The Polish National Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Christian Family on the second Sunday of October. Established nearly a century ago, this commemoration is surely one our nation and our world desperately needs. It seems the nuclear and even the extended family is under attack from many directions these days and could use some bolstering.
When this feast was established, the family was an essential part of everyday life. Members of the extended family lived close to each other, even for generations. Take my family for instance. At least three generations of my father’s and mother’s families lived in the same town or in the next town over. Families were the primary caregivers. My mother was a Depression baby and was cared for by her aunts as my grandfather had to move from place to place to find employment during those difficult times. She was blessed to have such a family living close by that could pitch in and help out. Now, take my family. My children and I live in three different states. The ease of modern transportation and the exigencies of modern business often requires relocation simply to find employment, even when there is not hard economic times.
The extended family was also a focus of worship. As a youth, I attended a Polish Roman Catholic Church with my grandparents and parents. I fondly remember the Sunday Mass, the Stations of the Cross, the “Gorske Zale”, and the All Souls Services among others. The local parish was the focus not only of worship but of community and family life. There were no distractions such as cable television or the internet. That has all changed.
Families do indeed grow apart in the modern world. Every nuclear family is part of an extended family and is part of a parish family. The parish family is also part of an extended family, the diocese and the Church as a whole. I don’t need to tell any of you what is happening with Church attendance in the United States today. It is symptomatic of what is happening with the family. The Solemnity of the Christian Family reminds us of the importance of our family. It reminds us to rededicate our efforts to keep, renew and strengthen those ties that bind us together. This feast challenges us to remember what is important in life and to rededicate ourselves to this important reality.
The readings for the day point out the importance of the family:
Genesis 1: 26-28, 31a: Man is created in the image and likeness of God. This is a gentle reminder God created man not to be alone, but to live together with family. We are also reminded to respect each member of our family since we each bear the likeness of the Creator.
Ephesians 6: 1-9: This reading calls for children to obey their parents. St. Paul points out this commandment comes with the promise of long life if it adhered to. The passage also calls on parents not to provoke their children. In short, there are reciprocal obligations for both parents and children. ( It is worth mentioning at this point verses 5 through 9 are odious to the modern ear as they deal with masters and slaves. At best we can say St. Paul was dealing with another reality, where people could be held as chattel. Mercifully that is not the case any longer.)
Luke 2: 41-52: The passage recounts an episode in the childhood of Jesus. Undoubtedly, Luke the Evangelist intended to demonstrate Jesus was the Messiah, but modern parents will find the anguish of Joseph and Mary the most compelling part of this story. What parent has not felt the terror of momentarily losing track of their child and fearing the worst? And the unimaginable joy and thanksgiving when they find their child has just wandered away a little out of sight and are okay? Years ago, we inadvertently left our youngest daughter at the soccer field. We had three children and things would often become hectic as we tried to juggle multiple sports schedules and our work lives. We each thought our daughter was with our spouse. I can’t even begin to tell you the horror we each felt when we arrived at home and realized she was still at the soccer field. A moment later the coach’s car came around the corner and my daughter hopped out of the back seat. We each heaved a sigh of relief which turned into explosive laughter as she looked at us and said, “Forget something?” This reading is also an implicit demonstration of the importance of the extended family. Modern readers miss this nuance. Joseph and Mary did not know Jesus was missing because they assumed he was with relatives on the journey back from Jerusalem. Modern parents can’t conceive of not knowing where their children are at each moment. The extended family would look out for each other.
Well, I am ending this article now. It is a little on the short side, but I have this sudden urge to speak with my children and grandchildren, my father and my mother….
If you are interested in reading about other Solemnities unique to the PNCC, please click here.