Wednesday, August 27, 2008

All in the Family

This article was submitted for use by the Saint John's Society and for its website,

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him."
-Romans 8:14-17

For Catholics, it is not necessary to stress the importance of family in our spiritual lives. The family bond permeates Scripture and the Magisterium: two of the Persons of the Trinity are Father and Son, and Mary is called Mother of God. As shown in the passage from Romans, Christ’s paschal sacrifice initiated us into the New Covenant as God’s children, a familial bond stronger than any contract of ink and paper—rather, it is a bond sealed in our blood.

Jesus also taught us the importance of close friendship. Though Platonic love has been exalted since antiquity, Christ gave us the true model of friendship in his relationship with his Apostles. He laid His life down for His friends, exemplifying the highest kind of love (John 15:12-17). Similarly, we are called to be a friend to Jesus. This is why the St. John Society commits to loving Jesus as friend: for the simple reason that he asked it of us.

While we acknowledge the importance of family and friends, we too often view their importance within the frame of their assistance in our personal salvation. I thank my girlfriend for her help in guiding me lovingly back into the Church, but it is not enough to love her for what she has done for me. It is a selfish and fruitless love that does not strive for the other’s salvation but instead looks always inward at itself.

Even this we know because Christ himself told us on the Mount: "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?" (Matthew 5:46)

And yet some may take this, coupled with other commands from Christ to evangelize, primarily as an order to go out and find those who do not love us and bring Christ to them. This is not a bad thing, but can sometimes lead to evangelizing only strangers.

It is sometimes easier to speak about Jesus to those we don’t know very well; they don’t know our pasts and will likely not call us hypocrites, they do not associate us with their past spiritual experiences and so might be more open to receiving what we say about Christ, and there is no prior friendship to make "awkward" by speaking of spiritual things.

Just as Jesus came to save the whole world, we are called to evangelize the world. But let us never pretend that "the world" does not include those closest to us.

For all of the reasons evangelizing a stranger can be easier, bringing Jesus to those close to us can seem a discomforting and impossible task.
My family is nominally Catholic: my father was raised in the faith, one brother and I graduated from Jesuit High School, and both my younger brothers attend Catholic schools. Despite all the opportunities we have had to know Christ, none of my family understands the Mass or the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. My oldest brother became a Presbyterian after feeling the Catholic Church was too boring, stiff, and exclusive; my other older brother is a fully confused agnostic, to the point of being perfectly certain of his uncertainty. My father and younger brothers rarely go to Mass, and have placed religion at the bottom of their priority list.

It seems I am the only one of my family who knows Jesus, and yet I happily lead retreats to evangelize those I’ve never even met before rather than help my family. I don’t really show that I love those who love me, like some kind of inverted tax collector.

However, we always have our example in Jesus. Jesus seeks a personal relationship with every person and loves each of them in a way that we can only imagine. Still, Jesus did not have the same relationship with everyone. From the world, Jesus picked the Twelve Apostles. From the Apostles, our Lord had His favorite three: Peter, James, and John. And of the three only John is known as the beloved disciple, the only Apostle present at the crucifixion.

Similarly, we are called to treat all those we meet with charity, but have a greater obligation toward those we already know. We have still a greater duty to our immediate family, especially our children. Yet, if we are called to marriage, our greatest familial obligation is to our spouse, the one who lies closest to our breast as John did with Jesus.

In an age when we are bombarded with information, some true but much false, how can we let our spouse, child, sibling, parent, boyfriend, or girlfriend learn about Jesus from anyone besides us, we who claim to love and know Him?

The reality is that we are where we are, and that is no accident. It is not coincidence that we have been given the family and friends we have—God has chosen them for us and us for them. And because everything comes from the Lord and is therefore His, the family and friends we’ve been given are also His.

When we do our daily devotions, we offer God not only our bodies, but also our freedom, memory, understanding, and will. We turn them back to Him, to be guided by His will. If we strive to put all of these gifts back into God’s hands, let us also remember to give back some of his greatest gifts: our friends and family.