Families find inspiration in bishop’s exhortation to holiness, strong marriage

‘Complete My Joy’ — In major new document, Bishop Olmsted urges fathers, mothers to commit families to a deeper relationship with Christ

“St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.”

“St. Faustina, pray for us.”

One by one, each child recited the name of a saint that came to mind. This wasn’t at a Catholic school or a parish youth group. This was in what Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted referred to as the “littlest living cell of the Church” — the family.

Seated around the family living room, Sean and Aryn Sylvester lead their seven children in nighttime prayers, which this night included prayers to the Guardian Angel and St. Michael the Archangel, followed by their kids’ litany of saints, before they went to bed.

In his new apostolic exhortation, “Complete My Joy,” Bishop Olmsted hoped to reach all husbands and wives and mothers and fathers, like the Sylvesters, throughout the Diocese of Phoenix, calling them to lead their families to holiness.

“It’s not a small thing to love your wife. It’s not a small thing to love your husband. It’s not a small thing to welcome another child into your home and all the sacrifices that that entails day in and day out for a long period of time,” Bishop Olmsted said in a video promoting the exhortation. “That’s why we see it as a great privilege, but also a great duty, that we strengthen married couples, that we encourage them, and that we remind them that their vocation is a vital contribution to the world.”

COMPLETE MY JOY: Read, download, listen and share: family.dphx.org

EN ESPAÑOL: Familias encuentran inspiración por exhortación a santidad, matrimonios fuertes

The Sylvesters, who are involved in the Restore Dignity ministry and are active parishioners at St. Mary in Chandler, said they appreciated that “Complete My Joy” was realistic in recognizing where couples may be in their spiritual lives but challenged them to attain a higher goal.

“He wasn’t afraid to go into different areas of marriage, like the struggles, the sexuality, he really just covered so much,” reflected Aryn. “And I really appreciated the simple prayers and the simple suggestions that he had. … It seems attainable. His suggestions weren’t, to me, way out there.”

In August 2018, Bishop Olmsted met with people from around the diocese who were experts in a variety of family-related topics, such as healing, marriage, divorce, child-raising, psychology and theology. These discussions led to “Complete My Joy,” which was promulgated and released to the public on Dec. 30, 2018, the Feast of the Holy Family.

“Bishop Olmsted wanted to directly teach those that are living the call to the domestic church in his diocese,” said Mike Phelan, diocesan director of Marriage and Respect Life. “He’s convinced that if the family is thriving, the Church will thrive, and if the family is not thriving, the Church cannot thrive.”

Phelan, himself the father of six, said that family relationships are in a state of crisis, with divorce rates remaining high and marriage rates dropping.

“Young people’s hopes for marriage and decisions to become married, especially in the Church, are dropping,” he said. “Between confirmations and the time of marriage in our culture, there’s a big, wide space during which, for many reasons, young people are deciding not to marry.”

“Bishop Olmsted wanted to directly teach those that are living the call to the domestic church in his diocese,” said Mike Phelan, diocesan director of Marriage and Respect Life. “He’s convinced that if the family is thriving, the Church will thrive, and if the family is not thriving, the Church cannot thrive.”

Fr. Charlie Goraieb, parochial vicar at St. Louis the King Parish in Glendale, said he has observed as a pastor the family being undermined and attacked. In particular, he emphasized the father’s role as the spiritual head of the family.

“There have been studies that when the father is fully invested in his faith and is strongly committed to living out the Catholic faith from his heart, that there’s about a 70 percent chance that his children will continue in the faith,” Fr. Goraieb said. “If the mother is the one in the family who leads the faith — and she can be, for all intents and purposes, a saint — but the father is indifferent or absent in the faith formation of the children, there’s only about a 10 percent chance that those children will continue in the faith.”

In “Complete My Joy,” the bishop delved into the differences in the roles of the mothers and fathers, something that touched St. Joan of Arc parishioners and long-time Natural Family Planning instructors John and Armida Escárcega.

“As a father and as a mother, we need to recognize that we’re also male and female and that we have differences,” reflected John. “One of the things that we did not do well early on in our marriage is try to understand those differences.”

The Escárcegas, who now have five adult children, shared that the bishop’s exhortation is for everyone, not just couples with young children.

“It would be a mistake to think that this is not for couples with kids that are grown and gone away because what I have found is that I still have a family,” reflected Armida, who assisted with translating “Complete My Joy” into Spanish. “So, there’s more need of prayer between John and me so that we can help our children as they are away. We’re in the same battle — we just changed our position.”

The bishop emphasized the importance of praying together as a couple and cultivating the relationship, which can spill over into the rest of the family.

“A strong family allows a young boy or girl to thrive in who they are and to know themselves, to know God, know God’s love, know that they are loved by their family,” said Fr. Paul Sullivan, diocesan director of vocations. “To the extent that the environment that young people grow up in is stable and loving, we will be doing the greatest thing we can to help children to someday be able to follow God’s will. Ultimately it comes from knowing God’s love and being able to receive that. Family gives the stability to receive love.”

Making time for each other as a couple requires sacrifice, but can lead to a joy-filled marriage, said John Escárcega, adding that he appreciated that the exhortation provides the tools to reach that goal.

“Marriage definitely, as mentioned in the exhortation, requires sacrifice. Today people don’t realize that that’s a requirement,” he said. “It’s something just inherent in marriage itself. When we go into marriage, we learn how to be self-giving, how to love, and in the end, that self-giving love is how we reflect the Trinity.”

Prayer in the family could be something as simple as saying a few prayers before bedtime, Phelan said. A prayer guide accompanying “Complete My Joy” that includes practical suggestions for prayers as a family will be available on Feb. 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.

“You don’t have to do everything all at once, but as you add prayer into your daily routine as a family, you will experience peace,” Phelan said. “Even if you begin with really young children with one decade of the Rosary every night, they will learn, they will pick up the rhythm, they will sense the peaceful happiness that comes with prayer as a family.”

In addition to the call to evangelize their children, families are also called to evangelize other families and to make their homes a “center of hospitality,” writes Bishop Olmsted.

“Because we are younger with older kids, a lot of the couples we know that are our age have younger children — they’re usually 11 at the oldest,” reflected Sean Sylvester. “A lot of the evangelization has been through mentoring younger families. What do you do when you have a 4-year-old that doesn’t sit still? What do you do when you have a 6-year-old that, you come home from a special ‘mommy and me’ day and now all of a sudden she has a meltdown when it’s time to go to bed? It’s mentoring, evangelizing, helping.”

COMPLETE MY JOY: Read, download, listen and share: family.dphx.org