn’t have to stop loving their spouses or treating their neighbors with kindness. They just had to stop going to Mass. But that they would not do.
“We cannot live without the Mass, they told the judge.
“And they never needed to. The judge promptly sent them to their deaths” (p. 92).
Hahn and his wife Kimberly have a wonderful practice in their family that was a custom Kimberly learned from her parents. Over dinner, each family member is invited to recall one good thing that happened that day. Every Sunday, each member of the family is asked to share the best thing that happened during the past week. The Hahns’ record these weekly good things in a book they keep in their dining room.
This little practice is a simple way to cultivate gratitude and hope within the family. This is obviously a good thing for every family. However, it is also important for empowering our Catholic families to provide a joyful witness that can help with the transformation of society and the world.
It was the hope and joy of the early Christians that was instrumental in converting an amazing number of people in the first centuries of Christianity. The hope and joy of the Christian life well-lived in the family contrast starkly with the pessimism and despair so prevalent in our secular culture.
For those of us who are not married, we are called to do everything that we can to support married couples and parents in their vocations. We all have a huge stake in the vitality of marriage and family life. We need to make a conscious effort during the coming year to seek opportunities to encourage married couples in living their vocation of heroic love. The family is built upon healthy marriages. Culture and society are built upon healthy families.
As we prepare for the new year, I encourage you in your prayer to ask the Lord what he wants you to do to strengthen your own marriage and/or support other married couples in living their vocation. If you want to make the world better, then do what you can to help foster healthy, happy and holy families.