Family Life Conference Twenty-fifth Anniversary
[2Kings 4:8-12a, 14-16; Psalm 89; Romans 6:3-4, 8-11; Matthew 10:37-42]
It is a blessing to gather with you this morning as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Family Life Conference. For a quarter-century, this gathering has sought to encourage and support Christian families in their ecclesial vocation and societal mission. Our jubilee mass is the context in which we hear God’s Word. Pondering its message confirms the intuition that prompted the birth of the Family Life Conference and continues to inspire it.
Let’s reflect together upon the sacred texts by means of reference to two symbols evocative of family life. Both are suggested by the teaching given by Jesus to his disciples in the passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel. These are the family budget and the household door.
Families today are having to navigate an increasingly expensive marketplace. Budgets will differentiate between needs and desires, and then weigh costs against resources. What appear on paper as budget line items will at times be common among all households, such as food and clothing, while others will vary from family to family according to differing priorities or capacities.
Jesus lifts up a budget line item that must be common to every Christian family, one, moreover, to be given priority over all other considerations. It is written not on paper but in the heart. “Whoever loves father or mother … son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Here Jesus is speaking of the cost of discipleship. The sticker shock we feel in our daily shopping leads to the constant question: “Is it worth the price?” Jesus knows that what he says regarding discipleship can give rise to its own “sticker shock”, so goes on to say that following him is always worth the price, however steep: “whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” The following of Jesus Christ leads to eternal life. Nothing else can! Jesus is always worth the price.
For the love of Christ, we want to pay the price, not only as individuals but also as families. It can be challenging to do so, however. I am thinking in particular here of the call from Jesus to take up the cross. What does that mean today for a family? There is more here than the acceptance in faith and trust of the crosses that inevitably come to us.
At the time of Jesus, taking up the cross referred to a condemned person carrying the heavy crossbar to his own crucifixion. It involved public shaming as he passed through the streets. As the Christian family makes its way along the corridors of modern thought, it will often find itself ridiculed as foolish, labelled as out of step with the spirit of the age. Even though the Gospel assures us this is really a badge of honour, public questioning or disdain can at times feel like a heavy burden. Negative reaction and powerful countervailing opinion might occasion doubts within our hearts and a weakening of conviction.
This brings me to the second symbol that marks family living: the household door. The specific question posed by the sacred texts is: to whom does the family open the door and allow entry into its sacred precincts? “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
When the doors of our hearts and minds are open to Jesus as not only our very welcome guest but also most important family member, we shall have the depth of conviction and abiding strength we need to live authentically the family vocation, especially when we are misunderstood or maligned. The welcome accorded by the wealthy woman to the prophet Elisha demonstrates the great and often surprising blessings that come to the household whose door is open to God and His Word.
Saint Paul, on the other hand, warns against granting access to anything contrary to the Gospel. We are a baptized, people, he reminds us, and so should have nothing to do with sin. Yet it is precisely sin that seeks constant access to the household as it tries to enter by the doors of the TV, Internet, social networking, and the like. To what are we opening the door and allowing entry?
Together, these two symbols – the family budget and the household door – highlight the challenges faced by Christian families, and in this way underscore the need for support. A disciple needs other disciples. Christian families need other Christian families.
Here we encounter the beauty of the Family Life Conference and the other forms of familial support offered by Christian Family Ministries in this Archdiocese and beyond.
The basic intuition that has always inspired this movement is the need to bring families together for mutual support and encouragement. In this act of gathering, our conviction deepens that following Jesus is always worth the price, and helps us to see that any moments we might experience as painful humiliation are actually occasions for joyful witness. It strengthens our resolve to allow access only to Jesus and whatever is in conformity with his Gospel.
Moreover, as we realize the beautiful mission entrusted to us as families, our household doors will not only remain firmly closed to all that is counter to our faith but also become increasingly open to a world in need of our testimony to Jesus Christ. Society today is in grave need of the witness of authentic and joyful Christian families. You who are gathered here this weekend are just that, and I am deeply grateful to Christian Family Ministries for providing us all with the opportunity to support one another in this beautiful and wondrous mission.
There is only one thing more precious to us than family, and that is Jesus Christ. These two treasures unite in our celebration of the Eucharist. By the grace of this sacrament, may they remain united at all times, so that our families will continually draw inspiration and strength from the love of Christ for their mission of witnessing to him before the world.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage Shrine
July 2nd, 2023