March 21, 2003
Who Am I In Christ?
"He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nought for Me discovers who he is." Matthew 10:39
We must know who we are before we know what to do, when to do it, where to go, and how it's done. Identity is a first step in the Christian life. Before Jesus' public ministry, the Father proclaimed Jesus His beloved Son in Whom He was well pleased (Mt 3:17). As soon as Peter recognized Who Jesus was, Jesus announced to Peter: "You are 'Rock,' and on this rock I will build My Church" (Mt 16:18). Paul repeatedly told believers who they were. He called us the holy ones, the chosen ones, the adopted sons and daughters of the Father (Eph 1:1-5). We are the redeemed, the forgiven, the gifted of God (Eph 1:7-8). Likewise Peter proclaimed: "You, however, are 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people He claims for His own' " (1 Pt 2:9).
The first question in life is: "Who is Jesus?" The second is: "Who am I?" All the questions of life are based on these first two. Jesus asks each one of us, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15) When we recognize Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we reverse the situation and ask Him, "Who do You (Jesus) that say I am?" We tell Jesus who He is, then He tells us who we are.
The Christian life is a struggle to believe in our God-given identity. It is an identity crisis. Our heavenly Father tells us the truth about Jesus and ourselves while the devil tells us lies. For example, after the Father proclaimed from the heavens that Jesus is His beloved Son, the devil's first words in tempting Jesus were, "If You are the Son of God..." (Lk 4:3). In the same way, the devil tempts us to doubt our identity. He substitutes question marks for God's periods and often adds the word "if," but the Father through Jesus tells us who we are, and this is confirmed by the Spirit.
Prayer before reading this booklet
Father, may we not be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewal of our minds in the Holy Spirit (Rm 12:2). We ask this through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
"In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters." Genesis 1:1-2
God is the Master, and creation is the masterpiece. Just as an artist uses the raw materials of paint and canvas to create a masterpiece, so the Creator-God used the raw materials of the formless wasteland, the abyss, to form the masterpiece of creation. God made order out of chaos. The miracle of creation is not only making something from nothing but making something beautiful and harmonious from chaos. The human person is the culmination of this harmony. It is crucial for each person to find his or her place in this cosmic spiritual ecology.
The balance of nature can be ruined by polluting the water, which in turn destroys some of the area's plants and animals. How much more would any imbalance in the spiritual ecology destroy life and disfigure the masterpiece of God's creation! How intricate the interrelationships in a physical ecological system! How much more intricate and fragile the dynamics of the spiritual ecological system! If disregarding physical ecology results in pollution and death, what dehumanization and aberrations might result from disregarding the spiritual ecology of God's masterpiece, creation! It is too great to risk to experiment with a priceless, irreplaceable masterpiece. Rather, we should appreciate it, respect the ecology, be who God created us to be, and not play God by trying to reorder His creation. We should not carelessly reject or alter any dimension of creation, especially male and female identities.
"IT IS NOT GOOD FOR THE MAN TO BE ALONE." Genesis 2:18
"There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28
The Lord in the Bible certainly states that male or female, rich or poor, Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, black or white all people are equal. But it goes beyond equality to unity. "All are one in Christ Jesus." This is a unity where everyone is different and complementary. We should be who we are so we might be united with those different from us. It is like the pieces of a puzzle, which must be different to fit together. The secular world has a unisex mentality, de-emphasizing differences between male and female. When sexual differences are noted, they are perverted into the Marlboro man or the Playboy bunny. The Lord emphasizes the differences of the sexes but not the worldly differences.
"Wo-man" is created from the rib of her "man" to express this complementarity (Gen 2:22-23). Woman is created as partner or helpmate. Man seeks to be united to his missing part. "In the Lord, woman is not independent of man nor man independent of woman" (1 Cor 11:11). Each can make a unique contribution to the other. Pope John Paul II has taught: " 'Masculinity' and 'femininity' are distinct, yet at the same time they complete and explain each other." (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 25).
Consequently, all men and women need meaningful relationships with the opposite sex. This is not to say all must be married and have sexual relationships, but a man cannot say to a woman, "I don't need you" (1 Cor 12:21). Neither can a woman say to a man, "I don't need you." All the members of the body of Christ are needed. If the body were all men or all women, where would the body be? Men and women must work together or resign themselves to unfulfilled lives. Women can bring out the best in men, and men the best in women.
MALE AND FEMALE ROLES IN THE CHRISTIAN ASSEMBLY AND IN THE BODY OF CHRIST
"According to the rule observed in all the assemblies of believers, women should keep silent in such gatherings. They may not speak. Rather, as the law states, submissiveness is indicated for them. If they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home." 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Sometimes this Scripture passage and others like it (1 Tm 2:11-15) are dismissed as mere expressions of ancient cultural values. This line of reasoning in effect tries to nullify the divine authority of the Bible. The fact that something is a part of Jewish culture does not mean it is no longer the inspired word of God. The word of God is not to be judged by our modern culture, but instead our modern culture is to be judged by God's word. We should not conform ourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rm 12:2). Because our minds are much more attuned to the worldly mentality than to the truth of God's word, we have trouble understanding the Biblical revelation concerning male and female identities and roles. However, if we allow the Spirit to teach us, we can have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16).
As God is creating a masterpiece in nature, so He creates a masterpiece through the movement of the Spirit in the Christian assembly. 1 Corinthians 14 is in the context of a teaching on order in public worship. Even though the translation reads that women should keep silent, this is not intended to be taken absolutely. Women pray and prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:5). Paul is saying that men should lead the preaching, and women in general should be quiet in the public assembly. Some may say this is discrimination and inequality because they assume being quiet is inferior to speaking, but that is not the assumption of the Bible. When someone has great power, they need no formal recognition of authority they can exercise their power just by their quiet presence. Mother Teresa's international authority is a perfect example of this.
Paul speaks of women's dress, their hairstyles and jewelry. He exhorts them to dress modestly and quietly (1 Tm 2:9). The exhortation to dress quietly means that women should not dress in such a way as to draw too much attention to themselves. This prepares the way for verse 11: "A woman must learn in silence and be completely submissive." Not only should a woman's dress be quiet but also her voice, not because she is weak and unnoticeable but because she can be strong and noticeable in dress and in speech. She must be quiet and completely submissive a glorious and powerful calling, the redemptive calling of Jesus on the cross.
Paul asks the question of women, "Did the preaching of God's word originate with you? Are you the only ones to whom it has come?" (1 Cor 14:36) When women originate the preaching of God's word or take authority, it seems as if they are the only ones to whom the word of God has come. Women do not maintain this, but when the ecological balance between male and female is disturbed, the attrition of male participation in public worship is an immediate effect. Few men become involved in church activities, and women feel frustrated and justifiably upset because they are in a situation of co-dependency in which they facilitate male irresponsibility.
Pope John Paul II has taught: "Various sectors in the Church must lament the absence or the scarcity of the presence of men, some of whom abdicate their proper Church responsibilities, allowing them to be fulfilled by women" (Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, 52). This is partially caused by the skewing of the spiritual ecology of men and women in the eucharistic assembly. The early Church called men to lead the public worship in a noticeable waywith blameless hands held aloft (1 Tm 2:8). If they obeyed the Lord, their ministry of prayer leadership bore fruit. This was indicated by a community "free from anger and dissension" (1 Tm 2:8).
Men are called to leadership in public worship. Most would never lead unless commanded to do so. Women seem to respond much more quickly than men. Unless women are submissive, quiet, and insistent that men take responsibility, they will leave men out. When women take over, they create a situation in which men shirk God's call. Women should go on strike, give men "the silent treatment," call a walkout, refuse to take men's places, refuse co-dependency. In other words, women should insist that men do what God calls them to do.
Pope John Paul II has taught: "In the name of liberation from male 'domination,' women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine 'originality' " (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 10). Men and women should understand and respect their differences not only in physical appearance but in worship. The Catholic Church has applied this teaching by ordaining only men as priests. Possibly the Church should recognize that not only are certain ministries designated by God for men but also for women. The Scriptures give indications of the ministry of deaconesses (1 Tm 3:11; Rm 16:1), and a special intercessory ministry for widows (1 Tm 5:9). Pope John Paul teaches: "In particular, two great tasks entrusted to women merit the attention of everyone. First of all, the task of bringing full dignity to the conjugal life and to motherhood...Secondly, women have the task of assuring the moral dimension of cultural, the dimension namely of the culture worthy of the person of an individual yet social life" (Lay Members of Christ Faithful People, 51). Let's listen to the Spirit speaking to the churches about ministries which are primarily female.
A CONCLUDING PRAYER
In conclusion, the Bible emphasizes that differences between male and female exist not only physically, but spiritually. These are good and should be highlighted. Uniting the differences will make us complete. We will have more male participation in Church life if we appreciate that there is such a thing as a masculine spirituality. Also, we will offer many more opportunities for women in ministry if we appreciate the nature of feminine spirituality. The Church needs both male and female, just as each individual needs both. Appreciating our differences and our complementarity in God's spiritual ecology is the way to receive the fullness of God's grace in our lives.
Let us pray together
- Thank You, Jesus, for making me who I am.
- Thank You, Jesus, for making two different sexes.
- Thank You, Jesus, for making us limited and therefore dependent on one another.
- Thank You, Jesus, for uniting us in perfect harmony, in a beautiful masterpiece, in a spiritual ecology.
"He (Jesus) went down with them (His parents) then, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. Luke 2:51
Our first relationship is with our parents. In this relationship, we begin to discover who we are. Thus, this child-parent relationship is the basis of brotherhood, sisterhood, marriage, family, and community. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2198). Most psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors have recognized this Biblical principle of the primacy of the child-parent relationship. By focusing on this, we are able to build a foundation for all the other relationships of life and to get to the root of problems .
BADGE OF HONOR
"Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you." Exodus 20:12
The Lord has revealed that the commandment to honor our fathers and mothers "is the first commandment to carry a promise with it 'that it may go well with you, and that you may have long life on earth' " (Eph 6:2-3). Honoring is not only a matter of obeying. The Church teaches: children "should anticipate their [parents'] wishes, willingly seek their advice, and accept their just admonitions" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2217).
"Children, pay heed to a father's right; do so that you may live" (Sir 3:1). Honoring a father atones for sins (Sir 3:3) results in the child later becoming a happy parent (Sir 3:5), having his prayers heard (Sir 3:5), living a long life (Sir 3:6), being blessed (Sir 3:8), and having firm roots (Sir 3:9). Honoring parents is not only for kids. The Lord teaches: "My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him; revile him not in the fullness of your strength. For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, it will serve as a sin offering it will take lasting root" (Sir 3:12-14).
Honoring parents is not limited to their life's duration. We honor them even after their deaths. "Their bodies are peacefully laid away, but their name lives on and on. At gatherings their wisdom is retold, and the assembly proclaims their praise" (Sir 44:14-15).
We honor our parents whether or not they are honorable. We honor them because God Who is the Source of all parenting is honorable (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2214). We can honor our parents even under the worst of circumstances.
Not every child-parent relationship can be good of itself, but all of them can be right according to God's will. We can accept God's graces to forgive, repent, be reconciled, and be healed. Then we can honor our parents, give honor to God, and live honorable, loving, and victorious lives by God's grace. We can know our identity and be ourselves children of God.
THE GREATEST RELATIONSHIP POSSIBLE
"While we have the opportunity, let us do good to all menbut especially those of the household of the faith." Galatians 6:10
According to God's word, brother-sister, brother-brother, sister-sister relationships (which for practical purposes we will refer to as the brother-sister relationship) are the deepest, most important relationships possible for human beings. This is true because:
- Brother-sister relationships were the context in which Jesus chose to disciple His followers.
- Our new life in Christ has made us "blood brothers and sisters" in baptism, by grace and faith (Eph 2:8), and through the blood of Jesus.
- In brother-sister relationships we begin to understand love and grow to such maturity that we will even lay down our lives for one another (1 Jn 3:16).
- With strong brother-sister relationships as a foundation, Christian men and women can become ready for the lifetime commitment of marriage, parenting, and family life; or celibate service for the kingdom.
- We have only one set of parents and, if married, only one spouse and possibly several children. The relationship with everyone else in the Christian family is or is to be as brother and sister.
Therefore, we need good relationships with brothers and sisters of the same and opposite sex. This does not mean sexual relationships but personal, Christian relationships. Even married people need good relationships and loving support from Christian brothers and sisters, since no one person can be everything in the body of Christ to his or her spouse.
"Brother will hand over brother to death." Matthew 10:21
Because brother-sister relationships are of the greatest importance, they become a strategic battleground in spiritual warfare against the evil one. He has clouded over, confused, and made almost invisible brother-sister relationships. He especially uses four tactics. First, Satan simply denies that Baptism effects brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ. He thus denies Christ and the Church. Second, he leads us to believe that brother-sister relationships don't mean much, even though these make up almost all our relationships with Christians. For example, the "going on a date" usually has much more appeal than spending an evening of fellowship and sharing with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We value brother-sister relationships very little, almost pretending they do not exist, and rarely making them a priority. A third tactic of the devil is telling the lie that relationships cannot be meaningful without sexual activity. This lie is in direct contradiction to the Scriptures. Jesus calls some to freely renounce sex for the sake of God's reign (Mt 19:12). Obviously, the Lord, Who came that we "might have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10) would not call someone to a celibate life if sexual activity were a necessary condition for a meaningful relationship. The devil's fourth tactic goes back to sibling rivalry. Most children grow up in competition with brothers and sisters. They try to be better and get more attention than their brothers and sisters.
All of these tactics do not help us appreciate brother-sister relationships in the Lord. However, we are "to stand firm against the tactics of the devil" (Eph 6:11). So much is at stake, we will either betray our brothers and sisters or lay down our lives for them (1 Jn 3:l6).
HE'S NOT HEAVY, HE'S MY BROTHER
"I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother! Most dear have you been to me; more precious have I held love for you than love for women." 2 Samuel 1:26
Do you remember the familiar picture of the Boys Town stamp? A young boy heavily burdened carries a younger boy and touchingly says, "He's not heavy; he's my brother." This expresses the amazing depth possible in brother-sister relationships in the Lord.
The mere presence of a brother or a sister can be a lifesaving support and affirmation. For example, Paul came to Troas to preach the Gospel. The door of opportunity was opened wide for him by the Lord, but he was inwardly troubled because he did not find his brother Titus there. Paul, although not one to miss an opportunity, said good-bye to them and went off to Macedonia (2 Cor 2:12-13). Titus' presence meant so much to Paul he would not proceed without him, even with a great opportunity. Paul later says: "God, Who gives heart to those who are low in spirit, gave me strength with the arrival of Titus" (2 Cor 7:6).
Paul's relationship with the men and women of Philippi exemplifies the affection that can develop in brother-sister relationships. Paul said, "I give thanks to my God every time I think of youwhich is constantly, in every prayer I utter" (Phil 1:3). He further said, "God Himself can testify how much I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus!" (Phil 1:8) Paul loved these brothers and sisters of Philippi with the very affection of Jesus Christ.
Paul had these deeply affectionate brother-sister relationships not only with the Philippians and Titus, but also with Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila, Lydia, the Thessalonians, the Ephesians, and many others. When Paul was leaving them, the leaders of the Ephesian church wept without restraint, threw their arms around Paul, and kissed him (Acts 20:36-37). Four times, the New Testament letters exhort us to greet one another with a embrace of affection (Rm 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Pt 5:14).
The brothers and sisters of the early Church were of "one heart and one mind" (Acts 4:32). "They would sell their property and goods, dividing everything on the basis of each one's need. They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes they broke bread. With exultant and sincere hearts they took their meals in common" (Acts 2:45-46). They went so far as to make great sacrifices in sharing with one another. "Nor was there anyone needy among them, for all who owned property or houses sold them and donated the proceeds. They used to lay them at the feet of the apostles to be distributed to everyone according to his need" (Acts 4:34-35). And this was only a part of sharing their lives. Paul says: "So well disposed were we to you, in fact, that we wanted to share with you not only God's tidings but our very lives, so dear had you become to us" (1 Thes 2:8).
"All for One and One for All"
In summary, brother-sister relationships are most important in the Scriptures and in life. Although brother-sister relationships are made difficult by the devil's challenges, these relationships can have great depth. The very presence of a brother or sister can make all the difference. Pure, beautiful, wholesome, and fulfilling affection can be shown among brothers and sisters. Practical ways of sharing make brother-sister relationships not abstractions but the heart of the abundant life in Christ Jesus. The sharing and love in brother-sister relationships can be such that "if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members share its joy" (1 Cor 12:26). In brother-sister relationships, we can even be one as Jesus and God the Father are one (Jn 17:21). In this unity, we know our identity.
THE VOCATION CRISIS
"Finally, going out in late afternoon he found still others standing around. To these he said, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' 'No one has hired us,' they told him. He said, 'You go to the vineyard too.' " Matthew 20:6-7
The most serious vocation crisis today is that of the lay vocation. The vocation crises of priests and religious in North America are only symptoms of the lay vocation crisis. This crisis is so bad that most of the laity don't even know that there is such a thing as the lay vocation. A few lay persons understand that being married and raising children is a vocation, but they can hardly conceive that being salt, light (Mt 5:13, 14) and leaven (Mt 13:33) in the secular society is a vocation (see The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, 15).
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE...
"Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father." Matthew 5:16
The lay person is called to be on the front lines of evangelization, to Christianize the world, and to build the family of God as a Christian community. Vatican II taught: "Upon all the lay faithful, then, rests the exalted duty of working to assure that each day the divine plan of salvation is further extended to every person, of every era, in every part of the earth" (The Church, 33, quoted in Lay Members, 17). Pope Paul VI taught that the lay faithful's "own field of evangelization activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, as well as the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media" (On Evangelization, 70, quoted in Lay Members, 23). Pope John Paul II has taught: "The lay faithful are never to relinquish their participation in 'public life,' that is, in the many different economic, social, legislative, administrative and cultural areas" (Lay Members, 42). Vatican II has taught: "This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age" (The Church in the Modern World, 43, quoted in Lay Members, 59). It is primarily the responsibility of the lay faithful to correct this serious error. "The initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 899).
In summary, lay people have the vocation to:
- be on the front lines of evangelization.
- make disciples for Jesus among their co-workers, friends, neighbors, relatives and, especially their children.
- Christianize secular society by permeating it with the light of Christ.
- form small, grass-roots Christian communities.
"A WONDERFUL SCENE"
"The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both men and women, busy at work in their daily life and activity, often times far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world's great personages but none-the-less looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord's vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God's grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the kingdom of God in history" (Lay Members, 17).
"Lay members of Christ's faithful people," know who you are in Christ and in the secular society.
UN-COLA AND UN-MARRIED
"I am going into this with you for your own good. I have no desire to place restrictions on you, but I do want to promote what is good, what will help you to devote yourselves entirely to the Lord." 1 Corinthians 7:35
Single people need to know who they are. This is difficult because of the prejudices of our society. We call single people "un-married". But do we call married people "un-single"? Our terminology shows that our society often considers singles "un-people," who have never really "made it." However, in the New Testament the single life is not only respected, but preferred (1 Cor 7:1). The single life is a special and glorious calling for the heavenly kingdom. It is not merely a deprivation of the married life. It is not failing to have met the right person. Thus, the single life can be a gift, a decision, and a way of life for the sake of the heavenly kingdom. Thus, those single for the Lord would not marry even if proposed to any number of times by a score of holy, beautiful, handsome, attractive, rich, intelligent, and talented people. They would not want to give up their precious gift of the single life for the Lord.
SINGLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
"A daughter is a treasure that keeps her father wakeful, and worry over her drives away rest: lest she pass her prime unmarried." Sirach 42:9
Although the single life is respected in the New Testament, the people of the Old Testament considered it a great tragedy not to be married. Because they did not have much expectation of a personal afterlife, they saw themselves living on in their children, especially in their male descendants. Therefore, to be single was almost like not having life after death. However, there are a few exceptions in the Old Testament to the rejection of the single life. Isaiah prophesied there would be a time when the eunuchs, those unable to produce offspring, would no longer be excluded from the chosen people (see Dt 23:2). Eunuchs who held fast to the covenant would be given a monument and a name better than sons and daughters (Is 56:3-5). Moreover, Jeremiah is told not to marry (Jer 16:2). But this is seen as an unusual prophetic calling at the time of the devastation of the exile. The book of Wisdom makes the most positive statement in the Old Testament about the single life. Because the writer of this book emphasizes life after death, he is open to the single life. He calls blessed those childless but undefiled. The eunuch who has wrought no misdeed shall be given fidelity's choice reward and a more gratifying heritage (Wis 3:14). Here we have an intimation of the New Testament preference for the single life.
SINGLES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
"Some men are incapable of sexual activity from birth. Some have been deliberately made so; and some there are who have freely renounced sex for the sake of God's reign." Matthew 19:12
Jesus breaks open the age-old mind-set and clearly proclaims the life of freely renounced sexual activity to have great positive value for the sake of God's reign. This is a turning point in history. Jesus says it is a gift to accept this teaching of the single life's value (Mt 19:11). Paul also implies this (1 Cor 7:7). Therefore, you can't be single just because you decide to be. You must have that gift. However, if you do have the gift, you are not automatically single, but must decide to accept that gift. Paul advises a person gifted with celibacy not to marry but states that if the person should choose to marry, he or she would not sin (1 Cor 7:28). Paul himself had the right to marry and could have chosen to be married like the other apostles, but he chose the single life (1 Cor 9:5). Therefore, the single life is both a gift and a decision.
FOR THE SAKE OF THE ESCHATOLOGICAL KINGDOM
"The children of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those judged worthy of a place in the age to come and of resurrection from the dead do not." Lk 20:34-35
"Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of the baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1619
Marriage as we know it on earth does not exist in heaven . Therefore, when people on earth do not marry, they witness to the reality of heaven. The single life is a most powerful expression of faith in Jesus' promise of eternal happiness. This is the main reason for the vocation of the single life and the basis for all other reasons for this vocation.
"I should like you to be free of all worries. The unmarried man is busy with the Lord's affairs, concerned with pleasing the Lord; but the married man is busy with this world's demands and occupied with pleasing his wife. This means he is divided." 1 Corinthians 7:32-33
Because the single person is undivided in doing the Lord's affairs (1 Cor 7:32-33), he or she can provide a special missionary outreach on behalf of God's kingdom. The Lord promised that when the Holy Spirit came down we were to be His "witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The fulfillment of that promise occurred when Philip converted the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:38). This eunuch took the Gospel to the ends of the earth. This is not merely an individual event but a subtle expression of God's special call for the single person to extend the Gospel, even to the ends of the earth. Moreover, Paul's choice of the single life seems to be part of his missionary calling (1 Cor 9:5). The single person often has a special part in the missionary extension of the kingdom of God. Pope John Paul II has taught: "In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many, cooperating in the realization of the family according to God's plan" (The Role of the Christian Family, 16).
SINGLE NOW MORE THAN EVER
"In the present time of stress it seems good to me for a person to continue as he is. . .Are you free of a wife? If so, do not go in search of one." 1 Corinthians 7:26-27
In a time of stress it is even more important to choose the single life. If one does not make this choice, he or she does not sin, but such a person will have trials in this life and these the Lord would like to spare him or her (1 Cor 7:28). Many see our times as times of stress. This reason for choosing the single life may apply now more than ever.
Paul gave another practical reason for choosing the single life. "The general rule is that each one should lead the life the Lord has assigned him, continuing as he was when the Lord called him. This is the rule I give in all the churches" (1 Cor 7:17). He stated this rule three times in verses 17, 20 and 24. This implies that once we have accepted God's call to His kingdom, we should proceed full speed ahead and probably not make any changes in vocation. Because many people accept God's call when they are single, they should usually stay single, although it would not be a sin to marry.
SINGLES IN GOD'S PLAN
In conclusion, if we followed the Bible's teaching on the single life, single people would know who they are in God's plan of salvation and would be much more likely to accept their gift of the single life. Therefore, there would be many more single people. They would decide on the single life at an earlier age and be content rather than undecided. The single life would be valued, meaningful, and even preferred for the sake of God's kingdom. The devil would not be able to operate as he does now. The seventy-five percent of the world that does not know Jesus would be more likely to hear the Gospel. God's kingdom would be much more developed. Thank God for the gift of the single life. "Let him accept this teaching who can" (Mt 19:12).
ON THE ROCK OR ON THE ROCKS?
"No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 3:11
Married couples must know who they are in Christ. Jesus is both the Rock-Foundation of life and marriage, and the Builder of the foundation. "Unless the Lord build the house (the family), they labor in vain who build it" (Ps 127:1). A married couple must focus on the Rock, Jesus, as their Source of strength, or they will try to draw their strength from other influences and eventually break up. Some marry and stay married for a while because of sexual attraction, but this diminishes in a few short months or years. Some stay together for the family but when the family has grown and gone, a married couple without Jesus in their relationship finds itself spiritually bankrupt. Some marry because of loneliness, and stay lonely, although surrounded by spouse and children. When they realize their purpose is not being fulfilled, they often look for a way out of the marriage. Pope John Paul II has taught: "The Church is deeply convinced that only by the acceptance of the Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and in the family capable of being fulfilled" (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, 3).
THE MIRACLE-MASTERPIECE OF MARRIAGE
"'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cling to his wife, and the two shall be made into one.' This is a great foreshadowing; I mean that it refers to Christ and the Church." Ephesians 5:31-32
Christian marriages are signs, sacraments of Christ's love for the Church. Therefore, the prerequisites for marriage are that we fall in love with Christ, the Head, and His body, the Church, to such a degree as to desire to be His living, lifelong signs to the whole world.
Marriage as a sign is comparable to a great masterpiece. If you look at a masterpiece that is in process, you may see glimmers of something special but it is not very noticeable. As the masterpiece progresses over a period of time, even years, you begin to see something totally unexplainable, something beyond the human, the very brushstrokes of God. In the same way, the miracle-masterpiece marriage gradually becomes a life-changing experience for literally thousands. On a given day not many people may be looking at it, but in time it transforms countless lives. Eventually one person tells another person, who touches another, and in a variety of ways this masterpiece changes people's lives. Over a period of years, thousands go before this masterpiece and are exposed to the miracle of God.
God works out the circumstances of life to draw attention to this living masterpiece. God may give many children to a marriage, or He may put the family in the spotlight through great suffering. Even though God would not have caused this suffering, He can use the situation to work a miracle of love and healing. For example, a handicapped child or a family member sick for years can be the setting for God to do the miraculous in and through a family. Moreover, God may develop an outstanding ministry in the family. For example, the family may have a ministry to youth, teens, the elderly, or the poor. In some way, God will put the family on the lampstand of life to be the light of His love. In a miracle-master-piece marriage, the family will do great things otherwise impossible. The marriage will be an almost undeniable sign (sacrament) of Christ's love for the Church. Pope John Paul II has taught "Every day they (spouses) may progress towards an ever richer union with each other on all levels of the body, of the character, of the heart, of the intelligence and will, of the soul revealing in this way to the Church and to the world the new communion of love, given by the grace of Christ" (The Role of the Christian Family, 19).
MARRIAGE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS)
"A wife is her husband's richest treasure, a helpmate, a steadying column." Sirach 36:24
Marriage begins (Gn 2:24) and ends the Bible (Rv 19:7). It is even referred to in the description of the heavenly wedding feast. Jesus begins His public ministry at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1 ff). The Bible does not speak of marriage frequently, but the references are strategically placed to show the importance of marriage in God's plan of salvation. Throughout the Old Testament, marriage appears sometimes promising, sometimes devastating.
The Wisdom books speak of marriage as among the greatest blessings. "He who finds a wife finds happiness; it is a favor he receives from the Lord" (Prv 18:22). "Happy the husband of a good wife, twice-lengthened are his days; a worthy wife brings joy to her husband, peaceful and full is his life. A good wife is a generous gift bestowed upon him who fears the Lord; be he rich or poor, his heart is content, and a smile is ever on his face" (Sir 26:1-4). "A gracious wife delights her husband, her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones" (Sir 26:13). "Choicest of blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person" (Sir 26:15). A happy marriage will double your days, give you a full and peaceful life, make you content, even put flesh on your bones. Married life can give deep joy and fulfillment.
However, in other sections of the Old Testament, we see the effects of sin on marriage. The first sin placed marriage and everything else under its curse (Gn 3:l6). A bad marriage is a mismatch, a donkey yoked with an ox (Sir 25:8). "With a dragon or a lion I would rather dwell than live with an evil woman" (Sir 25:15). For example, Job's life lay in ruins, but does he get any help from his wife? None at all, only more grief (Jb 2:9). Tobit suffers in a desperate situation, maligned and exiled. He gets into an argument with his wife that leads him to ask God to end it all (Tb 2:14). David also had problems with his wife, Michal. While he danced with abandon before the ark, Michal became upset and jealous (2 Sm 6:20). They had an argument which resulted in her being childless. Abigail had a husband "so mean that no one can talk to him" (1 Sm 25:17). Ahab was the worst sinner of all in the Old Testament (1 Kgs 21:25). His wife, Jezebel, cheered him on to break the record in wickedness. Solomon turned to strange gods because of his foreign wives. They helped change him from the wisest man on the face of the earth to one not totally committed to the Lord and therefore doomed (1 Kgs 11:4). Throughout the Old Testament, marriage is shown to be broken irreparably; it would take a miracle to redeem it.
MARRIAGE IN THE NEW TESTAMENT (A NEW CREATION)
"I now say to you, whoever divorces his wife (lewd conduct is a separate case) and marries another commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery." Matthew 19:9
Jesus maintained that because He is here, there need not be divorcecontrary to the experience of all peoples for thousands of years. Jesus referred to Genesis 2:24, preceding the first sin, and says: "They are no longer two but one flesh...let no man separate what God has joined" (Mt 19:6). He said the accumulated effects of centuries of sin can be erased because of Him. The impact of this statement is as startling as declaring the law of gravity no longer in effect. Only God can talk like that. When the Pharisees asked Jesus if a husband could divorce his wife for any reason whatever, they probably were not asking about the legitimacy of divorce. They assumed divorce; it was already the law (Dt 24:1). They were asking about which reasons to justify a divorce. Some thought you hardly needed any reason; others believed you needed a reason of some significance. When Jesus told the apostles divorce is no longer permitted, they could not understand and said: "If that is the case between man and wife, it is better not to marry" (Mt 19:10). Neither the Pharisees nor the disciples recognized that God was speaking. Jesus as God was creating a new world with a new marriage, and the old laws no longer apply.
HOPE FOR THE DIVORCED
"For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope." Jeremiah 29:11
Considering Jesus' prohibition of divorce, divorced people may feel that there is no hope for them. But they can still be a sign of God's love by forgiveness, repentance, healing, and especially by unilateral faithfulness in their marriage vows. Pope John Paul II has taught: "It is also proper to recognize the value of the witness of those spouses who, even when abandoned by their partner, with the strength of faith and of Christian hope have not entered a new union; these spouses too give an authentic witness to fidelity, of which the world today has a great need" (The Role of the Christian Family, 20).
A NEW CIVILIZATION OF LOVE
Pope Paul VI spoke of a "new civilization of love." Pope John Paul II has repeated this concept on several occasions, but he has also brought up the idea of a "culture of death." If Christian married couples know who they are in Christ, they will help build "a new civilization of love." Otherwise, they will extend "a culture of death."
"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect." Romans 12:2
Many parents have been formed by the world rather than transformed by the Spirit. To parent as the Bible teaches, they must leave behind the residue of secular humanism and take on the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). Parents must break free from the bondage of the secular mind-set and life-style and live in the true freedom of knowing who they are in Jesus Christ.
The purpose of parenting is the same as that of marriage, to extend and amplify our witness and outreach for Jesus. Marriage is the sign of Christ's love for the Church (Eph 5:25), a great mystery (Eph 5:32). Parenting plays a most significant part in a marriage fulfilling its God-given purpose. A mixed-up family does not speak clearly the message of God's love. However, a family parented in the Spirit will stand out and be a living witness of God's perfect, infinite, crucified, unconditional, eternal love.
SENT OUT TWO BY TWO (Lk 10:1)
"If all the members were alike, where would the body be? There are, indeed, many different members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you.' " 1 Corinthians 12:19-21
Just as it takes two to conceive a child, so it takes two to parent that child. This is not to say that one-parent families are doomed, but that children need both a mother and father. Even when one parent is absent, we can't say, "I don't need you." We need to forgive, love, and reach out to the absent or inactive spouse, and, make the best of the situation. God may call another man or woman from the Christian community who can provide what is missing in parenting the child. The Lord says: "To the fatherless be as a father, and help their mother as a husband would; thus will you be like a son to the Most High, and He will be more tender to you than a mother" (Sir 4:10).
To give the child the complete experience of parenting, children need not only two parents but also a father and mother acting in their proper and complementary differences. The following Scriptures show how husband and wife are different and complementary. Let the Spirit guide you to all truth (Jn 16:13), tell you who you are as fathers and mothers, and point out your distinctive differences.
What's in a Name?
"She is to have a son and you are to name Him Jesus." Matthew 1:21
Biblically, the father names the child. Joseph is said to have named Jesus (Mt 1:25). To name is to give the identity. Many psychologists say the identity of a child, especially the sexual identity, whether male or female, comes from the relationship with the father. The mother, on the other hand, nourishes this identity and helps the child grow into maturity.
"In the beginning was the Word." (John 1:1)
"I address you, fathers, for you have known Him Who is from the beginning. I address you, young men, for you are strong, and the word of God remains in you." 1 John 2:14
God has called and empowered fathers to teach His word. According to the Scriptures, the seed is the word (Lk 8:11), and as the man sows the seed physically, he should do the same spiritually. As the woman receives the seed, she has the responsibility to teach the children to receive and listen to the word of God. This is a most important complementary function, since faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of God (Rm 10:17). Unless the mothers can teach the children to listen, the father's ministry of the word will be much less effective. This is not to say that the mother never teaches the word but that this is primarily the father's responsibility.
Parents Are The Primary Educators
"Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it." Proverbs 22:6
"Parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it" (Pope John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family, 36). The father should lead the way in this responsibility. "Fathers, do not anger your children. Bring them up with the training and instruction befitting the Lord" (Eph 6:4). This command to train children is specifically directed to fathers. Training means to do something intensely, usually daily. "Drill them [God's words] into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest" (Dt 6:7).
The mother has the power to teach the children and others not only verbally, but non-verbally, by example. "By their good example they must teach the younger women" (Ti 2:3-4). "They have only to observe the reverent purity of your way of life" (1 Pt 3:2). Psychologically, we know the most important learning takes place less in the conscious mind than in the subconscious, which is not so affected by words as by example. This is the special opportunity of the mother. Children spend many hours of growing in the presence of their mothers. This moment by moment living is the greatest learning experience. This explains why home-schooling is such a powerfully anointed way for parents to make their children disciples of Jesus.
"The Family That Prays Together Stays Together."
"It is my wish, then, that in every place the men shall offer prayers with blameless hands held aloft." 1 Timothy 2:8
It is the father's responsibility to lead family prayer, even with hands upraised. Fathers have a special power and responsibility to bless their children's marriages, jobs, homes, cars, and investments (see Gn 27).
The mother's responsibility is not so much to lead a prayer, as to be a prayer, to be a living sacrifice (Rm 12:1). Her prayer is likened to the sanctuary lamp, a constant vigil of adoration, like "the light that shines above the holy lampstand" (Sir 26:17). The father teaches us how to pray and the mother teaches us to pray always. "Only by praying together with their children can a father and mother exercising their royal priesthood penetrate the innermost depths of their children's hearts and leave an impression that the future events in their lives will not be able to efface " (Pope John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family, 60). Fathers and mothers, lay hands on your children and pray for them daily.
"God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son which cries out 'Abba!' ('Father!')" Galatians 4:6
When Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to address the heavenly Father as "Abba," our own personal Dad. Earthly fathers should help their children have a deep, abiding trust in their heavenly Father. (A related statistic is the fact that a father's church attendance is the only factor that has been shown to effect a child's perseverance in church attendance.)
As the earthly father opens us to the heavenly Father, so mothers open us to the Holy Spirit. Mothers can teach us to receive and yield to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It is not insignificant that mother Mary prayed in the upper room for the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost. With Mary, mothers teach us to say: "Let it be done to me as you say" (Lk 1:38).
Dare to discipline
"My sons, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord." Hebrews 12:5; see also Proverbs 3:11
"Give him not his own way in his youth, and close not your eyes to his follies. Bend him to the yoke when he is young." Sirach 30:11-12
The father, according to the Bible, has the ultimate responsibility for correcting, including spanking, the child, although the mother may need to discipline the child immediately, when the father is not available. After discipline, if possible, both the father and the mother should embrace the child. Each has a role in completing the discipline and assuring that the child receives it in the right way.
Doing our own thing?
"Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered." Hebrews 5:8
The father has the primary responsibility to lead in making decisions for and with the family. In the Bible, a daughter could not make a vow or pledge without at least the tacit approval of her father (Nm 30:4-6). Traditionally, fathers decided whom their children married. In our more "enlightened" times, young, inexperienced people in the midst of an emotional experience make their own decisions about their marriage and future. However, we can't brag about our do-your-own-thing approach, considering the results. Without dictating, fathers should take much more responsibility in making decisions both for and with their children. This is not because the fathers are so smart, but because God has ordered the family in this way.
On some occasions, the mother will have the most to say about a decision, but primarily this is the father's area of responsibility. The mother leads the way in obedience so that the father's decisions will be respected and implemented. In our culture, we consider obedience as inferior to decision-making but, Biblically, it is just the opposite. The Scriptures emphasize obeying decisions much more than making them. Salvation entered the world through obedience (Rm 5:19), obedience even to death on a cross (Phil 2:8). Mothers, you are especially anointed in teaching your children to obey.
"THE MORE THE MERRIER"
"As they were returning at the end of the feast, the Child Jesus remained behind unknown to His parents. Thinking He was in the party, they continued their journey for a day, looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances." Luke 2:43-44
All these complementary differences between father and mother are important for the full parenting of children. However, we need even more for God's kind of parenting. We need Christian community. Jesus was parented in this context. He grew up not in a nuclear family, but in a strong, supportive community in which parents could be separated for two days from a twelve-year-old son and feel assured of his care by other members of the community. What a support system! Otherwise, Mary and Joseph should have been arrested for child neglect. The Bible implies even a two-parent family is not enough to parent fully. That is why we have godparents and brothers and sisters in the Lord. An African saying is: "It takes a whole village to raise a child."
PLEASURE AND HOPE IN PARENTING
In our modern society, mothers and fathers are often confused about their roles and terribly unsupported and alone. Therefore, many parents are discouraged about parenting, but God, our Father, understands their pain and has arranged things for parents to be successful.
In the fourth commandment, God makes a special promise to those who honor father and mother (Ex 20:12). If children want to live a long life that goes well, they must honor and obey their parents. Because of God's promises, bringing children into a proper relationship with their parents is the best thing we can possibly do for them and their future. And God will always grace parents to give their best to their children. Therefore, parents who know what God has promised them and who they are can be confident in Him and experience parenting as a pleasure as well as a responsibility.
Nevertheless, many parents are depressed about their children and parenting, because they are disappointed with their results. Parents, if you find yourself saying, "If I had only known this years ago...," take heart, even if your children have been taken captive by the devil, for the Lord promises captives can be taken from a tyrant and booty from the warrior (Is 49:24). Turn your family over to God. He promises: "Those who oppose you I will oppose, and your sons I will save" (Is 49:25). "This is the covenant with them which I myself have made... My Spirit which is upon you and My words that I have put into your mouth shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children nor the mouths of your children's children from now on and forever" (Is 59:21). No matter how bad it looks, no matter how many mistakes you've made, when you turn your family and parenting over to God, you will have success. You love God and love your children. "Love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pt 4:8). God will use your love to give your family victory. Believe you will see the glory of God in your family and will have a wonderful family reunion in heaven, with not one missing.
"None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die we die as His servants." Romans l4:7-8
The Christian family is the primary context for discovering our identity in all its facets. Therefore, God is very interested in family planning. He does not give the couple the responsibility to plan their family, but He does it Himself. All they need do is obey. Human beings planning their own families is tantamount to fallible, weak creatures doing the planning, while the infallible all-powerful Creator stands aside. He is not given leadership or lordship. Rather, married couples should seek God's will through prayer and bring to the Lord every aspect of their lives, including their sexual relationship. God will do the planning, sometimes including natural family planning. This kind of "planned parenthood" means God is the Parent and the Planner, and we are His obedient children.
MASTERPIECE OF MESS?
"Remember me also to the congregation that meets in their house." Romans 16:5
God plans the family so as to create a living masterpiece which stunningly exhibits Christ's love for the Church. The word "masterpiece" may be hard to relate to our everyday family lifefull of runny noses, sibling rivalries, family feuds, and miscellaneous chaos. Family life is sometimes much more a mess than a masterpiece. Yet, traditionally, the home has been a holy place, a place where God's people assemble. The Passover feast of the old covenant was always celebrated, not in the Temple or individually, but in the home. Every church for the first three hundred years of Christianity was in a home. Even today, most of the Christian world still meets in homes. In Communist and Muslim lands, the home is almost the only place for Christians to meet. In Africa and South America hundreds of thousands of home-based communities have sprung up. Since before Christ, throughout the first three hundred years of Christianity and even to our present day, homes have been holy places, domestic churches, small communities.
"Again I tell you, if two of you join your voices (agree) on earth to pray for anything whatever, it shall be granted you by My Father in heaven." Matthew 18:19
How does a home become a community? As we pray, the Lord plans the family. It begins with husbands and wives, and parents and children praying together. A family can benefit from a family altar, where the Sacred Heart or the Bible is enthroned, or from a May altar where the family asks Mary's intercession. We might dedicate our family altar by having a home Mass. "In their homes they broke bread (Eucharist)" (Acts 2:46). In the early Church, all Masses were home Masses.
The prayer of the couple is extremely important. If husband and wife cannot pray together, they have a problem more serious than not being able to have sexual relations. A "mixed marriage" might be considered not merely people of different denominations marrying, but people who, whatever their denominations, cannot share prayer together. Husbands and wives should pray together in some way every day. Without this prayer, there is little hope for the marriage to be a masterpiece. The following statistics from 1986 support this: "Nationally, one out of every two marriages end in divorce. But couples who are married in church and continue to attend church weekly do not have a one in two divorce rate. Instead, only one in 50 of their marriages end in divorce. And among couples who marry in church, attend church weekly together, and pray together in their home: only one in 1105 of these get divorced."
This may be depressing to some of you because you know your husband or wife is not open to prayer. Do not despair. Pray daily for that wonderful day when your marriage will begin anew, that day when you will pray together. Even if it's only a moment (like praying the Lord's Prayer) you are still praying together. The prayer of a couple is so important that the devil fights desperately on this battlefront and makes something that seems easy extremely difficult. This degree of difficulty is a clue that a couple praying together is crucial for family life and the building of God's kingdom.
"As they were returning at the end of the feast, the Child Jesus remained behind unknown to His parents. Thinking He was in the party, they continued their journey for a day, looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances." Luke 2:43-44
God did not make families to go it alone, but to be greatly supported by many members and gifts of the body of Christ. We need extended families, including godparents, relatives, neighbors, other parents, and single parents. As the family reaches out to others, it grows like the mustard seed, becoming a large bush with branches in which the birds of the air nest (see Mt 13:31-32). The family provides shelter for other couples as they struggle to build their family life. It offers nesting places for single-parent families. A family can be a small community, a home and refuge in a world where so many are homeless, lost, and lonely.
THE FAMILY OF THE FUTURE
"And how can they believe unless they have heard of Him?" Romans 10:14
Pope John Paul II says the future of world evangelization lies primarily with the family (The Role of the Christian Family, 52). This statement may surprise us. We may think missionaries, mass media, millionaires, or international leaders are the key to world evangelization, but no, it is our families.
Jesus said we should be His witnesses "in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Here Jesus gave us the order of evangelization. It begins right where we are, and then next door, and finally to the ends of the earth. Applying this to family life, our Christian witness begins with our own wives or husbands, then our children, families, neighbors and relatives, and finally out to the ends of the earth. God does not want us to skip over any parts of that order. We should not forget about our wives and children and spend our time working in the "foreign missions." That does not mean everyone in the household must be committed to Jesus before we move on, but the whole family will have heard the good news and seen it lived out in our everyday lives.
After our families have had this opportunity to hear the good news, God will give our families special ministries with special gifts to accomplish greater outreach. For example, Philip, the deacon, had four daughters all gifted with prophecy (Acts 21:9). What a masterpiece-family they must have been! Timothy's mother and grandmother taught him the Scriptures from his infancy (2 Tm 3:15). Lydia had a home-community anointed with a great gift of hospitality (Acts 16:15). What may be the special gifts of your family-community?
THE VALUE OF SUFFERING IN FAMILY LIFE
"They were my fellow workers in the service of Christ Jesus and even risked their lives for the sake of mine." Romans 16:3-4
As the family reaches out even to the ends of the earth, it will be rejected and persecuted. It will share in Christ's sufferings by being "formed into the pattern of His death" (Phil 3:10). We see this in the most renowned home-community of the Bible, the home of Priscilla and Aquila. This couple actually risked their lives for the sake of Paul (Rm 16:4). Prior to this they had been driven out of Italy because of the Roman persecution of the Jews (Acts 18:2). They came to Corinth and there met Paul. He had just had a terrible experience in Athens and seemed to be licking his wounds. Through their support, Paul became recharged and returned to full ministry (Acts 18:1-4). This couple also helped open Apollos to the full gospel and power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 18:24-28). God used them mightily to touch key leaders, supporting and transforming these special instruments of God. Therefore, Paul said: "Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them" (Rm 16:4). Here we have a home-community formed by suffering, persecution, risked lives, and shared failures.
Pope John Paul II has taught: "It is suffering more than anything else, which clears the way for grace which transforms the human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption" (On the Christian Meaning of Suffering, 27). God may give your home-community special trials, for example, a handicapped child, a sudden death, family breakdown, or long-term sickness. In these trials your home will receive miraculous graces so that in time your family will touch the hearts of even the most hardened persons. Your home-community will make its ultimate expression through the fellowship of suffering, proclaiming Christ's love for the Church, the truth of the gospel message, and eternal life for all who believe in Jesus.
THE FAMILY: ALL OR NOTHING?
"I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." Deuteronomy 30:19
At this moment in history, the family may be going through its greatest crisis, an identity crisis. It will either become a home-community a center of prayer, evangelization, discipleship, work, and hospitality in Jesus' name or a terrible aberration, a mere stopover as people wander around aimlessly in a lonely and perverted world. Our children will either become disciples of Christ or monsters of the world. Marriage will either be a masterpiece or a mockery. Make your home a Christian community.
A FAMILY PRAYER
"That is why I kneel before the Father from Whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name." Ephesians 3:14-15
We pray that the Father bestows on our families gifts in keeping with the riches of His glory (Eph 3:16).
May our families be strengthened inwardly through the working of the Holy Spirit (Eph 3:16). May Christ dwell in our hearts through faith (Eph 3:17). May charity, or love, be the root and foundation of our lives (Eph 3:17).
Finally, we pray for our families to be able to grasp fully the length and breadth and height and depth of Christ's love and to experience this love, so we may attain to the fullness of God Himself (Eph 3:18-19).
Who are you? Look not at yourself, but look into the eyes of the crucified risen and glorified Jesus. Your sex is God-ordained. You are the beloved son or daughter of the Father. You are a brother or sister to Jesus.You are a "lay member of Christ's faithful people." For those who are married in the Lord, your marriage can be a living sacrament of Christ's love for the Church. Some of you are privileged and anointed to make your children disciples of Jesus. Others have decided to accept God's gift to be single for the kingdom. You are a holy family, a home that is a church. Your vocations are precious. Who are you? You are a miracle and a masterpiece in God's new creation. You are "beloved" by Love Himself (see 1 Jn 4:16).
Excerpts from Scripture are taken from The New American Bible, copyright 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., and are used by permission of the copyright holder. All rights reserved.
Nihil obstat: Reverend Robert J. Buschmiller, February 22, 1996.
Imprimatur: Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, February 26, 1996.