Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Heroism leads to Holy Families!

Father John J. Lombardi

Is yours a fervent family or a fizzling family?

Remember the Clinton war-bunker mantra and slogan, during the campaign for the 1992 presidency, helping his election team to focus and, eventually, win-"It's the economy, stupid!"? Well, if we Catholics and Christians want to win the world for Christ and his Kingdom, and focus on solving crime and family dysfunction, and help children grow up in the world--if we want a better world, let's fervently focus and adopt the spiritual slogan: "It's the family, silly!"

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family-and we need them-and holy families--more than ever…Is your family going to be frantic and fearful, or fervent and heroically holy? Given the challenges in today's world, if your family is going to not only survive, but also thrive, then it must embrace and practice heroic holiness. In the Bible and Mass readings today (cited at end), we are given "spiritual snapshots" of the virtues all families and individuals need to become saintly.

Pope John Paul has written, in his inspiring and informative encyclical-letter, Familiaris Consortio-The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, "They (all peoples) must show the family special love. This is an injunction that calls for concrete action. Loving the family means being capable to appreciate the values and capabilities, fostering them always. Loving the family means identifying the dangers and evils that menace it, in order to overcome them.. Loving the family means endeavoring to create for it an environment favorable for its development…Christians have the mission of proclaiming with joy and conviction the Good News about the family, for the family absolutely needs to hear ever anew and to understand ever more deeply the authentic words that reveals its identity…and the importance of its mission in the City of God and in that of man" (#86: read again!)

A beautiful family I recently met, which embodies in many ways the Pope's inspiring words above, appeared at the Grotto just before Thanksgiving; I didn't expect this.

Late one day I noticed a lot of scampering kids around the bell tower, along with wandering adults and a van parked near the Grotto entrance with people hovering around it--I wasn't sure if all these various people were part of one family or not. Well, in trying to find out and knowing that all children like candy, I offered some chocolate treats to the children. They gladly received it, and the accompanying adults and I began conversing. I found out they were, in fact, all part of one family, converging from Alabama, Virginia and Florida for a special occasion. I gradually spoke to the father-grandfather of the whole gang, who explained to me that his wife, who was in the van "getting ready," had two weeks to live because she was dying of a brain tumor. After catching my breath I asked him how long they were married, he replied "fifty years…next May."

This holy couple was there on pilgrimage; perhaps it was a last trip for them together--along with five of their seven children, and numerous grandchildren. This was one of those events which instantly makes a soul both sullen and inspired at the same time: heroic and humble, faith-filled people, in dire straights, appealing to God and the Blessed Mother, on a cloudy day around Thanksgiving, witnessing and "preaching by practicing their faith".

When they were ready I asked Dad if he and his wife would like a blessing. Eventually, the wife, finally prepared, emerged from the van, appearing as a true pilgrim: sitting in a wheelchair with a beautiful blue-colored scarf over her head, a large blanket covering her legs, and two attendant-children by her side. By this time, they were all passive and peaceful, and when they all gathered together, their family numbered about twenty souls. Mom was silent the whole time. I realized, by now, there was no need for a lot of questions or conversation.

Somehow I mustered up some words and gave a blessing to Mom and Dad, and they received it graciously. After the blessing, we prayed together the aspiration, "Jesus, I trust in You". Naturally enough, one of the children said it, and then, eventually like spiritual dominoes, they all did, repeating the simple prayer as pilgrims, making the reality of entrustment stronger by the sacred rhythm and mindful repetition. When words fail, remember and utter this precious aspiration, Jesus, I trust in You.

The whole family then meandered up towards the Grotto, but only after Dad and Mom led them by praying the Stations of the Cross. Even though it was getting colder and darker, they consciously took the time to remember Jesus' sacred Passion. Perhaps it was a way to imprint in their souls the passion they would soon undergo, and indeed, were undergoing.

We eventually met in the upper Grotto area, and under the darkened skies, they lit some candles-one each for Mom and Dad, and one for all the children present. One of the children mentioned how much Dad appreciated knowing that loved ones are never separated--even in death, for "love never ends," or, "love never fails" (I Cor. 13: 8). As Catholics we believe in the Bible-teaching of the mystical communion of the Church and of the saints, which is a divinely knit reality, a spiritual union, wherein all souls are united and inter-dependent, thru Christ and the Holy Spirit, Who is the Bond of Love (cf. Jn 15, I Cor 12, Eph. 3, Rm. 12, Col. 3). We are one body with many parts (I Cor. 12), wherein differing spiritual and physical realities connect and penetrate in a harmony and communion: Heaven, Earth and Purgatory.

This inter-communion does not change simply because of death; as a matter of fact, spiritual and holy realities (since bonded by the Love and Infinity of the Holy Spirit) can become even more united and inter-related, which is why we call this a communion; and we call it mystical, because we cannot always perceive or articulate these hidden, spiritualized realities by our punctured perception. This article of faith (too often neglected today) was, obviously, a consolation to the whole family.

By this time it was completely dark and the Grotto spotlights were luminously shining on the Lourdes statue of the Virgin Mary. While we were praying there, one of the children sang "Ave Maria." The sonorous and sweet song resounded thru the Grotto, and, indeed, thru all of us as we gazed on The Virgin praying for us. (Our Lady of Lourdes counseled the young Bernadette, that she would not be happy on Earth, but in Heaven).

We later went down to the Glass Chapel, heard a Bible reading, prayed the Our Father, and then received Holy Communion. Perhaps it was the last Communion they would receive together like that. Everybody was silently praying as a meditation song, "Amazing Grace," was sung. After this it was obviously hard for anyone to leave--they were on pilgrimage- there was no questioning this. The "spiritual glue" of the Holy Spirit's divine breath bonded this family. Eventually, they departed, only after many visited with Mom, who was still sitting in front of the church- dwelling peacefully near the Lord in the tabernacle (and within her). Towards the end I noticed one of the little grandchildren-girls, walking gently and so naturally, up to Grandma, kissing her on the cheek, and leaving only after giving a warm embrace…

This, obviously, was a family that concretely and spiritually was heroically loving--amidst suffering. Their faith-exemplified by the Mom and Dad-will carry them thru the storms of life in ways that nothing else will: neither money or possessions, fame or reputation. This is the kind of Faith we need in today's world, as St Paul encourages: "We know that all things work together for those who love God," and "Neither death nor life… nor anything will separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus" (Rm. 8: 28, 38).

There is a depth of spiritual love that comes out of suffering -- sometimes it can only come that way. Suffering, in the life of this family, was like a magnetizing and awakening instrument to unite them. Thanks to Mom's and Dad's courageous and heroic Faith-suffering was not an enemy, rather it was a gift: "Consider it all joy when you undergo various trials…your faith produces perseverance" (Jas. 1:2)…The Holy Family--Jesus, Mary and Joseph--suffered all kinds of trials and tribulations, for you and all, so that we may not only get to Heaven but also be inspired to live, pray, pilgrimage and sacrifice more heroically thru this world…

And so families should not model themselves on earthly, social, historical institutions only-no matter how helpful and meaningful they are. These are all bound to fail or are flawed. No. Biblical Catholics and Christians must model themselves on God Himself!-for we were created in His image. God Himself is a "family of Divine Persons": "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness (Gn 1:26)

Scott Hahn, in his marvelous book on the life of God and the Family (wherein above quote was found) , "First Comes Love," writes: "Within His holy family Jesus lived a life that was an earthly image of the eternal trinity. How fitting that devotional writers and artists have often portrayed the Holy Family as an 'earthly trinity,' which…in the words of Pope John Paul, 'so admirably reflects the life of communion and love to the eternal trinity…The Church calls the family a 'communion of persons' united in love; that's the very same definition it applies to the Trinity."

Are you ready to be radically heroic in your family?... What hurts and sorrow exist in your family that need healing and reconciliation?...How can you make more heroic attempts at becoming holy? What do you need to be aware of which will affect or attack your family, your souls, your love?

Major Threats to Catholic Family Life: Contraception: this sin and darkness literally means "against life". The Catholic Church, since the time of Jesus, has persistently, insistently and consistently taught that contraception is against God and His natural plan for life and union of married couples. It is a serous sin, but one which can be overcome!. Many couples are adopting Natural Family Planning today, tired of chemical companies and abortionists controlling their bedrooms and lifestyles…Be heroic, be holy. Don't let anything get between you, your spouse and God!

Constructivism: This means man is trying to construct false families -thru cloning, cohabitation and homosexualism, and thereby circumventing God's plan for family life. These counterfeit forms of family actually adversely alter authentic families. But, like all falsities, hearts can be spiritualized, lifestyles can be changed and converted into God's way-- God is always a loving and merciful Father.

Consumerism-communications, possessions, money, and material objects get tin the way of family love and sacrifice--beware of Mammon menacing your family and lifestyle. People are people, not things or objects to be manipulated for wrongful purposes-pornography, machines, gadgets and desire for money can sometimes turn people into objects, thus depersonalizing them.

Be heroic: live simply so that your family may simply live…

This is the way of the Holy Family-how about yours?

Briefly Noted

Quote: "My main purpose in life now is to focus on trying to get as many people to Heaven as possible." Tom Monaghan, founder of Dominoes Pizza.

Article of the week Tom Monaghan shows us, that, as an orphan, and later successful businessman, we can go from fractured families to heroic holiness and thus help other fervent souls become part of God's family. He sold Dominoes for approx one billion dollars and now funds Catholics, and now esp youth in founding Ave Maria College in Florida, to give them proper, loving and orthodox education in the ways of the Holy Family and the Catholic Church. For copy of article, see Baltimore Sun, Dec. 27. or Glass Chapel.

Bible Readings: Sir 3:2-7; Col 3:12-21 or 3:12-17; Lk 2:22-40

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi