Fr. Patrick Grifin reflections on Family Values in his series on “Considering Consecrated Life”.
Two happenings can capture our attention during this year. We celebrate the “Year for Consecrated Life,” and we look forward to the “World Meeting of Families” which will take place in Philadelphia a few weeks from now. This second event has garnered more publicity than the first, since the Pope will visit the United States and Philadelphia for the gathering. Dioceses have been encouraged in this year to demonstrate particular awareness of the importance of family and family values.
The emphasis upon family does not detract from our reflection upon consecrated life. In fact, the vocabulary and attitudes demanded in a loving family environment contain the same words and action associated with a healthy community of consecrated person.
In the early Church, when some members accepted Christianity, they were rejected by their birth families. Some of their relations would insist that they had separated themselves from the faith of their ancestors, and thus pulled themselves away from the bosom of their family.
These new Christians would be considered “dead” to those with whom they had been closest. (Remember the situation which develops in “Fiddler on the Roof?”) The Christian community becomes the new “family” for these converts. Jesus speaks this truth in many different ways, for
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. . . . But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:46-50; cf. Mt 19:29; Mk 10:29;
When we read Paul, we can see that he consistently addresses his communities as his “brothers and sisters” (1 Cor 1:10; Phil 3:13; Rom 14:10-23) and refers to particular followers as “brother” (Timothy [2 Cor 1:1; 1Thess 3:2], Titus [2 Cor 2:13], and Philemon [Phlm 7, 20]) and “sister” (Phoebe [Rom 16:1]; and Apphia [Phlm 2]). He also uses the imagery of “children” and “sons” with himself as “father.” Thus, the Christian community itself becomes the family of the believer. The members demonstrate this truth by the concern and sharing which typify their relationships
We may have all seen the encouragement which Pope Francis has offered to believers in offering three words which must be part of any family system: please, thanks, and sorry.
Living together is an art, a patient way, handsome and charming. . . . This daily journey has rules that can be summed up in these three words you’ve spoken, words which I have repeated many times to families: “Please”, or “May I”, you have said; “Thank you “; and “Excuse me”. (Pope Francis, St. Peter’s Square, February 14, 2014)
As important as these words are in one’s own family, they must also be part of any community of consecrated persons. The expressions demonstrate a respect for the other person as well as an acknowledgement of one’s own limitations. When we speak these phrases with sincerity, we recognize our needs, our blessings, and our faults vis-à-vis another.
When one turns to the Lord, the place of these attitudes also becomes evident. The Psalms can be divided into prayers of petition, praise, and lament. The Psalms of Petition are the requests which we make of our God. For example, Psalm 86 (1, 6, 11):
Incline your ear, LORD, and answer me,
for I am poor and oppressed. . . .
LORD, hear my prayer;
listen to my cry for help. . . .
Teach me, LORD, your way
that I may walk in your truth,
single-hearted and revering your name.
These psalms place our “please” before the Lord. We count on the kindness and graciousness of the Lord to meet our need. The classic prayer of Thanksgiving/Praise is Psalm 100 (1, 4-5):
A psalm of thanksgiving.
Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song. . . .
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name;
good indeed is the LORD.
To praise God necessarily engages us in a prayer of thanksgiving. Our means of thanking God can only be conveyed by our lifting up of mind and heart as we acknowledge how good the Lord has been to us.
And the most frequently prayed Psalm of Lament is probably the 51st (vv. 3-4):
Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love;
in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions.
Thoroughly wash away my guilt;
and from my sin cleanse me.
This Psalm often occurs in our Friday prayer and our Lenten liturgies.
Thus, “please,” “thanks,” and “sorry” sustain our dealings within a family and a consecrated community, as well as before the Lord God. They are words which capture attitudes which need to be part of our best selves.