Unity in the Family

“It has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters, … that there are rivalries among you.”

In today’s epistle, St. Paul issues a rebuke to the Christians at Corinth. He has heard that there are rivalries and divisions among the Christians. He is probably disappointed. It has not been very long at all, maybe only some months, since the seed of the faith was planted at Corinth, and yet the Christian community, the Church, there has already become victim to the works of Satan, who sows division and rivalry through lies and prejudices.

When St. Paul thinks of how the faith is being lived out by the Christians at Corinth, one of the first things that comes to mind is how they are living as a community. This is an important lesson for us! We are not living out the faith if we are just trying to do so on our own. We need the support of others!

In our world, community has become a rather throw-away concept. Our communities have become seriously weakened by a massive cultural earthquake that has drastically changed the way that we relate to one another. People often no longer feel the need to leave their homes and participate in activities with others. All the entertainment in the world, we think, is at the tip of our fingerprints – a couple taps on the screen of our phones or a few clicks of the remote. Who needs to leave the house when you have Netflix and Youtube to keep you occupied? Meanwhile, membership in social and fraternal organizations dwindles, attendance at community functions falls, and even the need to attend church on Sundays becomes less clear.

Sometimes we can also have a false sense of community – we think that we are participating in a community when really we are not. Social networking can give us the impression that we have a connection with others, when really that connection is necessarily shallow because of the medium with which it is created. Virtual relationships can never add up to the reality of a human person standing in front of us.

The seeds of the divisions about which St. Paul speaks can often be planted when we are not aware. This happens in families when parents fail to monitor and regulate the time that their children spend with technology. Parents, you must be informed about what your children are doing with the technological devices in your homes! You should frequently research what are the new apps that kids are using, what are they doing with them, and so forth. It is so easy for us to be left behind and not understand what is going on (and I include myself here – I am only 29 and used to have a job working with technology and I frequently already feel like a technological dinosaur!). In the past couple of weeks I sent home information to parents of eighth graders in our parish school and religious education program about an excellent tool to help with this called Covenant Eyes, and I strongly urge all families to use this or another tool to help them in this difficult task, but no tool can replace consistent parental supervision, support, and dialogue.

When a member of a family becomes engrossed in technology, division happens in the family. But preventing division in our families, and thus in our communities, cannot simply be a matter of enforcing punishments for bad behavior. We have to go deeper – we have to present a healthy and beautiful alternative to destructive relationships or addictions fostered by technology and other cultural forces. This is where the authentic life of the family is so important.

The Church refers to the family as the “domestic church.” The family is the fundamental building block of the Church, the place where, in St. Paul’s words, “be[ing] united in the same mind and in the same purpose” is first fostered. To be this kind of family, a family that is “united in the same mind and in the same purpose,” three things are necessary: A family that spends time together, a family that is generous, and a family that is founded on Christ.

A family that spends time together: I realize that what I’m about to say will seem very counter intuitive, but I believe that the principle obstacle many families face to spending time together is not actually technology, but activities. So many times families simply exhaust themselves with all the different activities in which their children are involved. Spending time together is frequently reduced to watching someone’s game or performance, one child here another child there and mom and dad running around constantly trying to keep everything straight without forgetting to pick up someone from practice or a meeting. When was the last time you really spent time together as a family? Not at someone’s practice, game, or performance, not just watching something happen, but time doing something all together together as a family? One way that some families successfully make this a priority is by keeping Sunday reserved completely for family time, going to Mass together, sharing a meal, playing games, and so forth.

Families that are generous: We all know that generosity is an important part of what we expect from the Church (and I’m not just talking about how much we contribute to the collection). The measure of the credibility of our witness to the Faith is often the degree to which we live out the virtue of generosity in the world. People expect the Church to stand with the poor, the needy, the marginalized. Remember: the family is a domestic Church, which means the family needs to live out this generosity. Families that perform volunteer work together and get to know the less fortunate in their communities provide themselves with a vaccine against selfishness. Selfishness is often at the roots of the isolation that comes through technology and a loss of community. Beyond volunteer work, it is important that families sacrifice together. You can try making Fridays a day of sacrifice together as a family in memory of the day of the week on which Christ gave His life for us – eat a simple soup supper and donate the money you save to a charitable cause. Make clear to your children why you’re sacrificing for the good of others.

Families are also generous when they lovingly accept God’s gift of children. Parents that prayerfully discern whether they are generously responding to God’s call to welcome new life into their family provide a tremendous example to their children of what it means to live generously.

A great example of a family that lived generosity together can be found in Ss. Marius, Martha, and Sons. This Christian family, which lived in the late 200s to the early 300s, came from their home in the Middle East to Rome to venerate the graves of the martyrs. They visited the Christians who were imprisoned for their faith and comforted them, and they buried Christians who had died. That is, they performed the works of mercy together. When they were discovered by the Roman authorities, they were sentenced to death for their faith. The mother, St. Martha, was the first to die, and she exhorted her husband and sons not to give up the faith they held so dear regardless of what tortures they might have to endure. With this encouragement, they were all willing to suffer torture and execution rather than denying Christ. Families that are united must encourage each other in the faith.

The story of Ss. Marius, Martha, and Sons also illustrates the third characteristic of a united family: it is founded on faith in Christ. There is no division more harmful to a family than a lack of belief and a lack of commitment to that belief. In order for a family to remain united in the faith, children must receive a strong witness from their parents, a witness of attendance at Holy Mass each and every Sunday and holy day of obligation, seeing their parents go to confession, praying together in the home on a daily basis, and being involved in the life of their parish (an example might be encouraging your teenaged children to participate in our parish youth ministry programs). This is the family’s most important time together of all, and that is why it is important that family time happens on Sunday, because it makes clear that the unity of the family is founded on the unity of the Catholic faith.

The task of remaining united as a family seems daunting, but it absolutely is possible. We must remember the faith of Mary when She generously accepted Christ as Her child: “For nothing shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). The strength to remain united as a family is right here in our midst in the Most Holy Eucharist. When the great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about the Eucharist, he examined, among many other things, what are the effects of the Eucharist, that is, the effects of the celebration of the Mass, the effects of receiving Holy Communion. We could probably guess many of those effects: grace received into our souls, glory given to God Almighty, relief of the souls suffering in purgatory, strength to resist temptations, and so forth, and all of these are true effects of the Eucharist. But the first effect of the Eucharist is the Church. It is the Eucharist, Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity substantially present in our midst, that makes the Church and brings about Her communion, Her unity.

The Catholic family, remember, is the domestic Church. It is the fundamental building block of the universal Church, the first place in which the Church’s life is lived out. So it must be the Eucharist that makes the family. In the Eucharist is all the grace you need to live out your lives as united, generous, and faithful families. No matter how difficult this may be, no matter how much brokenness may exist in your family, no matter how many wounds against your family unity and love there may be present in your life, you can find in the Eucharist the grace to overcome all division, all strife, and all discord.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor 1:10). Be families that spend time together, that are generous, and that are founded on the Eucharist.

The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. Charles Borromeo, Ft. Wayne
III Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXVII