As we now find ourselves reflecting on the Solemnity of the Christian Family which has just past, we realize that the definition of what is the Christian Family can open to reflection the many ways in which Christians should work together to build up the Body of Christ and lead ourselves and others to salvation.
If we look at the smallest of units, the nuclear family, of parents and children we see here that each of us is born into a family unit that is charged to care for, raise, educate and support children. Ultimately the parents are to show unconditional love to each child, as a gift from Almighty God. While we know that within our society, this is sometimes, even tragically, not the case, it does show us that there is a goal to the expression of our family life, and this goal is to model the Holy Family in showing love and obedience, dedication and care to one another.
Each of us is also a part of a wider family that is our extended family. Again while this is sometimes not the case, these are the people within our lives who can show us extended love, care and support. I had the great fortune to grow up in a loving and committed extended family that all lived very near. In this I had a great many examples of Christian love and dedication and through this extended family I was taught the many ways in which family can care and help each other.
Now extending even further, we may have those who surround us in our daily lives. This might be those who physically live around us, or it may be those with whom we choose to share our daily life and activities. Again these people can be of great support, care and help to us as if they were an even larger Christian family. It is in this situation as well that we, for the first time, must confront something we did not need to consider before. It is the choice of who is a part of this family unit. I say this because each of us needs to be careful concerning those who will serve as an example to ourselves and those we love. If we are seeking within our lives to more closely follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, then for this ever extending Christian family, we must join with others who are also on the road seeking our Lord. We must surround ourselves with those who serve as good examples of the love of Christ in the world.
It is in this sense also that we can consider the largest of the extended Christian families, the Church. Within our Catechism, we see the definition of the Church. Question #95 asks: “What is the Church?” With the answer: “The Church is the Body of Christ in which Christ is the head and all baptized people are her members. The Church is a gathering of people professing the truths of Christ and using those means to salvation which He instituted.” This definition shows us some of the most important aspects of the Christian Family which is the Church.
We begin by acknowledging that all baptized people are a part of the Church. In this we acknowledge that the Church must be open to all who seek to follow Jesus. It is not a closed group of only those who have been there for many years, or for those who look and think exactly as we do. It is rather open to those who seek to follow Jesus, with that being the only measuring stick. Secondly it is a group that gathers. This too is a vital part of Church family life. For our own families, studies have shown that much is to be gained when a family gathers for meals regularly, and more personally, some of these family gatherings that I shared as a young man still are some of my most cherished memories. This sort of gathering also happens as a part of the extended Christian family, the Church. We gather for worship on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, we gather to worship Almighty God in the celebration of the Eucharist and the other Devotions. And these times in worship are to be some of the most special times in our lives. This is the family of God, the Christian Family, gathering in worship of our Heavenly Father, gathering in worship of His Son, Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself for our salvation, gathering in worship of the Holy Spirit, Who is present to us and guides us. We raise our hearts and our voices in prayer and in song, as one family gathering in Church.
The definition concludes by stating that the Church is the family which uses “those means to salvation which He instituted.” It is usually in this sense that we are speaking of the Holy Sacraments, which are those signs which were instituted by Christ for our sanctification and salvation. While this is certainly true, I would posit that we can also extend this definition much further as well. So much of our family life, when extended to the Christian family of the Church, is a reflection of the way of Jesus Christ in the world. There are the moral teachings that are given to us by our Lord, especially those we focus on during the season of Ordinary Time. There is the call to serve and help others, putting them before ourselves. There is the forgiveness that must be extended to others as we seek to be more and more like Jesus; and also ask forgiveness for ourselves. There is the call to give and sacrifice, as Jesus Christ did for us. All of these aspects too are a part of our family life within the Christian Catholic Church.
In the forward to the Constitution of the Polish National Catholic Church, there is a section which most people easily skip over. It is titled “Tenets and Aims” and gives to us some of the thinking of Bishop Hodur and the earliest members of the Church. In discussing what the Church does, it states there: “The most important objective of the Polish National Catholic Church, as the Catholic Church of Christ, is to maintain, enrich and develop the life of God in the soul of man. To help man know God and His holy Being so that from this knowledge and understanding may flow blessing, light, love, strength and inner satisfaction which no person or thing can give, save God – This is the most important goal.”
Much like a family, the Church is to maintain, enrich and develop life, but here it is the life of God within each of us. The Church, like a family, is to impart knowledge and understanding, but here it is that blessing, light, love and strength may flow into our lives and into the world.
As we reflect on the Solemnity of the Christian Family, let us commit ourselves to be an ever stronger part of the Christian Family that is the Church. And in it, like any family, let’s truly be responsible for one another and truly love one another.