As we celebrate God Incarnate at Christmas and honor Mary, the Mother of God, at the beginning of the New Year, the Pauline Family can count its blessings in a spirit of deep gratitude. In its universal mission to spread the Gospel by all modern means, Paulines are granted a very worthy share in the New Evangelization. In that spirit, as a member of the Holy Family Institute, I would like to briefly, yet deeply, muse with you on our institute’s part in our common Pauline vocation: to remind the world of the beauty of Christian family life.
There has been much talk, not all of it accurate, on the Church’s response to the challenges of modern families. There is no need to list all the ways that marriage has been redefined, its permanent nature questioned, and fruitful and large families marginalized or frankly ignored. The Extraordinary Synod on the family held in Rome this last October was the flash point for the current controversial state of affairs. Despite some turbulent miscommunication, though, the Synod offered many helpful guides for the family. The final document, rich in proclaiming eternal truth, emphasizes that the family is a small domestic church and is the fundamental building block of a civilization of love. It is in the family that human love is first expressed and received, and ultimately, divine Love tasted. Therefore, the Holy Family Institute, with its consecrated married life, plays a unique role in the Pauline Family. Even if not directly involved in publication and distribution, its lay married members, are essential to the media apostolate, which they serve in an integral way through their witness and prayers. Prayer and example are the tools of their trade.
As I reflect on the many spiritual friendships, holy witnesses, and the solid formation found in the Holy Family Institute, my heart is very thankful and filled with Pauline joy. The charism of the Pauline Family animates much of my life’s work.
However, gratitude must, in the end, lead to action! How is my consecrated life building up the Body of Christ, the holy Church? Have I accompanied the doubtful, properly informed the poorly catechized, offered spiritual solace to the suffering? An honest examination more than often finds that failures abound, with a hint of hypocrisy along the way. (Ask my family!) Yet, the ideals of our Pauline life, coupled with a desire to imitate the Holy Family more consistently, are a constant encouragement on life’s path.
I have found that my Pauline commitment animates every aspect of my life, but perhaps especially my work as a doctor. When I have to break bad news or when I spend time counseling the dying, I often invoke the intercession of our founder or other blessed Paulines (for instance, Blessed Timothy Giaccardo). When I write or speak on topics concerning Catholic medical ethics, I pray for the assistance of St. Paul—the greatest of all religious communicators! I offer my sufferings—watching illness ravage those I love, losing the time I had hoped to spend with my family, or facing problems that cannot be solved—for the Pauline apostolate. I pray that souls touched by the media produced by Paulines find the guidance and solace they so desperately need. This keeps the apostolic work of Paulines throughout the world much closer to my heart. I have also kept a prayer connection with fellow Holy Family Institute members that have gone to meet our Savior in death.
My daily Pauline life may not seem very extraordinary, but neither were the 30 years that Jesus lived in obscurity. My own family life is very much like that of the Holy Family in its hiddenness and routine fulfillment of duty. Again, it is all about family, both human and divine.
Blessed James Alberione cultivated a great to devotion to our Blessed Mother and her earthly spouse, Joseph. He shared that devotion with all in the Pauline Family—religious orders, secular institutes, and Pauline Cooperators. In Mary and Joseph he saw the prototype for the perfection of the human family. In their lives of sacrificial love and marital devotion, they manifested all the virtues worthy of imitation by families today. Through the evangelical counsels (religious vows) of poverty, chastity and obedience, a Christian couple finds ample opportunities to live in discipleship. The Holy Family Institute’s calling to live these vows faithfully with Pauline ardor is our way of proclaiming the Gospel.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family (Dec. 28), we can all look to Mary and Joseph for inspiration. The Synod on the Family reminded us: “The family is uniquely important to the Church and in these times, when all believers are invited to think of others rather than themselves, the family needs to be rediscovered as the essential agent in the work of evangelization” (Relatio Synodi, 2).
It is the prayer of all Holy Family Institute members that we faithfully live our lives as married and consecrated persons in union with the entire Pauline Family and all its apostolic work throughout the world. What a blessing for us all!
Editor’s note: If you think you’ve read these thoughts before, you’re not far off the mark. At the beginning of the Synod, HFI members Jim and Luisa McMillan reflected on their family life along similar lines, even though the circumstances are different. Compare the two: http://paulinelaity.blogspot.com/2014/10/holy-familiesbeacons-of-hope-for.html. How do they compare with your own family or communal life?
Photo: Sr. Irene R. Hoernschemeyer, FSP
Greg F. Burke, MD, has been a perpetually professed member of the Holy Family Institute for five years. He and Kimberly, his wife of 23 years, have four daughters. Greg works as a general internist and is Chief Patient Experience Officer in the Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, PA. Kim is a nurse and religious education coordinator. Greg also serves as president of the Harrisburg Guild of the Catholic Medical Assn. and was awarded the Benemerenti Medal for his service, by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.