Tag Archives: family of God

Discipline = Love

19 Aug

Do your children ever give you grief because you love them enough to discipline them? Even though they may not agree or understand, we know we owe them the gift of discipline.  And yet, we all know that it is sometimes easier to let behaviors slide because we know that our disciplinary efforts will take time and effort.

Our experience of parental discipline helps us to understand how God our Father treats all of His children. We hear in this Sunday’s second reading, “For whom the Lord loves He disciplines.” God’s love for His children is constant and never tiring.  If we want to parent like God, we must be constant in our loving discipline for the sake of our children’s growth.

This week, let us pray for the grace to be constant in discipline and, when we do discipline our children, may we act out of kindness and reassure them that they are loved.

The foregoing is this week’s installment of the “Marriage Minute,” produced by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Archdiocese, which attempts to view the Sunday readings through the lens of the Sacrament of Marriage.

Ever After

16 Sep

marriageWe all know that the institution of marriage is under attack these days. One of the root causes is the widespread assumption that we have the authority to manipulate the institution. Yet Jesus courageously proclaims that marriage is within God’s sole jurisdiction: “What . . . God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Mt. 19:6).

In a valid Christian marriage, the man and woman are joined in a permanent, mutual bond that exists even when the spouses and the state consent to the legal fiction of a divorce. The more marriage is understood as a man-made convention, however, the more society will look to legal principles rather than biblical principles regarding marriage, and with disastrous ramifications.

Sadly, many Christians today at least implicitly believe that only the state has jurisdiction over their marriages, and they are divorcing at a rate comparable to that of society as a whole—if they choose to marry at all. No-fault divorce, prenuptial agreements, and “gay marriages” are natural progressions of an understanding of the marriage bond informed by the law of contracts, without regard to Scripture and apostolic Tradition.

Surely the exchange of marriage vows envisions a big act of faith and abandonment to divine providence. God asks couples to say “yes” in marriage before they literally know what they’ve gotten themselves into. Love may not be blind, but it is visually impaired, as we’re blissfully ignorant of most of the challenges and difficulties that lie ahead.

Family Ties

The reality is that once the husband and wife have exchanged their vows, everything has changed. The two have become one. And this affects in some fashion all our relationships.

After Maureen and I were married, for example, people I barely knew were my in-laws. My Irish wife became part of my French-Canadian family. We were to become “Mommy” and “Daddy” to the little ones God would entrust to us. Our friends and neighbors relate to us collectively as “the Suprenants.” And God Himself calls me–and most people–to an intimate relationship with Him precisely as a married person. I am the “pastor” of my domestic Church.

The fundamental relationship in a family is that of husband and wife, which forms the basis and framework for other familial relationships. Loving my beautiful wife as much as she deserves is humanly impossible, but happily the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is “time-released.” The sacrament only begins with the wedding ceremony; the marriage covenant continues “till death do us part.” Each step of the way, divine grace is there for the asking, enabling our love to reflect, albeit imperfectly, the mysterious and eternal love affair between Christ the Bridegroom and His Church, the Bride.

This process presupposes that marriage is not a static reality. We don’t say “I do” and continue to live as before. Rather, the marriage bond is ordered toward an ongoing deepening of the marital relationship. The more I know Maureen, the more I love her. The more I love her, the more I want to know her. Through the life-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the joys and sufferings of married life have brought us closer to each other and, most importantly, to our blessed Lord.

What if after I married Maureen I moved to another city and never gave her a second thought, perhaps visiting on Christmas and Easter, maybe calling her every few years when I needed some money or some other favor? Such a marriage would be neither love-giving nor life-giving, and the abundant grace available through the sacrament would be largely squandered.

“Absent father” is a common pejorative expression that points to a dad’s inadequate involvement in his children’s life. Even more fundamentally, though, we have a crisis of “absent husbands.” This phenomenon unjustly deprives the entire family of the pivotal relationship of husband and wife. While a good husband and father helps to form a positive image of God’s paternal, even spousal, love for His people, an absent husband and father images a Church without Christ, with foreseeably devastating consequences.

Maturing in Faith

From this brief sketch we see how marriage is a sacrament that plays out over time, calling for an ongoing, ever-deepening commitment to our spouse.

Baptism, by which all of us are introduced into the life of faith, has a similar dynamic. When we’re baptized we’re cleansed of original and actual sin and truly become sons and daughters of God. Yet this reality calls for ongoing doctrinal formation so that we can know Our Lord and His teachings more deeply and internally, and ongoing spiritual formation so that we can love the Lord our God more personally, more intensely, above all things, and with all our hearts, minds, and strength.

Baptism immediately entails a whole network of relationships in the Family of God. We have bishops, pastors, religious (some in habits and others incognito), godparents, and fellow parishioners–not to mention all Catholics through our participation in the communion of saints. And even those who are not Catholic or even Christian identify us as “Catholic”–hopefully “by our love” and certainly by our Church affiliation.

All these relationships are vitally important, but the basis of them all is our connectedness to Jesus Christ by being baptized into His death and thereby becoming new creations in Him. Our ever-deepening relationship with Christ gives us the grace to be constructive, productive members of His Body, the Church. That’s why the Church stresses the priority of prayer and the primacy of our own need for further conversion, repentance, and renewal as the necessary prerequisites for godly action.

An absent husband and father exemplifies a marriage that is not fulfilling its purpose. Similarly, an “absent Catholic”—one who does not pray, who gives the faith little or no thought except on Christmas and Easter, who does not work to foster his or her interior life–exemplifies a Baptism that is not fulfilling its purpose. And what is the purpose of Baptism? It is nothing less than communion with the Blessed Trinity and the company of angels and saints.

In my home, we are in “back to school” mode. May all of us make it our aim this school year to replenish our hearts, that we may be renewed in our baptismal commitment to Christ, to the glory of God our Father.

Putting on Heirs

7 Jan

St. RaymondToday is the feast of St. Raymond of Penyafort. As readers will recall, I have an adopted son named Raymond, and having this great Dominican canonist as a patron saint played into our name selection. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I (or should I say, my son) was getting a Dominican “twofer,” as there is another great Dominican Raymond: Blessed Raymond of Capua, the spiritual advisor of St. Catherine of Siena. Of course, only a few years after Raymond’s birth, his sister Mary Kate became Sr. Evangeline, a Dominican sister.

Given Raymond’s special feast day, I thought I would share with our readers some further reflections on adoption and what it teaches us about God.

Adoption in the human family is often misunderstood today. Even more so is our adoption into the family of God, the Church.

Being God’s children by adoption doesn’t mean that we’re second-class citizens in the kingdom of God, as though God couldn’t have had “children of His own.” And it’s not some sort of legal fiction, as though He simply lets us think we’re His children to help our self-esteem.

Rather, we’re confronted with the controversial passage that through Baptism we truly become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). Our adoption in Christ means that through grace we are able to participate in the very life of God.

If we were gods in our own right, we wouldn’t need to be adopted, just as if my adopted son Raymond were by birth a Suprenant, we wouldn’t have had to bother with all the bureaucratic red tape that goes with adoption in the human family. And if God were distant and uninvolved with us, we would not truly be His children. Continue reading

We Are Family

29 Nov

Today in our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), we turn to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). As the focus of Vatican II was on the nature, composition, and mission of the Church, it should come as no surprise that this document on the Church would be considered the central document of the Council. As we will see over the next couple posts in this series, Lumen Gentium has largely shaped our generation’s understanding of what it means to be “Church.”

Today I want to focus on what I consider to be one of the most significant passages from Lumen Gentium, taken from paragraph 9:

“At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.”

God does not desire to save us as isolated individuals, as if salvation were ever simply a “me and Jesus” thing. Rather, He desires to save us as His holy, beloved people (cf. 1 Pet. 2:9-10). This beautiful insight has led to “People of God” becoming one of the most popular titles or descriptions of the Church in recent decades.

Yet to modern ears “people” can sound a little generic and impersonal. Therefore, “People of God” can sound so big that our personal commitment to Christ and the irreplaceable value and contribution of the individual believer can seemingly get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I think there has been more of an emphasis in recent years on the Church as the “family of God.” It’s the same idea as the “People of God,” but in my opinion the word “family” captures the reality better for our culture, which sadly tends to think of the Church more as a bureaucracy than as a family.

The best analogy I can think of to describe our relationship to the Church is marriage. When Maureen married me, it definitely was—and is—a personal commitment. Yet, it has never been simply a “me and Leon” thing for her. Before I married her, she knew some members of my family, but she wasn’t a part of it. She was on the outside looking in. But when she married me, she didn’t just get a husband. My nephews and nieces became her nephews and nieces. My siblings became her siblings. My mother became her mother. She entered into the reality of my family. And then together with me, we have welcomed children and even a grandchild into our expanding family, which incidentally Vatican II called a “domestic Church.”

Similarly, when we are baptized, we not only become God’s children by adoption (cf. Gal. 4:4-7), but through what we call the “communion of saints,” we become part of a much larger familial reality known as the Church. We are united to our brothers and sisters in the Lord with ties that are stronger than flesh and blood–ties that will last for eternity. We are connected with those who have gone before us, but also with all our fellow Christians, with whom we share profound bonds of fraternity and solidarity. Because of the overflowing love and goodness of our supernatural family, we desire that all men and women may share this family unity with us (cf. 2 Cor. 5:14). That surely was at the heart of Christ’s prayer:

“I pray . . . that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn. 17:20-21).

So during this Year of Faith, as we seek to nourish and strengthen our faith, the Holy Father calls us to a greater awareness that our faith is necessarily ecclesial, which is Churchspeak for “familial.” The Church is not some faceless institution that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ, but rather is our home–our family–where we are always welcome, and where our faith is celebrated, lived, and shared.

Thanks be to God.

For more on the Church as “family of God,” check out the “Catholic for a Reason” series which I co-edited with Scott Hahn.

The Parish Family

25 Oct

“Listen graciously to the prayers of this family, whom you have summoned before you.”

—Eucharistic Prayer III

What do we think of when our parish priest reads these words at Mass? Are we alert enough to hear and embrace this petition? Do we consider this reference to our being a “family” a merely poetic expression or pious exaggeration? Or do we embrace in faith the reality that all of us gathered for Sunday Mass are, in fact, members of the Family of God?

Catholic theology since Vatican II has emphasized the reality that the Church is truly the “Family of God.” Why? Because, through our Baptism, each one of us has been “born again” as a child of God. We participate–even now–in God’s own life. And this life is familial, not solitary. As Blessed John Paul II wrote in 1979, “God in His deepest mystery is not a solitude, but a family, since He has in Himself fatherhood, sonship, and the essence of the family, which is love.”

Further, according to Pope Benedict XVI in his 2005 encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, our heavenly Father’s desire is to unite all people into one family in Christ:

“The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son” (no. 19).

How refreshing it is to understand the Church as a family, rather than as merely an impersonal institution or even a congregation of isolated individuals who all happen to believe in Jesus. This understanding is especially challenging today, since we’ve largely lost our sense of “family” and many of us have been wounded by brokenness and division within our own families.

A family is where our home is. It is where we should always be welcome. This is especially true when it comes to God’s family, from which all other families derive their existence, as we hear in today’s reading at Mass(cf. Eph. 3:14-15). My favorite image in this regard is the parable of the prodigal son, which reveals how welcoming and merciful Our Heavenly Father truly is.

While God’s family in the Old Testament was built on the twelve sons of Israel, God’s New Testament family is built on the firm foundation of the twelve apostles (cf. Eph. 2:19-20). Bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, have been called by Christ to be our spiritual fathers. They are the visible source and foundation of family unity within their own diocese (cf. Catechism, no. 886). That is why St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and a disciple of St. John the Apostle, would write in 110 A.D.: “Those, indeed, who belong to God and to Jesus Christ–they are with the bishop.”

From the earliest times, there have been presbyters (“priests”) who have been given the mission of assisting the bishop in spiritually fathering God’s family in local communities that have come to be known as parishes. These communities–my parish and your parish–are local manifestations of God’s family, a family that brings together people of every race and nation, that encompasses not only the pilgrim Church on earth, but all those who have died in God’s friendship. What a magnificent family we have–what great love the Father has bestowed on us in making us His children (1 Jn. 3:1)!

Yet we all know that our own experience of Church–in our own parishes and throughout our country–sometimes makes it difficult to view the Church as family. All too often we encounter polarization and dissent instead of family unity. Therefore, I’d like to propose some practical things we can do as lay people to build up the Family of God in our own backyard. Continue reading

The Gift of the Eucharist

20 Jul

God loves us not because we’re good, but because He’s good. In fact, God in His goodness loved us so much that, despite our sinfulness, He became man in the fullness of time. He redeemed us by His own blood and opened for us the gates of heaven. We have received no greater gift, and we have no greater cause for thanksgiving, than Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us.

Even more, through the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrifice is continually made present and effective in our lives. “Eucharist” literally means thanksgiving, as the gift of Christ to His Church elicits our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

We do need to recognize the fullness of the gift of the Eucharist–that Our Lord is truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, and that He gives us the grace and the power to live the Gospel when we partake of this Sacrament. To fully appreciate the gift of the Mass, our eyes must remain fixed on Jesus and this tremendous gift.

That should go without saying, but in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, our focus can be diverted to ourselves if we’re not careful. Many of the liturgical controversies that we’ve endured in recent decades would dissipate if we really believed and truly appreciated what is happening on the altar. We can’t feed ourselves, we can’t save ourselves. Thank God that He sent His Son to feed us, indeed, to save us.

The gift of faith in Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist, is inseparable from our faith in the Church. Scripture says that in marriage the two truly become one (cf. Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:5). Scripture also calls Jesus Christ the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). If that were the case, it would take an act of violence–a spiritual divorce, if you will–to separate Christ from His Church.

The Church, after all, is the Body of Christ extended through space and time. Even more profoundly, she is the family of God and our true home. The Bible is our family album. All those who are alive in Christ are truly our brothers and sisters in the communion of saints. Christ is the one source of eternal life for the whole world, and this life flows through His family, the Church. We are grateful for the gift of the Church and for the witness and intercession of the company of saints.

Becoming a Child

18 Jul

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.

I think these words of Jesus, taken from today’s Gospel, should beckon us to meditate on our most fundamental identity. At Baptism we truly became “children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1). In fact, Jesus goes so far as to say we must become like a child even to enter the kingdom of God (cf. Mt. 18:3). What does this mean?

I think of one of my sons, who as a small child would fold his hands not only to say “Amen,” but also to say “please,” “thank you,” and “certainly I would like a banana.” He not only had a rudimentary sense of his utter dependence on his mother and me, but he also trusted that we would provide for his needs. This trust would become a surge of joyful expectancy as I would proceed to care for him.

While we may be adults in the world’s eyes, we’re still children in God’s eyes. We are utterly dependent upon Him for the life of grace freely given us at Baptism. He cleans up our messes through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and He feeds us with the true bread from heaven.

And, as a Father who truly understands and desires what’s best for His children (cf. Mt. 7:9-11), He disciplines us, even though as it occurs we might not fully understand His purposes (cf. Heb. 12:7-11). And, as children who joyfully and confidently await Our Father’s blessing, we begin to see, with St. Thérèse, that prayer is “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” (Catechism, no. 2558).