Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Holy Families–Beacons of Hope for a Troubled World

Opening Mass of 2014 Synod on the Family
The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization” is now underway in Rome. It's attempting to discern the most effective ways to show the world the inherent beauty and value of the family rooted in Christ’s Gospel, which dispels fear and nurtures hope. World Communications Day, 2015 is also planned to highlight the family. Clearly, the Church is focused on the family as the vital cell of all societies. We are all invited to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as our bishops seek new ways to meet the challenges our families face today.

We McMillans have always been struck by the manner in which God chose to save our broken world: through a humble family, just like the one in which most of us entered this world. There we learned to know right from wrong, to forgive and be forgiven, to share, to sacrifice, to grow into our adult selves, and to find our way in the world.  Christ could just as easily have come out of the desert, or come down in glory in a cloud. Yet God, in his infinite wisdom, saw fit that the Redemption of all humanity should have its terrestrial roots in the family.

Blessed James Alberione was graced with insight about the importance of the family in God’s plan for salvation when he envisioned lay groups, such as the Cooperators and the Holy Family Institute, as vital branches of the Pauline Family.  He saw in the Holy Family of Nazareth that perfect model for all families, and realized that the family would have to play a critical role in restoring what had been lost. Our Lord spent about ninety percent of his life in that little workshop of Nazareth, learning and growing in holiness at the side of Mary and Joseph before starting his public life. Before Christ had his first disciple he had already sanctified the family. How logical, then, that we too, should look to sanctifying the family as a critical part of building God’s kingdom here on earth.

As we strive to follow Christ’s Gospel, we share in the Church’s mission of sanctifying the world with a special emphasis on the family as a path to holiness. Many Cooperators and HFI members are fully in the world both as spouses and promised or consecrated lay persons, praying and working for the sanctification of all families and for the world through all families. It is precisely from this vantage point that we can be most effective by working to evangelize–through our lives and our actions.

There's something truly special about the family as a school, a path, of holiness, especially when founded in obedience to the urgings God places in our hearts, clothed in the grace of the sacrament of Matrimony. We personally could not have fully understood the importance of that grace in our marriage before facing the challenges of leaving our individual selves behind to create a new family together, or facing the sorrows and difficulties of life together. This is where we taught our daughters to go outside themselves and seek what is good for others, as our parents once gently urged us. This is where Luisa and I learned as spouses to set aside our selfish interests and to desire what is best for our beloved. This is where we all learn to practice patience, forgiveness, and sacrifice, and to be faithful and obedient to God, to our spouse, to our parents.

All these aspects of family life are immediately recognizable to everyone, yet it can be difficult to see them as tools of sanctification when we are in the midst of living the challenges of family life, with all the familiar drama, pain, and regrets that make up our human baggage. Yet the virtues we learn to practice are unmistakable if we take a moment to reflect on them: We see now the faith and hope God strengthened in us after we suffered multiple miscarriages and were still able to remain eager and open to the precious grace of co-creation to which God invited us. What parent’s heart doesn’t melt upon seeing their children practice true Christian charity, not because we told them to, but out of love? We don’t know how we could have faced some of life’s challenges without the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, strengthened in communion around the dinner table, in bedside prayers, and by loving each another despite our individual failings.

Consider that, each time you step out of your own self-interest to do the smallest service for your spouse or child, you are sanctifying yourself, your family and the world. We families evangelize by striving to live the Gospel, and although we all do it imperfectly to some extent, it is in the striving that we are sanctified, and the world we touch is also sanctified. Let us pray that all families may recognize this awesome grace and fulfill their role as cradles of sanctification in our world. May God’s restoration flow through our families and shine brightly as a beacon of hope and love in a world plagued by shadows and fear.

Prayer to the Holy Family for the Synod 
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love; to you we turn with trust. Holy Family of Nazareth, grant that our families, too may be places of communion and prayer, authentic schools of the Gospel and small domestic Churches. Holy Family of Nazareth, may families never again experience violence, rejection and division; may all who have been hurt or scandalized find ready comfort and healing. Holy Family of Nazareth, may the Synod of Bishops make us once more mindful of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer. Amen. (
Jim and Luisa McMillan are members of the Holy Family Institute, which they entered in Colombia in 2000. They currently reside in Colorado with their youngest daughter, Maria, where they work as translators and interpreters. Their oldest daughter, Gabriela, is married and lives in New York with her husband, Fidel. Sara is currently attending graduate school in Michigan.

1 comment:

Margaret Kerry, fsp said...

My mom is pronouncing her vows in the Institute this October 22, 2014. The parish will be introduced to the Institute in this way since she is the first in this area to join the HFI and hopefully others will be inspired to look into it. To be a Pauline Cooperator is to also have a place in the HFI as a member of the Pauline Family, just as the Daughter of St Paul is a member of the family and shares in the graces, mission, and life of every Institute Alberione founded. There is no hierarcy of place. There is, as Paul said of Christ's body the Church, a familly that images Paul alive today, everyone with a vocation to evangelize according to their call.