For the vast majority of Christians, living bound by the sacrament of marriage and with a family is the way on which they fulfil their call to holiness and participate in the life and mission of the Church – we read in the Letter of the Council for Family of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for Holy Family Sunday, which this year falls on 26th December.
The PBC Council for Family emphasizes in the letter that „the Holy Family teaches us love. Love that is tender, responsible and self-sacrificing, to be able to listen, to be ready to help and to constantly seek God’s will in everyday life.” Referring to the exhortation Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II, he states that the family is „the most precious good of humanity”.
The Letter for Holy Family Sunday lists the most important tasks that are carried out in the family. These include deepening the ties between family members, religious formation through reading the Holy Scriptures. Furthermore praying together, education, and working out the use of free time for both rest and cultural development as also included. “The family is also a natural environment that can become a school of sacrifice, overcoming selfishness and helping the poor and needy. In the family, man learns to lead his life according to God’s plan, and learns to obey and be responsible for himself and others. In the family, we also learn to care for the natural environment, integral ecology and responsibility for the future of the world”, we read.
Referring to the examples of holy families, e.g. Maria and Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi, as well as Zelie and Louis Martin, who were the first marriages in the history of the Church, proclaimed blessed by John Paul II, the Council for Family of the PBC emphasizes that the lives of the beatified persons prove that „despite the difficult circumstances and crisis of values, you can remain faithful to God, support each other in the family and thus also be an honest and good person”.
The PBC Council for Family also refers in the Letter to the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia of Pope Francis, in which we read that „for all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration to the Church”. Therefore, the Letter stresses that „Christian teaching on the family is good news that brings hope to the world and shows the way for renewal”.
We publish the full text of the Letter:
A LETTER FROM THE COUNCIL FOR FAMILY OF THE POLISH BISHOPS’
CONFERENCE FOR HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY
Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ!
Today’s liturgy invites us to entrust our families with confidence to the Holy Family and to renew marriage vows. The Gospel’s pericope about Jesus being found by his Parents in the temple, tells about the relationship that bonded Mary Joseph and Jesus. The Parents found security and the joy of a happy family and peace of heart, as they were building their mutual bonds based on God. The Holy Family teaches us tender love which is responsible and self-sacrificing, the ability to listen, the readiness for help and the continual search of God’s will in everyday life.
Christian marriage is not based solely on affection and mutual agreement. Love is sublime and beautiful, but it can also be changeable and fleeting. Man and woman in the sacrament of marriage receive help from God: what is human and fragile is confirmed and strengthened by God’s grace. How edifying is the image of spouses cherishing reciprocal respect, open to life and caring for their children, who treat their family as a treasure and a gift from God. Multigenerational families are also worthy of recognition. However, it would be naive not to notice the crisis of marriage and family. It is saddening to see crumbling marriages, various addictions, escaping from responsibility, materialism and consumerism. The foundations of the family are undermined, which strikes at the very essence of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and the value of life from conception to natural death is disregarded. The family is sacred and crucial for proper human development, therefore it should not be subjected to social experiments or the influence of contemporary utopias. Therefore, it is worth recalling some basic elements of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life.
A family has its strength in God
St. John Paul II described the family as the first and fundamental path of the Church (Letter to Families 2). The family is, in the general social and religious dimension, the oldest, universal and natural community that functions in all cultures. It can be said that it is the most valuable asset of mankind (FC 1). The family constitutes the existential horizon of a human being and life vocations are born in it. Living a life of commitment to one’s family, in accordance with God’s plan, is the way to salvation. Despite the crisis of family life, the desire for lasting conjugal love and a secure family is still inscribed deeply in the human heart.
Blessed Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński would repeatedly call families draw strength in God because only then they will be able to overcome difficulties and survive even the greatest storms of life. The meaning of the family becomes fully understood only in connection with Christmas and the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ the full truth about a human being is contained, seen both in the context of the mystery of Creation and of Redemption. The one who is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15) is also a perfect man. Christ fully reveals man to man himself. He grew up in Nazareth in the privacy of a home environment, amid daily activities, prayers, and contact with his neighbours. His family welcomed him and guarded him with love, introduced him into in obedience to the religious tradition, and accompanied him until he reached maturity and began his public ministry. In the family, Jesus progressed in wisdom, age, and grace with God and with men (Lk 2:52).
God’s entry into the history of the world is closely related to the human family. Nothing more momentous and holy can happen in the family. Since the moment of the Incarnation, the family has become a kind of sanctuary in which God has been dwelling.
A special distinction for the family is the elevation of marriage to the dignity of a Sacrament, and therefore a visible and effective sign of God’s grace. The importance of the family is also evidenced by the fact that it is sometimes called the domestic Church, and the Church, trying to describe its essence, many times uses images from family life. The Church calls herself The Divine Family, the Bride of Christ or the Mother, and she calls God – Father. The family’s intimate unity and its orientation towards life in the context of a self-sacrificing love make it an image of the Church.
The first and fundamental goal of the Christian family is the communion of persons as well as the communion of generations, that is, the unity of mother, father, children and relatives. The family, initiated in a covenant of marriage, is fully realized in parenthood. Therefore, the family has a duty to deepen the bond at the level of the union of bodies and souls, characters, hearts, minds and the aspirations of those who create it. In undertaking these tasks, the family shares in the threefold office of Christ – teacher, priest and shepherd.
The family carries out the mission of teaching as an evangelized and evangelizing community. The family accepts the Word of God, lives the Holy Scriptures, listens to the teaching of the Church, but also communicates this word to all those who seek it. Therefore, such an important formative role in the family is played by reading the Holy Bible, reading Church documents, religious books and the Catholic press.
The family performs educational tasks, primarily by setting a good example, admitting mistakes, avoiding false compromises and teaching children broadly understood responsibility. Religious education and catechesis by mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and older siblings make the family a true community of faith. Parents have the right to choose a moral and religious education model for their children that suits their own convictions! In relation to these rights and obligations, higher-level communities such as the Church and the state play a supporting role.
In the family, the liturgical service is carried out through the common priesthood of the father, mother, children and other relatives (CCC 1657). Everyone fulfils their own specific tasks in the family. In practice, it consists in conscious and active participation in the Eucharist, in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and in other Sacraments. An important task is to practice marriage and family prayer, community celebration of Sundays, anniversaries, family anniversaries, church and family celebrations, as well as daily self-sacrifice and communal bearing up of the cross of suffering, worries and inconvenience.
An increasingly important task of the family is to wisely use the free time that has been given to a person for rest, but also for comprehensive development in the sphere of broadly understood culture. It is very important to spend time together and discuss what has been read, programs watched, plays or movies. The ability to use the Internet prudently and critically is of increasing importance.
The family carries out pastoral tasks by practicing the spirit of service and overcoming discord, infidelity and jealousy. The commandment of love and service is fulfilled first with the relatives, and then with other families that make up the parish environment (cf. FC 56-71). The family is also a natural environment that can become a school of sacrifice, overcoming selfishness and helping the poor and needy. In the family, each person learns to lead their life according to God’s plan, and learns to obey and be responsible for themselves and for others. In the family, we also learn to care for the natural environment, integral ecology, and the responsibility for the future of the world.
The family as a path to holiness
For the vast majority of Christians, living in marriage and in the family is the way in which they fulfil their call to holiness and participate in the life and mission of the Church. Over the centuries, many marriages and families may have lived in sanctity. Today too, there are people of deep faith who strive towards holiness in marriage and in the family through the conscientious and dedicated fulfilment of their duties. Pope Francis called them the next door saints. The holiness of some of them was confirmed by the Church to become an example and help for us.
The Bible points to holy spouses such as Elizabeth and Zechariah, parents of St. John the Baptist. Tradition shows us the example of Saints Anna and Joachim, parents of the Mother of God. Many spouses were brought to the altars, but only St. John Paul II, the pope of the family, beatified the marriage of Maria and Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi in 2001, indicating that it was in family and marital life that they achieved holiness. It was the first-ever beatification of spouses ever performed at the same time and with one act. In 2008, in Lisieux, the beatification of Zelie and Louis Martin, parents of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus took place.
In Poland, we hope for the beatification of the Wiktoria and Józef Ulma family along with their seven children, one of whom lived under their mother’s heart. They lived in Markowa in the Subcarpathia region. During World War II, they selflessly sheltered Jews, for which they suffered a martyr’s death, because they valued the commandment to love God and your neighbour more than their own affairs. The beatification process of Emilia and Karol Wojtyła, parents of St. John Paul II, is also ongoing.
The examples of holy spouses and families prove that despite difficult circumstances and a crisis of values, one can remain faithful to God, support one another in the family, and thus also be an honest and good person. Pope Francis recalled this truth in the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which he began with these words: The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church. …., for all the many signs of crisis in the institution of marriage, the desire to marry and form a family remains vibrant, especially among young people, and this is an inspiration to the Church” (por. AL 291-312). That is why the Christian proclamation on the family is good news that brings hope to the world and points the way to renewal.
For this reason, the Church recognizes the care of families as one of her most important tasks, the first and for many reasons the most important path of mission and service (Letter to Families1-2). Pastoral assistance is necessary first for those, who know the value of the family and want to remain faithful to the teaching of the Church. Also families, who are lost, seek the truth or encounter obstacles in the fulfilment of their vocation need help. Anyone who sincerely desires God and is open to the community of the Church should be accepted. Such persons also require accompaniment and discernment in reaching the truth and integrating into the community of faith (cf. AL 291-312).
Let us conclude our meditation with the words of the prayer to the Holy Family from the exhortation Amoris Laetitia:
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendour of true love; to you we turn with trust.
Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic churches.
Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division; may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing.
Holy Family of Nazareth, make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer. Amen. (AL 325).
May Christmas time bring peace and joy to our families. With prayer and blessing
Omnibus omnia factus
+ Bishop Wiesław Śmigiel
Chairman of the Council for the Family of the Polish Bishop’s Conference
Toruń, 26th December 2021
Translation: A.Z. Warchoł / Office for Foreign Communication of the Polish Bishops’ Conference