Sacred Splendor: the Prophetic Vocation of the Christian Family
Father Bob Papi
used with permission
'Christ is the great prophet who proclaimed the Kingdom of the Father both by the testimony of His life and by the power of His word. Until the full manifestation of His glory, he fulfills this prophetic office, not only by the hierarchy who teach in His Name and by His power, but also by the laity...The state of life that is sanctified by a special sacrament, namely, married and family life, has a special importance in the prophetic office...The Christian family proclaims aloud both the present power of the Kingdom of God and the hope of the blessed life. Hence, by example and by their testimony, they convict the world of sin and give light to those who seek truth.' (Lumen Gentium, #35)
In the depths of the inner city, in the nation's industrial heartland, I recently sat with a little family of refugees - husband-father, wife-mother, infant son. They had been driven out, in a horrendous bloodletting, from their own country and were now seeking a new life, in what is to them, a strange land, climate and culture. They had been driven out of their homeland because they are Christian. Yet in all the telling of their story, not once did they use a negative, harsh, condemning, or hateful word about those who had inflicted such horror upon them.
'Get up, take the Child and His mother with you and escape...' (cf. Mt.2:13) In that tiny set of rooms, amidst the extreme poverty of the inner city, my entire being was humbled. I was witness to the sacred splendor there, the very charism of the Christian family as articulated by the Second Vatican Council, lived. Here indeed, through that special sacrament of marriage, rooted as all sacramental life in Baptism, was placed before me full participation by a family in the prophetic office of Jesus Christ.
At this end of the 20th century the very notion of prophet and prophecy has taken on an atmosphere, like an invitation to cynicism. True prophecy seems a type of occult obsession, somewhere between the prognostications of a bookie and the sleight of hand of a magician. Drowning as we are in banal and evil excess, and the terrible false-promise lies of the psychics and the lotteries, how can we distinguish the true prophet from the predictors of end-times and the pseudo-Christian soothsayers?
A true (that is, anointed by the Holy Spirit) prophet is not one who is primarily permitted or instructed to foretell future events. Rather the true Prophet is one who is given the authority to tear asunder the false reality which we come to take for granted. This authority originates with Jesus Christ and is given to the prophet to expose immorality and lie, to goad the complacent and compromised Christian back to Gospel life and become the voice for those who have been silenced. The Prophet speaks as the voice of the promised Advocate; 'I will send Him to you. And when He comes, He will show the world how wrong it was about sin, and about who was in the right and about judgment...' (Jn.16:7, 8ff)
No authentic prophet speaks or acts upon their own authority. They must be anointed by the Spirit. The Christian Family is anointed by the Spirit, first through Baptism and then through the sacrament of Holy Marriage.
Prophets, those who participate in the prophetic office of Christ are configured to Christ by the same Holy Spirit. They must accept the lot of the prophet; rejection of their word and person, even to the point of death. This is part of being a Christian: that we take up our Cross which is His Cross, and follow Him: 'Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.' (Mt. 5:11-12)
(Configured: defined, modeled after, shaped by)
Immediately after this teaching, Jesus reveals to us that we are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is the complimentary role to that of prophet, and our common Baptismal vocation.
So, when a Christian family with more than 2.4 children (such as many of my friends with their seven or more children) participate in school events, shopping, sports, and sadly even Church, and they are treated as outcasts and mocked, the Family is being truly prophetic.
Numerous Gospel quotations underscore the point. From the laying down of one's life for a friend to feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger (and whose life is more at risk, who is more of a stranger in our day that the unborn child?) all are summed up by: 'If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me before you.' (cf.Jn.15:18ff)
A father of a family lies dying. His teen-aged son kneels beside the bed in prayer. The father dies. The boy-child sobs his heart out for a long time, then rises to his feet, embraces his mother and commits himself to care for her and his siblings. The boy-child is now a man. His mother told me that story and her widow's face was radiant for she had seen the mantle of manhood and fatherhood passed on.
Part of the prophetic office of the Christian family is a restoration of manhood to boys and womanhood to girls. There is an urgent need for this. Only with it will we begin to end the violence against children and women. A true man honors, protects and serves women. A true woman honors, affirms and serves man. All else is from the father of lies, the prince of darkness, the purveyor of death.
'Through the family passes the primary current of the civilization of love...' (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families #15)
The chaos surrounding human sexuality is the chaos of hatred for humanity. It results from an un-knowing of who I am. To be unknown to self means I am unable to know those who are like myself. The root cause of homosexuality and all other deviations is no more complicated that ignorance of self. The self in all the truth, dignity, beauty, and reality of being a human created person in the image and likeness of God.
Those who pretend there is some pure biology/bio-chemical cause behind deviation are materialists of the first order. They necessarily deny the soul and the creator of soul, He is whose image we are created and whose law, writ large on the human heart, we must follow. Then and only then, do we know ourself as true man, and true woman.
The prophetic charism of the Christian Family reveals this truth about the human person. Only if true men are truly husband and father; only if true women are wife and mother will the children grow truly, fully, in the freedom of children of God, complete as male or female, as God alone had created them with the generous co-operation of the parents.
In order to hate the little family of refugees, the agents of violence has to refuse to see and accept them as human persons. In doing so, they had to deny their own personhood. To do that requires that we deny Christ. Ultimately all hatred is an act of apostasy, a denial of the authoritative existence of God.
Hence the family, as cradle of self coming to know its own 'I' and thus to know the 'like-myselfness' of 'YOU' must be the domestic church. It is the place of common encounter, of common adoration, praise, intercession, learned faith and experience of the Life in Christ, or therefore knowing Christ Jesus Himself.
True Evangelizing Love.
Here the prophetic dimension of the family is both that of evangelization and enhancement of civilization.
Evangelization is accomplished through lived faith, especially that which leads the non-believer to cry out: 'see how they love one another!' It is this civilization of love which alone will overcome the darkness of this age. This culture of death, like those of ancient times, seeks to silence the prophetic voices of light, life and hope.
Civilization begins in the family: '...the family is the center and the heart of the civilization of love...' Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in t he family can regain its splendor, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin...' (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, #13)
The essential manner in which the family lives out its truth-speaking, truth-living role as prophetic domestic church lies in its configuration to Christ. This is accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the ordinary means accessible to all: participation in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church (both that in the Church building and in the home) personal and family prayer, meditation upon the Holy Gospel, lives of the saints and imitation of them, confident devotion and imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Family and a life of active Christian Charity.
Truth and Love are inseparable. So too are Life truly lived and Love: '...I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full...' (Jn. 10:10) '...and eternal life is this: to know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent...' (Jn.15:12)
"God's commandment is never detached from His love: it is always a gift meant for man's growth and joy. As such, it represents an essential and indispensable aspect of the Gospel....The Gospel of Life is both a gift of God and an exacting task for humanity. It gives rise to amazement and gratitude in the person graced with freedom, and it asks to be welcomed, preserved and esteemed, with a deep sense of responsibility. In giving life to man, God demands that he love, respect and promote life. The gift thus becomes a commandment and the commandment itself is a gift." (Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, #52)
The Christian Family is never more prophetic that when its members - living, loving, defending life - love one another as Christ loves each one of us. The Christian Family thus is never more prophetic than when both in its individual members and as family it is configured to Christ Himself. All of this is God's plan from the beginning: '...to all who did accept Him He gave the power to become children of God...' (Jn.1:12 and following)
The family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do...family, become what you are.' (Pope John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, #17) The model is found, as all is found for our Christian life, in the very life of Jesus Himself: in Particular as regards the family, in the thirty years of His life Jesus spent living family life in Nazareth. (see Matthew 2; Luke 2; John 2)
Visiting the town of Nazareth in 1964 Pope Paul VI was moved by the Holy Spirit and reminded us: 'Nazareth is a kind of school where we may begin to discover what Christ's life was like and even to understand His Gospel. Here we can observe and ponder the simple appeal of the way God's some came to be known, profound yet full of hidden meaning. And gradually we may even learn to imitate Him....Here we can learn to realize who Christ really is...we can learn spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and live by the teachings of His Gospel...to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God's truths...we learn from its silence.... the silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God's inner wisdom and the counsel of His true teachers...we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what family life should be. May it show us the family's holy and enduring character and exemplifying its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings; in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children - and for this there is no substitute ... in Nazareth, the home of a craftsman's Son, we learn about work (and work has its own dignity...' (Observatore Romano, 1964)
The fundamental prophetic dimension, then, of the Christian Family is not what the family does, but who the family is. Being before doing.
Here the Blessed Virgin Mary is the model. She treasured all things in her heart as a faith-filled servant of God and then she exercised her prophetic role, exemplified at Cana where she told the distressed, the seeking: 'Go and do whatever he tells you. '
The one true word the prophet has to speak is 'Christ.'
As a Roman Catholic Priest-prophet I can then but echo the words of the Apostles John '...My little children, love one another...' and Paul '...This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural takes its name:
Out of His infinite glory, may he give you the power through His Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and that, planted in live and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God. Glory be to Him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to Him form generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.' (cf. Eph.3: 14-21)
Feast of the Holy Family 1997.