The holidays are also a time when we often draw nearer to our own family members through celebrations, meals, gift giving and other traditions. God’s gift of family to us is so precious and life-giving. Let us remember to thank Him for our families this season and commit ourselves to treating this gift with great care, for we know how foundational it is in the building of His Kingdom.
Perhaps more than other years, our Church is turning its attention to family and how it is challenged by some aspects of modern life. This was explored earlier this year in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, which surfaced some important questions about marriage, raising children and what constitutes a family in our current age. These issues will be explored further next year in the General Synod on the same subject. Also next year will be the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, which will be the occasion of Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States. What a joyous and appropriate subject around which to welcome him to our shores.
So why all this talk and emphasis about family? Maybe at one time we felt more assured that the value of family was understood and protected in our communities. This was not something we needed to go out of our way to focus on because it was a given.
Today, we recognize that there are different challenges facing our families – from poverty to divorce to overly busy schedules to, in some cases, issues with legal residency in our country. Changes in public opinion and in laws defining marriage and family also call us as Roman Catholics to reflect on what our faith teaches us about these things. The nuclear family, once defined as father, mother and children, is now joined by single parent families, grandparents raising children, multi-generational households and legal guardianships. These are all modern realities of family that do, indeed, warrant our attention and pastoral sensitivity.
There is no doubt that Pope Francis, in his leadership of the Universal Church, is giving us important cues in his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” through the Synods and in visiting us on the occasion of the World Meeting of Families. At the same time, me must take up this mantle and carry it ourselves – in our diocese, in our parish communities and in our homes, where the seeds of faith first begin to take root.
So as we look to a new year let us resolve to nurture and sustain the sense of family connection we are enjoying in this Christmas season. Let us look with new eyes at the families among us, understanding that they are like the cells that make up the Body of Christ. Let us support and celebrate family as we look again to the example of the Holy Family – Our Blessed Mother Mary, St. Joseph and the Lord Jesus – ever faithful to God, persevering in adversity and carrying forth the hope of our salvation.
Bishop del Riego and I bestow our blessings to you and your loved ones for a blessed Christmas and New Year.