Family Is Gift That Requires Responsible Stewardship
Saint Louis Review – Archbishop Robert J. Carlson – March 7, 2012
Generally speaking, families go through three phases. In the first phase, the parents care for their young children. In the second, or middle, phase, the parents and their growing children (young adults and/or adults) all care for one another. And in the final phase of a family’s life cycle, the adult children care for their aging parents.
This is the way it should be. Countless stories in the Old Testament give witness to the importance of families caring for one another. The New Testament carries on this tradition with Mary and Joseph accepting the profound and dangerous responsibility for the well-being and safety of the Christ child (first phase), with Mary telling the servants at the wedding in Cana to do whatever her adult child tells them (second phase), and with the Crucified Lord handing over his sorrowing mother to the care of His beloved disciple John (third phase).
Families care for one another. Parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins all receive from God one of life’s most serious stewardship responsibilities: to nurture, respect, take care of, and share generously the gift of family life.
Today this profound responsibility is too easily taken for granted or set aside. Too often the responsibility to care for family members (whether young or old) is entrusted to someone else. Or neglected. Or abused.
A society that encourages — or even merely allows — its family members to neglect their obligation to care for one another is morally bankrupt. Family is the first principle of social organization. The health and vitality of family life correlates directly with the health and vitality of all the organizational units in that society. Government and the whole of organized society are weak and disordered to the extent that family life is devalued, neglected or abused.
In recent months, we Missourians have witnessed a number of sad, even horrifying, stories of neglect and abuse. News accounts of mothers who have abandoned, abused or even murdered their children leave us all heartbroken. Fathers who simply walk away from their parental responsibilities are all too common in our society. Adult children who ignore or abuse their elderly parents show that selfishness motivates their lives. Siblings who fight among themselves or have no contact with one another for years contribute directly to the decline in moral values and human decency.
This is not the way it should be. God’s plan for family life is radically different. In fact, God has revealed Himself to be the essence of family life through the Holy Trinity. God is a family — a communion of love and respect between a lover (the Father) and His beloved (the Son) and the love they share with us (the Holy Spirit). In God, there is no self-centeredness or division or disrespect. There is no bickering or jealousy. There is only generous, life-giving, creative and redemptive love.
God wants our families to be like Him. He wants us to be perfect as He is perfect (Matthew 5:48), which means being merciful (forgiving) and generous (self-sacrificing) and full of care and concern for others.
How are we doing? Do we let our anger erupt into physical abuse or are we patient and forgiving? Do we cast guilt and negativity on one another or do we encourage and affirm the members of our family? Do we use our sexuality as a means of self-gratification or are we loving and life-giving in accordance with God’s plan?
When we neglect our responsibilities as family members, we sin twice. We sin against our family members (parents, children, siblings or extended family members) and we sin against God. This is not the way things should be. We know better. We are better. As the children of God, and sisters and brothers to each other, we know how important family life is — to each one of us personally, to our own families and to the society in which we live.
This Lent let’s make a determined effort to place God first and family a close second. After all, family is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Even if we have experienced (or committed) the sins against family life that are so prevalent today, we know in our heart of hearts that this is not what God wants for us.
God wants everyone of us to be a proud, participating member of His family. He wants us to love and care for each other just as He loves and cares for us!