Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Promoting the Catholic Family

Father John J. Lombardi

Here are words to enlighten the soul and enliven the spirit: Last week I went up to Len Didier to express sympathy for his son's death, Fr Darin, a recent graduate of Mt St Mary's-who was only three months a priest (but forever in Heaven!). This was immediately before the beautiful funeral Mass, and, as I extended my hand he responded by giving me a big Minnesota bear hug. With a gleam in his eye and slight smile he said, quote: "When Darin was ordained a priest he became part of your priestly family, and you became part of our family, so please remember us and visit us."

These were inspired words uttered of the Mystical Body (we're never really separated-even in death-cf. I Cor 13: 8) and an expression of the Eschatological Body (we're an Extended Family -- Mt. 12:48ff ).

Notes from a Family Retreat on Mary's Mountain…

Famous families

We all come from a family. The family is the basic building block of life, though we may take it for granted. What do some famous families teach us? The Holy Family of Jesus Mary and Joseph were, are the most famous family and our surest guides to Heaven and Holiness-so, study their Life and Lessons!...

The First Family of the Untied States-currently the Bush's in the White House are somewhat famous, too. As a custom they're shielded from press people, the public and un-needed intrusions-they're protected in a privileged privacy: people bend over backwards to do this-out of decency and respect. So: how can you protect your family from unnecessary intrusions and promote decency and respect? The Martins--St. Therese, "The Little Flower" and her sisters and parents-show us simplicity, Faith and love-and that, if we pursue our Religion seriously we can grow together in saintliness.

Okay-I pondered this and finally decided, gotta mention them (!) so strange but true (don't laugh): "The Adams Family"--Hollywood, at least "back then,"shows us three things: 1) That we families can sometimes be a strange bunch yet united-as the Adams Family were ! And gothic can mean good-sometimes. 2) The Extended family: the Adams' were-consisting of grandparents, parents and children and uncle and aunt-all under one roof: and today this is rarely shown on tv or movies in good light. As a matter of fact-we Catholics and Christians need do a better job at this-extending the family and staying together. 3)Silliness was promoted thru this show but not sensuality-and the program was entertaining. Today "R-ratings" are almost de rigueur, required.

Some other families you don't know: Three Russian girls who visited the Grotto recently are now being raised by single mom: Mom went to Russia to adopt one, then found out this first girl had a sister, went back and adopted her, and then realized these girls had another sister-so she went back for her. They're re-united by this Lady-Mom's love and heroism .Rescue children, re-unite in your family no matter the distance and difficulties… While traveling back from Dakota last week I met a Lady on a plane who was going to visit her daughter. Turns out: she gave her up for adoption just after birth and the daughter thirty years later contacted Mom. Mom was traveling to re-unite wither her. So: Overcome obstacles and embrace reconciliation…….

I just reviewed Senator Rick Santorum's excellent book, "It Takes a Family." Some excerpts: "When I say 'it takes a family' I don't mean to exclude single-head-of-household families. Nonetheless, our focus should be on trying to build a foundation that all the research and thousands of years of human history say is the best for our country and our children. That foundation is the family headed by a married mother and father."…"This is one of the reasons for concern about the widespread breakdown of the family in America: for too many children, family disharmony and divorce shatters their self-confidence."

Top 10 Facts on the Family

1.God designed it (Gn 1-2; Eph. 5)-Our Bible and Sacred Revelation (The Holy Spirit revealing thru the Church) teaches us that the Family-Mother and Father, and, if blessed with, children-is a "supernatural invention" given by God to mankind for us to build upon our civilization, culture and Ergo/therefore: we cannot re-invent it, make it better, redesign it no matter the cultural historical or philosophical innovativeness and need of humans.

2.Holy Family of Jesus , Mary and Joseph as True Model: their sacrifices (i.e, Flight to Egypt), their Faith (In God's Mysterious Providence-Mary and Joseph not-knowing all), their Sacrifices (esp at the Cross) show us the Path to holiness and Truth! Imitate them.

3.Sacrifice needed with love-The Root of all marriages and families is this-sacrifice-because it's the Essence of Religion. (So: study a Crucifix!) An acronym you should memorize-embrace-and-not-just-theorize, stated in Rick Santorum's book, which a friend of his revealed (and which Santorum wears as a bracelet to remind him), is: "F.A.M.I.L.Y.=Forget About Me I Love You." You'll never get around this one: Get un-stuck from your self-live for The Other and others.. Think of and act for Him, others! When you have family stresses-you need sacrifice. Adultery?-then sacrifice; boredom, sacrifice needed. Romance gone?- lukewarmness evident?-sacrifice required. Family member sick (again)-you need sacrifice. You don't' always need a therapist or a fancy psychology, you need the ideal of sacrifice! And sometimes when no other answers are valid or helpful, then the only one left is sacrifice. Sacrifice consists of Love in Action which is costly. Love is the will's and heart's sentiment and desire for another; costliness= the embrace of effort; and action is concrete acts toward God and others. It is also negation (of self and fear of pain); and accentuation (of God, others) in wanting good for them. Just do it.

4.Family of Mom-Dad-Child=Trinity Image-The family as described is an image of God-you are called to this, God-as-He-Is-a-Trinity: be inspired and encouraged. So imitate the different-ness-and-yet-similarity in God. Emulate and perpetuate the Unity-yet-particularity of the Blessed GodHead. Thru your families relationships participate more, then, in the Godly perichoresis- mutual Indwelling of the Three Persons and in one another.

5.Building Block of Civilization-The Family is the glue and the foundation of our culture-not governments or good-willed persons, not idealistic programs-all which come and go. No, cultural good = these sometimes-good-things plus the family foremost as the Root of all building what is needed. Remember to echo and change a famous political mantra: "It's the family, stupid!"

5.Promote and Protect the Family: this is what we need today in the era of redefinitions of the family (i.e., same-sex unions) and when families are attacked. Thru prayer, love, sacrifice and genuine focus of on your family, education and spending time with your family, you may change the world history-because, after all, "It's about he family!"

6.Family as Greenhouse of Spirituality and Virtues -love, justice, temperance, prudence are all grown and fertilized within the family. While passing any church a parent I know prays with and for the bundle of children in the van (to the Eucharistic Lord): "May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be loved with burning affection thru all the world." Remember-you're always teaching!

7.Realize the Family is Under Attack: Here are the Main Enemies--contraception, abortion, busybodyism (rarely spending time with family members), workaholism (a can't-relax-type-A mania-ism modality); Culture of Divorce (which Pope John Paul II once warned Catholics lawyers not to participate in); individualism, sensuality (loss of Elegance); cohabitation (mistrust of romance and courtship), "same-sex unions" (attack on God, His plan of Marriage, Christianity, basic morality: if marriage is re-defined it can then be re-engineered to imply humans and animals marrying is ok or adults and children); "animacide"-the killing of the soul: the neglecting or rejection of the supernatural aspect of the human person. Look: if you want to be healthy, you say: What good things do I need to eat (organic?!) and what things need I do (exercise), and also, what do I need avoid (toxic waste dumps, etc). So: just as a doctor would help you name health concerns and enemies-so you should "name names" of attacking-family-toxins and teach others the dangers.

8. Persevere-you need Holy Fortitude-ie., keep on keeping on no matter what challenges arise-this virtue (which is a holy habit, a disposition) to help you continue no matter the obstacles. My parents have been married fifty years-they pace themselves-in funny and loving ways! Be in for the Long Haul!

9. The Goal of the Family is Eternal Happiness-Heaven, Bliss Paradise. As one pilgrim said to me about her spouse: "My job is to get Brian to heaven." Yes. And to provide any kinds of earthly happiness too is a bonus-and a need

10. Love: I just asked our Grotto worker "Big Bill" "What is the Most Important Thing about the Family?" His immediate answer: "Love." Whatddaya' mean? "Love of God, love of each other. Love is a decision-commitment-made forever-unconditionally." Big Bill is a rocket scientist (literally)and also a disciple You can see why!

Parents/Parenting Lessons

Faith First-remember to teach them their Eternal Goal of happiness, and try to provide temporal happiness in right proportion…Prayer together: at meals, a decade or Rosary a day; at Mass, in the car: pray unceasingly: (I Th.5:17)…Supervise don't strangulate: know what your children "are into" (friends, hobbies, computer, sports school,etc.) and take interest; but don't stifle them-inspire and encourage them…Genuine expressed affection-hug and caress them-children need concrete embraces at this tender age…Charity: do you promote this or tolerate fighting, gossip, rivalries, cliques?...Nobility and Dignity-our culture sometimes encourages the banal, the "gothic" and horrid: children need, rather, Light and Joy and Peace, heroism of the saints, the light of Promised Heaven, the beauty of God…Discipline-use spiritual tough love when necessary. When disciplining do not do it in anger but purify your passions…Recreation: God's creation (parks and natural surroundings) is for our replenishment. Avoid artificial claustrophobia (inside all the time unnecessarily-"couch potato-ism" for kids) and seek His vast glorious settings for renewal,athleticism. Children love God's creation and refreshment-and it's cheaper than amusement parks! G. M. Hopkins poeticized: "God's grandeur flames out/ like shining from shook foil…"Religious instruction/ Catechetics-thru the Bible, the Saints, the Pope's teachings and esteemed spiritual writings you may feed your child solid, religious food to become grist for their soul's mill. Stimulate this at home, at school-don't water down (false faith teachings) or drown out (too much entertainment)!...The Sacraments esp. Mass and Confession together: do you encourage this?...Read about Saints--esp. youthful saints like St Therese and the Martin family; St. John Bosco; Aloyisus Gonzaga; Giorgio Frasati, St Stephen Fist Martyr…Heroism and Imagination-instill this in them, avoiding "cheap thrills" of passing entertainment and replace with saintly stories like St Ignatius, soldier saint; St Joseph Cupertino- the "Flying Monk," St. Francis of Assisi who wasn't a sissy but was a "holy fool"; Mother Seton of Our Holy Mary's Mountain. You can find lots of excitement and drama in these divinized daring saints!....Disposition as parents - be, and balance attributes, both strength and softness-Jesus Christ was both and so should we be. He was The Good Shepherd and the Cleanser of the Temple (Jn. 3:13-25)…Mystical Family Communion-your family is part of a bigger whole--The Virgin Mary and the saints are all around us in a spiritual, permeable and permanent way: engender the Spiritual Solidarity thru heightened Spiritual Awareness…Guard their Purity and Sanctity: contemporary culture thru pornography, glorified violence, mammon- materialism, is really after your child's soul-purify and protect their virginity and natural light within…Promote The Supernatural - as in the Mass, in the God-created-soul, in the lives of the saints in God's continual creation (think of God-as-Pure-Act: still always acting dynamically-He is not just "a noun" (a true objective Reality) He is also (like) a verb-In His moment-to-moment gracing/keeping-alive--penetration of Creation. Teach your children that "God is the artist and the universe is His work of art" (St Thomas Aquinas). Teach them we live in a spiritualized-material world….Literature- inspire and encourage your child's imagination, thru St Augustine, Tolkien, CS Lewis, Chesterton and Belloc, the poets Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Donne-there's plenty of Catholic writing to entertain and train them!


Communication-talk together often-don't hope for time or take for granted (it may never "happen"): make the time: remember, "No communion without communication."…Genuine affection-love: show this in action, often-be the first to reach out in loving, heartfelt affection, embrace, caress. Read the Song of Songs in the Bible and know that sensual-spiritual-marital gratification is part of God's plan for your marriage-it's not opposite of spirituality, silly! Loving affection is a function more of the will (not only of emotions, because they don't always lead or inspire us aright) to know and choose what is right, sacrificial, up building for her, him…Communion-time together-spend time together, with your spouse. Plan a "date"-night out together once a month and re-focus on one another…Innate differences: You've heard "Men are from Mars" (tough, cave-seeking, abstractive) and "Women are from Venus"(intuitive, affectionate, giving)-so: Learn the differences of your spouse; respect these and balance, complement them with your own gifts: viva la differeance! Ask yourself this question: Is your spouse your best friend? If not, then, how can make him/her your spiritual spouse? What steps can/will you take and make?

Cultivate Virtues and Environment for a Catholic Home

Do you engender simplicity and spiritual poverty in your lives?- so that you "don't get lost in the sauce" of materialism and un-necessities, but rather are freed from such seeming needs (they're really desires a lot of times-things we can do without) so as to highlight the Important Things. Senator Santorum stresses this in his book: both parents in perhaps many situations don't always have to work if they can really embrace simplicity more. Thus there is always one parent at home with the children nurturing, protecting and upbuilding them: this makes a tremendous difference! Put simply: cut down (activities, materialism) to build up (families).

Cultivate Nobility, elegance, dignity: in your families way of dress ("the less that shows is more beauty"); in your actions towards one another; in character building and thru expecting virtuous dispositions

Spiritual- do you highlight prayer, use icons, candles to enhance and beautify your Catholic Home? There are many sacramentals to inspire you and help you when the "kitchen gets hot". If you're glancing at a beautiful icon of Jesus and Mary it should be difficult to get or stay angry!

Familiaris Consortio-here's a brief outline to one of the most famous and important writings on the Family, by Pope John Paul II- "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" (simply meditate over the listings, or look them up and study): Part. I: "Bright Spots and Shadows of the Family Today" (incl. influences; Part II: The Plan of the God for Marriage and the Family": Jesus as Bridegroom of the Church; Children, the Precious Gift of Marriage; The Family-a Communion of Persons"…Part III: the Role of the Christian Family -Offense against Women, The Rights of Children; Men as Husbands and Fathers; Education-as Duty of Parents; the Mission to Educate…Marriage as a Sacrament; Prayer and Life…Part IV: Pastoral Care of the Family Particular Circumstances; "trial marriages"; Divorced Persons Those without a Family".

Boredom/Challenges/Lukewarmness/Trials--What to do when Marriage and Family become like this…

Focus on Faith-This is the Core Element of your marriage and family. Holy family-be inspired by their example and imitates this in our life-so: Sacrifice-remember the acronym F.A.M.i.L.Y.=Forget About Me I Love You-and so repeat, practice, perfect. Live this out.

Counsel-seek holy people's advice- for enlightenment as to root causes of dysfunction, and also the solutions. Remember:focus on latter while not neglecting former.

Make a Retreat-like Marriage Encounter (410-665-5700) or Retrouvaille (301-468-6764) -these are excellent programs for Catholic-Christian couples to renew, save and strengthen marriages: don't be shy-call your cry to them now! Also call your local priest for help and connections. Make explicit ("loud,") and implicit ("planting seeds") ques of challenge and inspiration for your spouse, children-never give up! Convert failures, hardships into lessons-grow from your mistakes, don't let them go untaught…Renew your vows-use rituals of spirituality to attract graces and "spiritually glue" your family and marriage together. Fr Lovasik (see book below) counsels: "Marital love is won by sympathetic love and understanding." Repeat this formula and live it out!

Fixate on Faults? We all have this tendency-and we may belabor it. Stop! Thank God for His blessings thru your spouse, your parents, your children-every day count these blessings. At the Bolger's birthday parties they go around the table after dinner (ten people sometimes) and announce elegantly the blessings and strengths of the birthday honoree. Do it in your head and heart-daily. Make a choice: fixate on faults of others or focus on blessings from God thru them!

"Make Love not War"--Remember this slogan? The irony of this pop-culture slogans today is there is a war today-fought by progressivists, on kids, marriage, families, Faith - and loss of children; and there is less children-bearing lovemaking going on. Suspicious, eh? Change the paradigm: be fertile and multiply! -and, enhance marital-love-making by a sacred sensuality rooted in the traditional-Biblical image of God wedding the soul and holy people in intimate ways (cf. Isaiah, the Psalms, Amos; Jesus and His Vine imagery-Jn. 15).

Focus but don't fixate: Yes, guard your family, protect and promote the family, but also help others--go out and sacrifice for other families, persons and esp. the poor,sick and dying: you should teach your spouse and children the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, and of finding Jesus in His Distressing Disguises. Don't get wrapped too tight in your own family concerns you forget Jesus elsewhere. As a matter of spiritual fact: you may even help your family by helping others-getting unstuck from self and "familial myopia" and learning from others-in-need. I.e., think of the victims of Hurricane Katrina; think of the thousands of children who starve everyday, respond to the nursing home patients or homebound nearby you. Jesus I teaching us thru them!

Recommended Reading: First and foremost-The Holy Bible-authored by the Holy Spirit and His Scribes-this is required reading--intake daily suggested…"Married Saints and Blesseds" (F. Holbock-Ignatius Press); "Saintly Solutions" (Fr Joseph Esper-two volumes)…"A Catholic Family Handbook," by Fr Lawrence Lovasic-and the other books mentioned above…

Senator Santorum also makes these important points in his excellent book: The state and elitists are trying to redefine the family and change the culture it "grows" in-making people more governmental dependent versus moral and self-supporting; voluntary associations like the family (Alexis de Toqueville noted in his famous book, "Democracy") are essential to American living-and they're crumbling around us today; poverty (which includes many more white persons than usually imagined) can be best solved not by statist-top-heavy-governmental pseudo solutions, but, rather by helping and promoting the family; the family provides the "capital" (i.e., "building bloc power") of civilization-thru the family's morality, money generation, culture and other ways it infuses the world with sustenance; take away conservatism passes on the best of the past-without it society depletes with the "ceaseless invention o f the new and un-improved"; God and family go together; single-parent families are not bad, they're just not the best: society, culture-and even our Catholic Church have failed to promote the best: the good is the enemy of the best; character and virtue building in families is essential; spending time-quality time with spouse and children is gigantic. Sacrifice is necessary…

To Do As a Family…

  • Make a Pilgrimage as a family-I just saw a lady at the Grotto and she said, to my delight (which is what "Eden" means): "This is just beautiful up here. It makes me think: if I had to leave, it would be ok."
  • Celebrate-birthdays and anniversaries: I just buried a lady's husband and she mentioned how they loved to celebrate in many varied ways, like "Flag Day," Sunday morning breakfasts, the harvest time. We humans need joy!
  • Don't forget the Sabbath!
  • Take time off to spend time together. Avoid unnecessary work and shopping.
  • Study-Scripture-Read the Bible, embrace spiritual reading, papal encyclicals-feed your soul and family.
  • Reprioritize-don't be afraid to begin anew by changing the basic (wrongful)assumptions and practices of your family and marriage….and keep First Things First-God, family and then job.

"All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." +Leo Tolstoy (in "Anna Karenina")

"A happy family is but an earlier Heaven." -John Bowring

"The family, grounded on marriage, freely contracted, monogamous and indissoluble, is and must be considered the first and essential cell human society." -Pope John XXIII

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi