Fathers and mothers have the ability and responsibility to lead their families to holiness, wrote Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in an apostolic exhortation published Dec. 30.
The apostolic exhortation, titled “Complete My Joy,” is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians when the Apostle challenges the reader to “make my joy complete” (Phil 1:27-2:2).
“Over these past 50 years, countless faithful Catholics have surely attained the goal of their lives — eternal salvation. Credit here is due to the rich mercy of God, to the dedicated priests and religious who have served our Diocese so well, and to you and the many faithful families who have lived — and continue to live — your vocations with generosity and even, at times, heroism,” Bishop Olmsted wrote in his introduction.
The bishop begins by recounting his own family upbringing and the role it played in his own vocation.
“When I consider the blessings that God has bestowed on me in my life, second only to my Baptism into Christ’s family is the blessing of being raised in a faithful and united Catholic family,” he writes. “My parents, Patrick and Helen, committed themselves to God in the vocation to Holy Matrimony, and this provided a stability for me to grow as their son and as a son of God.”
Bishop Olmsted promulgated the apostolic exhortation on the Feast of the Holy Family. It’s released as the Diocese of Phoenix 50th anniversary Jubilee Year of the Family kicks off.
The nature of the family
The family — husband, wife and any children they may have — is an image of the Most Holy Trinity, the bishop writes, citing several recent popes. By its very nature, “your family” is a communion of love
“The Christian family is also the littlest living cell of the Church — the domestic church,” he writes. “Your home is, and is called to grow, as an outpost of the mission of the Church militant on earth, in union and service with your parish.”
Sharing a parable of a philosopher and student, Bishop Olmsted emphasized the importance of the role of parents. The philosopher invited the student to see his garden, which was full of weeds and the picture of neglect. When the student called the garden a mess, the philosopher replied, “just like the uncultivated soul.”
“The married couple’s family home is a life- and love-giving center in the world for as long as they both shall live, all the way to their Heavenly home,” he writes. “Simply put, the family is a big deal because it is the God-given and natural ‘soil’ meant for each new child’s growth.”
The bishop also emphasized the role parents play in exercising responsible authority and educating their children.
“Your judicious, patient, loving and determined exercise of authority is a protection of your children, a key gravity-center in their education, which requires a readiness to obey legitimate authority,” he writes. “No matter what challenges you face in your family in living God’s plan, the Lord has more grace in store than you can imagine. The nature of the family is a gift and a calling to life and love.”
“The Christian family is also the littlest living cell of the Church — the domestic church. Your home is, and is called to grow, as an outpost of the mission of the Church militant on earth, in union and service with your parish.”
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted
The mission of the family
The mission of every Christian family, writes Bishop Olmsted, is to heal and re-evangelize the Body of Christ, “so that the light of Christ can shine forth to all peoples.” Part of this is to live a chaste life, which isn’t celibacy, but rather self-control in sexuality so as to will the good of the other.
“Chastity actually liberates true sexual love! It opposes the slavery caused by its opposite vice: lust,” he writes. “The chaste couple can live their sexual relationship beautifully.”
For the struggle with unchastity and every other vice, the grace and mercy of Christ is readily available, the bishop writes, as he encourages all to make frequent use of the sacrament of Confession.
Bishop Olmsted then addressed the different gifts mothers and fathers bring to a family. Citing St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a martyr of Auschwitz, the bishop writes that women are naturally called to cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance the growth of others. Fathers, meanwhile, bring the gift of security and stability, serving as “provider, protector and spiritual leader.”
Those blessed with strong marriages are called to evangelize to other families in their parishes and greater communities, writes Bishop Olmsted, urging couples to find ways to get involved in their parishes or other apostolates.
“Reach out to those around you that have need of a welcome. Hospitality in the domestic church is a true front in the New Evangelization of our contemporaries,” writes the bishop. “You are disciples of Christ, precisely as married couples living the truth of the domestic church, and are called to become apostles to other families within your parish or in other key areas of evangelization. I urge you to greater involvement in the marriage and family apostolate.”
Suffering, sin and healing
Today, woundedness in families is very apparent, and no family is without its sufferings, but this is why the Church is a place of spiritual healing, writes Bishop Olmsted.
“Families of faith, the Church desires to be your support and guide as you navigate daily life in the hostility of the post-modern climate.”
Families notably face a world of extreme busyness that can leave them drained and disconnected and can lead to difficulty in not being present physically and emotionally. Addictions to technology can also sever the bonds of intimacy and love.
“Left alone, even while home together, family members may find themselves turning more and more to shallow entertainment. Children and parents are left lonely in their own homes,” writes Bishop Olmsted.
As an example to parents, the bishop lifts up Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of five women who entered religious life, including the doctor of the Church St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Married in 1858, they knew suffering well, he writes, and in 2015 they were the first married couple in the history of the Church to be canonized together.
“They are in heaven, but still always concerned with the Church militant below,” he writes. “In raising this married couple to the altars, the Church gives them to you, mothers and fathers, as witnesses to the joy of the restorative hope of the resurrection, to the grace to bear the heaviest crosses and to the sanctity of marriage and family life.”
Strengthening family life
In order to strengthen family life and carry out its mission, Bishop Olmsted offered six guidelines for parents to carry out: keeping holy the Lord’s day; monthly Confession; a consistent daily family meal; spending time together as spouses; establishing clear digital boundaries; and consecrating the family home to Mary.
“I want to especially encourage you to bring your young children to Mass. Your presence is wanted and needed among us in the family of the Church,” he writes. “While the squirming or crying of children may seem bothersome, these certainly do not block your reception of God’s grace. … Present at Mass during these early years, your children are learning the rhythm of relationship with the Lord and His Church.”
The bishop encouraged spouses to strengthen their relationships with each other by spending time away together, adoring the Blessed Sacrament together and participating in an annual weekend retreat. Noting that Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the diocese, every family should have an image of her in the house in a place of honor, he adds, and to invite her intercession by consecrating the family to Jesus “through her Immaculate Heart.”
Bishop Olmsted concluded by offering the example of Pope St. John Paul II, the “pope of the family,” who received from his parents the gift of faith.
“It is not by chance that Jesus called you and me to be His witnesses at this troubled time in history, in the post-sexual revolution confusion,” he writes.
“For reasons known only to Christ, He has chosen you whom He has joined in marriage to be, at this time in history, an icon of His love for His Bride the Church. When you make sacrifices, then, for one another, when you encourage and forgive each other, when you worship the Lord together, when you welcome children and raise them in the practice of the Catholic faith, you are helping our skeptical generation to believe that free, total, faithful and fruitful love is still possible.”