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Family love is a vocation and path to holiness

Archbishop Wenski's homily at local celebration of World Meeting of Families

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at a Mass coinciding with the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families in Rome. The Mass, a vigil for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, was celebrated June 25, 2022 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Doral, at the conclusion of an afternoon-long  Family Faith Festival.

In 2015 the World Meeting of Families took place in Philadelphia, in 2018, it took place in Dublin. In 2021 it was supposed to be in Rome but was postponed because of the pandemic and so was rescheduled for this year. But while there are events happening this week in Rome, because of the pandemic the Pope suggested that each diocese hold its own meeting of Families. And perhaps it is now truly a “world meeting,” because across the globe in dioceses around the world families are coming together to celebrate the “Joy of Love” found in faith filled and faithful families. Family Love is a Vocation and a Path to Holiness.

Today’s Scripture readings stress that following Jesus requires our immediate and complete commitment to him. In the first reading, Elisha makes a definitive break with his past –slaughtering his oxen using their yoke to cook them. That’s an Old Testament way of saying that he burned his bridges – in other words, there would be no turning back. And basically, Jesus tells his disciples (and us) the same thing. Jesus did not come to suffer and die for us and to rise from the dead just to make us half-hearted mediocre disciples hesitant to follow him where he would lead. Like Jesus did for his first disciples, Jesus also bids us to follow him. And in the Gospel reading today, Jesus begins his journey towards Jerusalem where he would be crucified. Jesus promises us the glory of the kingdom of heaven – but he takes pains to show us that the road of glory passes along the way of the cross. The way of the cross might be the way of hardship and difficulty, of trials and tribulations; but nevertheless, it is the Way of Love – and where there is love, joy is found.

Living out one’s Christian vocation to marriage and family is certainly challenging today when economic forces and cultural pressures undermine family cohesion and discourage people from getting married and forming families. According to statistics reported in our newspapers, less than half of the households in the United States today are made up of married couples. For the first time in history, there are more people not married–we put in this category those never married, not yet  married, and not married anymore – there are more in this category than those who are married. This is a serious problem that begets a litany of woes. Today with all sorts of technology – phones, tablets, and other devices – people are “more connected” than ever before. Yet never have people felt so lonely and “set adrift.”

We need to rediscover and recommit ourselves to family life as a vocation and a path to holiness. Healthy families make for a healthy society. Healthy family bonds and relationships give people a sense of belonging and bring balance to life. And while not all families, if any, are perfect, all families are irreplaceable and indispensable. Even for God, because when God chose to reveal himself, he did so within a family – and, in a real way, the family is an icon of God, the God who is love. Jesus grew up in a family. He grew up in Nazareth where he lived under the authority of Mary and Joseph, where he lived and learned and loved. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph’s holy way of life serves as a model for all Christian families. Family love is a vocation and a path to holiness. The family is the “domestic church,” the basic or first cell of the Church.

Jesus says where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst. That’s why we can speak of the family as the domestic church, for the first place where two or three are gathered in his name normally should be the family. That’s where children should first learn their prayers, that’s where husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters should both give and experience unconditional love.

The family founded on the marriage of a man and a woman is the path where children best can encounter and know God; where the mutual self-giving and faithfulness of husband and wife provides a secure and protected home for children to best grow in virtue and to assume their own responsibilities as members of society and as citizens of a country. This is what the social sciences indicate–kids with both parents in the home generally do better in school than kids who don’t have both parents.

As we know, not every family can count on both parents in the home for any number of reasons. As you know, life can be messy. But all parents and all children and teenagers should strive to imitate the virtues found in that family; but also, the Church invites all families to find in the Holy Family comfort and strength. Mary is a mother for us all – but she can be in a special way a mother to the motherless; and Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, can also be a protector and guide to those who are fatherless or separated from their fathers.

Certainly, the Holy Family knew hardship. They were homeless –for Christ was born in a stable; they were stateless refugees – for Joseph had to flee with Mary and baby into Egypt (and you can be sure that Joseph didn’t wait to cross the border legally).

Like all families, the Holy Family shared both joys and sorrows. Whatever the circumstances of our families, whether headed by a single parent or even in some cases by a grandparent, whether an extended family, nuclear family, blended family, or a broken family, we should make our families a holy place where God lives with his people.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” begins Leo Tolstoy's classic work, AnnaKarenina. So, no matter how messy life is, we can have not only happy families but holy families if we live out in our families our baptismal vocation as a sure path to holiness. Let’s not look to what was left behind but with our hand firmly set on the plow, let us follow Jesus who beckons us: Follow me.