Today, as we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, we will take a look at the gift God has given us in our own families and how they are reflections of God’s love and inner life.
In 2018, Bishop Olmsted of the diocese of Phoenix, AZ wrote a letter to his flock called, Complete my Joy: An Apostolic Exhortation to the Husbands and Wives, Mothers and Fathers of the Diocese of Phoenix. He wanted to highlight the unique role the family unit has in God’s redemptive plan and to offer us encouragement in our family vocations. Due to the nature of family life, which is rooted in love and communal life, he posited that, “Family is likely where we will feel the deepest joys as well as the deepest pain.” (#2). Whatever ups and downs we experience in our family life, they can all be used for our ultimate good and contribute to our own personal healing and the mission of our family in the world overall.
The first point to make is that families are a reflection of the Divine Trinity. God is three persons in one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This a communal union that exists only in perfect love as the three persons give and receive continual love between one another. Humans were made in the image and likeness of God and were therefore created for love. We are meant to love and be loved and our love produces fruit, both in the procreative act of bringing about children and by the light our love puts out into the world as it reveals God’s love. “As the concrete image of God to the world, every family – your family – is, by its nature, a communion of love and life.” (#10).
Considering the individuals who made up the Holy Family, we know they
reflected the Trinitarian family life quite radiantly and perfectly. I once heard a joke that if anything went wrong in their little family, all heads would have turned to Joseph (poor guy!). All jokes aside, we all know too well how sin enters into family life and complicates our endeavors to live out holy and self-sacrificing love perfectly. Bishop Olmsted points out all the effects of Original Sin that we must deal with and says that the result is that our family life “exists now on a spiritual battlefield.” He says, “You have as spouses and parents the choice either to engage the challenge as an adventure or to abandon the field in some way. There is no escape from this choice – not to choose is, in fact, to choose retreat.” (#13). So yes, because the nature of family is a reflection of divine love, families are a target for Satan and his minions, who never tire of lobbing temptations and opportunities to sin at you and every member of your family. Satan does not want to allow you to reflect God’s divine love. Sr. Lucia, one of the visionaries of Fatima said, “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family. Don’t be afraid because whoever works for the sanctity of Marriage and the Family will always be fought against and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue. Nevertheless, Our Lady has already crushed his head.” (#15) Have you made a choice to enter into that battlefield with your family, armed with all of your spiritual gifts, aided by our Blessed Mother in order to live out your vocation as you are called to do?
Of course, at times, the perspective of living your family life on a spiritual battlefield is daunting and perhaps seemingly insurmountable. Bishop Olmsted is quick to offer encouragement because we are children of God and He will never abandon us on this familial journey. I don’t have the space to get into it here, but he does provide an in depth look into the roles of family members and their unique obligations within the family. It is worth reading the document in its entirety if today’s reflection has piqued your interest. I will instead skip ahead to how the bishop deals with the problems of sin and suffering within the family. He reminds us that our family is called to a unique mission in the world, but along the way we will suffer and often that suffering will be the result of one family member’s sin against another. When that happens, we must unite our suffering to Christ and allow it to be redemptive so it can be a “source of indescribable grace in the sanctification and salvation of your families.” (#93). Bishop Olmsted acknowledges that there are very deep wounds in many families that stem from various forms of abuse and other serious sins, but he reminds us that the “father of lies” wants these wounds in our families to fester and cause in us feelings of pain, anger and resentment (#102). He says that instead of allowing Satan that sort of power over our familial wounds, we should choose forgiveness. “Forgiveness is not primarily a feeling,” he writes, “instead it is a choice – a choice to extend God’s merciful love to someone who has hurt you, in obedience to Jesus (Matt 6:14-15) who not only taught us about forgiveness but gave us an example while on the Cross. ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23:24)” (#102). Perhaps you are suffering from a particular hurt a family member has caused you. Can you hand that hurt over to Jesus on the cross and ask Him to give you the strength to choose forgiveness – many times over if necessary – so that you can be a reflection of God’s merciful love to the world? Conversely, if you have hurt another member of your family, are you quick to recognize it, apologize for causing pain, and make acts of reparation?
Finally, Bishop Olmsted reminds us that it is God who heals us and restores us from our brokenness. To describe this, he uses an image from his own childhood: “God who allows suffering for our redemption, and who suffers with us, also desires to restore to us all that has been lost and broken. Sometimes, what is broken actually becomes stronger when healed. I think of the broken equipment on our family farm, which, after having been repaired with the welder’s torch, was stronger in the place of welding than ever before, and would not break in the same place again.” (#110). So, how do we get the type of healing within our families that actually makes us stronger than we were before the wounds? We begin by turning to the Divine Welder and asking for His healing grace, but also responding to that grace and listening to what He wants each of us to do as we take part in our own healing process. Another thing we must do, preferably with our family members, is regularly participate in the sacraments through which God delivers His grace to us by means of the physical world. Frequent reception of the Eucharist and participation in reconciliation can only bring wondrous things to your family. Additionally, be encouraging and welcoming to families – particularly young families – as they bring their children to participate in God’s divine healing and love through the sacraments. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me…” knowing that they must receive their spiritual sustenance early and often in order to face whatever comes their way.
Our families may not look exactly like the Holy Family in terms of holiness, but the basic premise is identical. All our families are created in the image of the Trinitarian family out of perfect love. God gives us so many gifts in and through our families, even in the suffering, that if we remain open to all the grace He has to offer us, we will radiate with true joy to the world.