Pope Francis Writes to Families Seeking Prayer for the Synod on the Family
The question becomes whether those called to live Christian marriage and family as a vocation do so by seeking to respond to grace and by developing the eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the hidden invitations to love found beneath the surface of the daily stuff of Christian Marriage and Family life.
Tomorrow, I will awaken next to my beloved. We will soon celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary. The day will burst into a flurry of activity with a unique ritual pattern. To the untrained eye, it may look hectic. But with the eyes of domestic faith, my wife Laurine and I will see the deeper purpose. All those years of raising children, and now trying to help raise grandchildren, we have come to comprehend the mystery hidden in the routine of family life. There is almost a liturgical sameness to the pattern that emerges after so many years- by practice, developed spiritual purpose, and just plain ordinary human repetition. But it can all become transforming when lived out in Christ. It is here, where the rubber hits the road for most Christians. It is here that the universal call to holiness, in all its real, earthy, incarnation is lived out-in all of its humanness and ordinariness.
After all, the church is fundamentally relational, "when two or three are gathered in my name." said the Lord. (Matt. 18:20) Within the Catholic and Orthodox Church, Christian Marriage is a Sacrament. It is a participation in, and sign of, the Life of the Trinity. It is a means through which the married couple receives grace to grow in holiness and participates in the mission of the Church.
As the Apostle Peter wrote to the early Christians, we are all "partakers of the divine nature." (2 Peter 1) Yet, how often do we really view this way of life in this way?
Even the most sincere Christians can still live out their Christian life with a certain dualism. They see themselves as living in the world and "going to Church." Family life sometimes gets included in the world or perhaps it is seen as a part of a duty in the Lord which often competes with the Christian mission, when, for those called to embrace its way of holiness, it is the mission.
Please understand, as a Catholic Christian, I love to frequent beautiful Church buildings and to participate in the beauty of liturgical worship. However, the point I am trying to make is a vital one. We actually live in Church. We were baptized into the Lord and we now live in His Body.
The Christian family IS a church, the smallest and most vital cell of that Body. The extended church community is a family of families. This understanding is more than piety--it is sound ecclesiology, solid anthropology, in fact it is reality for those who are baptized into Christ Jesus.
Tomorrow, I will awaken next to my beloved. We will soon celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary. The day will burst into a flurry of activity with a unique ritual pattern. To the untrained eye, it may look hectic. But with the eyes of domestic faith, my wife Laurine and I will see the deeper purpose. All those years of raising children, and now trying to help raise grandchildren, we have come to comprehend the mystery hidden in the routine of family life.
There is almost a liturgical sameness to the pattern that emerges after so many years- by practice, developed spiritual purpose, and just plain ordinary human repetition. But it can all become transforming when lived out in Christ. It is here, where the rubber hits the road for most Christians. It is here that the universal call to holiness, in all its real, earthy, incarnation is lived out-in all of its humanness and ordinariness.
Here is also where true progress in the spiritual life can find its raw material. The question becomes whether those called to live Christian marriage and family as a vocation do so by seeking to respond to grace and by developing the eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the hidden invitations to love found beneath the surface of the daily stuff of Christian Marriage and Family life.
The Greek word translated emptied in an extraordinary passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians is "kenosis." St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning our call to enter into the self emptying of Jesus, "Have this mind among yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself."(Phil. 2:5)
This Greek word refers to the voluntary pouring out-like water-of oneself in an act of sacrificial love. This emptying is the proper response of the love of a Christian for the One who first loved us. It is also the very heart of the vocation of Christian marriage and family life.
There is a domestic kenosis, a domestic emptying out which comes in the ordinary stuff of daily life in a Christian family. There is also a domestic ascesis, a way of living an ascetical life, when we embrace the very real struggles involved in living this out as a vocation in Christ.
However, we need to move from the realm of fuzzy feelings or theological theory to reality - the emptying is lived out in a unique and grace filled way in Christian marriage and family life. As Christian spouses, mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, we need to have our eyes opened like the disciples on the Road, the way, to Emmaus. (Luke 24: 13ff)
This call of Christian married love and family life is more than a covenant (though it is that), more than an ordinance (though it is that) - it is an invitation to sacrificial love--to holiness. Christian Marriage is a Sacrament, a participation in the very life of God through which and for which we are given grace, the very Life of God.
When the right choices are made in this life of domestic kenosis, we cooperate with the Lord's invitation to follow Him by exercising our human freedom; we choose to give ourselves away in love to the other. In so doing, we are gradually transformed into an image, a living icon, of Jesus Christ and we actually participate in His Kenosis.
This way of holiness is not easy, as anyone who has lived the vocation for more than three months can attest, but make no mistake; it is a very real path to holiness. It is also a wonderful one. The true challenge lies in the choices we make, daily, hourly, and even moment-by-moment.
Two trees grow in the garden of domestic life. They both invite the exercise of our human freedom. There is one like the one in Eden where the first Eve said, "no I will not serve." We are always tempted to choose the fruit of this tree of self centeredness whenever we seek to hide from the call and refuse to love, by emptying ourselves for the other.
Then, there is the one that resembles the tree on Calvary where the second Eve,(as the fathers of the Church called Mary, the Mother of Jesus) stood with the beloved disciple John, beheld her crucified Son and her Lord who was Love Incarnate, and again proclaimed her Fiat, her yes. In doing so she models the response of all Christians for all time.
However, as it was with the Mother of the Lord, (both when the angel Gabriel came and made that extraordinary announcement, and again on that mountain when she beheld her Son and Savior), the choice is our own--- to be made daily, even hourly.
With these choices, presented to us from the moment we open our eyes every morning to the time we close them at night, we proceed on the way of the Cross through death and into the eternal now of Resurrected life in Jesus Christ.
There is an extraordinary undertow in a ulture which is rejecting marriage and the family. The prevailing cultural rot is making the way harder and harder for Christian families. The Church, as mother and teacher, knows this. Pope Francis has called for a synod on the family, to seek, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the heavenly wisdom needed to help strengthen those living the vocation.
Here is a letter which he sent out to families throughout the world. It is dated on the Feast of the Presentation for good reason, to send a symbolic sign of the vocation of family in Christ. While so much of the media is focusing on the issues which the synod wll address, our Holy father is aksing us for prayer - sincere and focused prayer - for the Synod.
From Pope Francis
With this letter, I wish, as it were, to come into your homes to speak about an event which will take place at the Vatican this coming October. It is the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is being convened to discuss the theme of "pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization". Indeed, in our day the Church is called to proclaim the Gospel by confronting the new and urgent pastoral needs facing the family.
This important meeting will involve all the People of God - bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the particular Churches of the entire world - all of whom are actively participating in preparations for the meeting through practical suggestions and the crucial support of prayer. Such support on your part, dear families, is especially significant and more necessary than ever.
This Synodal Assembly is dedicated in a special way to you, to your vocation and mission in the Church and in society; to the challenges of marriage, of family life, of the education of children; and the role of the family in the life of the Church. I ask you, therefore, to pray intensely to the Holy Spirit, so that the Spirit may illumine the Synodal Fathers and guide them in their important task.
As you know, this Extraordinary Synodal Assembly will be followed a year later by the Ordinary Assembly, which will also have the family as its theme. In that context, there will also be the World Meeting of Families due to take place in Philadelphia in September 2015. May we all, then, pray together so that through these events the Church will undertake a true journey of discernment and adopt the necessary pastoral means to help families face their present challenges with the light and strength that comes from the Gospel.
I am writing this letter to you on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. The evangelist Luke tells us that the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, in keeping with the Law of Moses, took the Baby Jesus to the temple to offer him to the Lord, and that an elderly man and woman, Simeon and Anna, moved by the Holy Spirit, went to meet them and acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Lk 2:22-38). Simeon took him in his arms and thanked God that he had finally "seen" salvation. Anna, despite her advanced age, found new vigor and began to speak to everyone about the Baby.
It is a beautiful image: two young parents and two elderly people, brought together by Jesus. He is the one who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support. Nevertheless, if there is no love then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus. He offers us his word, which illuminates our path; he gives us the Bread of life which sustains us on our journey.
Dear families, your prayer for the Synod of Bishops will be a precious treasure which enriches the Church. I thank you, and I ask you to pray also for me, so that I may serve the People of God in truth and in love. May the protection of the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph always accompany all of you and help you to walk united in love and in caring for one another. I willingly invoke on every family the blessing of the Lord.
From the Vatican, 2 February 2014
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2014
Respect for Women: That all cultures may respect the rights and dignity of women.
Vocations: That many young people may accept the Lordís invitation to consecrate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel.
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