As we approach the end of 2010, it is good to recall the blessings of the past year. It has been my first year as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend and I have so many reasons to be thankful. This is a wonderful diocese. I have enjoyed visiting all over the diocese, celebrating liturgies, teaching and preaching, and meeting so many devout faithful. I have visited 49 of our parishes in the past 11 months and look forward to visiting the remaining 32 in the coming year. I have visited all of our Catholic colleges, universities, and high schools, as well as five of our 39 grade schools. These pastoral visits are my favorite activities as your bishop. Thank you for your kindness and hospitality on these visits! I especially thank our wonderful priests for their generous welcome.
On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. On this beautiful feast of the Christmas season, we fix our gaze on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. We adore God who chose to be born of a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to enter this world in a way like every one of us, as a baby. By so doing, he sanctified, made holy, the reality of the family. He filled the family with divine grace and revealed the vocation and mission of every family.
The Holy Family of Nazareth is the prototype of every Christian family, the true model of a Christian home. The Son of God came into the world surrounded by the love of Mary and Joseph. The Holy Family radiated with loving harmony and peace. Our families are called to imitate the example of the Holy Family.
Sadly, family life today is sometimes marred by disharmony and division. But even in situations of family discord, the Holy Family can give people hope. Invoking the protection of Mary and Joseph and the grace of our Lord Jesus, families can be strengthened and renewed. But this requires faith. It requires openness to God’s grace and cooperation with that grace. God must have a prominent place in the home of every truly Christian family and be the center of every home.
All human beings were created in the image and likeness of God, created for love. Complete human fulfillment only comes about when we love, when we make a sincere gift of ourselves to others. Where do we learn to do this? In the family! The family is the privileged setting where every person learns to give and receive love. When this does not happen, there is much suffering. This is why the Church is so constant in her insistence on the importance of good, healthy marriages and strong family life.
In God’s plan, the family is based primarily on a deep interpersonal relationship between husband and wife, sustained by mutual affection and understanding. Through the sacrament of marriage, husbands and wives receive abundant help from God. Marriage brings with it a true vocation to holiness. No human authority, no state, no government, no court has the right to redefine marriage. The family, founded on marriage, is a unique good for children, who are meant to be the fruit of the love of their parents, of their total and generous self-giving. The great Pope John Paul II tirelessly repeated that the good of the person and of society is closely connected to the healthy state of the family. Marriage and family are the indispensable foundation for society and culture.
We can find in the Holy Family of Nazareth the values and teachings which today are more indispensable than ever to give human society sound and stable foundations. The Son of God, Jesus, was born and grew up in a human family. This is how he encountered humanity. In his life spent at Nazareth, the child, and later adolescent and then young man, Jesus, honored his mother and father. He remained under their authority. He is an example for every child and young person of respect, obedience, and love for one’s parents.
Mary and Joseph are models for every parent. They taught Jesus by word and example. In them, Jesus came to know the full beauty of faith, of love for God and neighbor, as well as the demands of justice, which are totally fulfilled in love. From his parents, Jesus learned that it is necessary first of all to do God’s will. It is vitally important today that parents educate their children in obedience to God’s will. Parents have a great and holy responsibility: to hand down the faith to their children. Parents are indeed called to be the first heralds of the faith to their children. Parents have the duty to love and respect their children as sons and daughters of God. They have an irreplaceable task in the formation of their children in accord with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We read in the Gospel that in his home at Nazareth, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” Let us pray that families today may be places where children grow, not only physically, but also spiritually, in faith and love, in wisdom and grace.
May the Lord bless all Christian families and assist them in living their daily life in mutual love and in generosity to others, after the example of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!
May God bless all of you with peace and joy during this Christmas season and as we prepare to begin a New Year!
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