by Emerson Hynes St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota
+J. H. Schlarman Bishop of Peoria President NCRLC
Sacramental Protection of the Family
(Notes from a talk by Emerson Hynes to the Rural Life Summer School, St. Bede College, June 25, 1945.)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Catholic home and rural living. For I believe deeply that, even in this tempestuous world, where headlines dealing with military movements of millions are the order of the day, where the decisions of leaders are apparently shaping the future of all of us, where the charter of nations at San Francisco encompasses the whole world–even in such a world the most important things are still the Family and the Church.
None of us will question the position of the Church. But I wonder if we do not have a tendency to regard the family as less important than we should. Theoretically, of course, we know and preach its place. But in fact we like to talk and plan in terms of modern science, the state, of so many billions of units of this and that, of a national income of 160 billion dollars, of full employment and 60 million jobs, of international economic and social and military cooperation.
Those are challenging objectives. We are aiming at a better world. And it is a world of mass production and of science. I do not mean to decry these objectives or to suggest that we do not need to be concerned with planning on a large scale.
It is rather that we must always keep in mind that all this has meaning only in terms of human persons and of human families. All this size, all this science, all this production, is good only if it contributes to better living for persons. And persons live most intimately and most of their time in that little unit called the family.
The Family the Basis of the Future
We must see, first, that the family is really the basis of the future. We cannot start at the top with international organization and imagine that other things will work out all right. We must start at the bottom.
That does not mean automatically that the top will work. But it is the first requisite. Hence every leader can have hope and consolation.
No matter how dark the world picture is, he can do effective work. No matter how little cooperation he gets from others in the wider circle of social activities, he can always make progress with his own little group.
No matter that society seems to be destroying itself, he can always be building it by building the families under his care.
G.K. Chesterton, with his flair for seeing the important in the commonplace, once made a striking analogy by comparing the family to a cabbage.
A prosaic soul, he said, would think, while walking in the garden, that a cabbage was a very ordinary vegetable. But a man of vision would be struck by the grandeur, by the monstrousness of that gigantic head of cabbage growing from a tiny taproot in the soil. That something so large and bulky could come from one little root!
So it is with the family, which seems small, like one of millions of roots in the fields. But it bulks large in importance as it grows and matures. In itself it is “wild and elemental.” It is dwarfed by the whole field, yet it is a supreme object in itself.
It is the place where the basic processes of life occur by nature: birth, growth, and death. It is able to produce the greatest love and the greatest hatred, too; the greatest joy and equally the most stinging sorrow.
So we must recognize the importance of the family in the lives of men. We must shape our thinking to better the family; and in so doing we shall be performing the most important and most revolutionary work possible. We can never be discouraged if we are improving family life.
- The Sacramental Aspect of Family Life
It is but natural that priests and other Catholics should think first of the spiritual side of marriage. It is not only tremendously important. It is our unique treasure.
All leaders of good will can work with us and we with them to improve the family wage, the family housing, the family health, the family recreational facilities.
But our specific gift is the fact that marriage is a sacrament, instituted by Christ to be a source of grace. And how urgently that grace is needed! For it gives parents the strength to endure much. After all, material standards are relative. The necessities of life today were undreamed of only a century ago. The best house in the nation in 1850 would be substandard today.
The troubles and inconveniences should be avoided; but merely avoiding them will not make healthy family life. It is the spirit that counts.
From the fact that marriage is a sacrament, several points follow:
A. Marriage is a continuous sacrament. This truth was stressed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical on marriage. We heads of Catholic families need to be reminded of that fact repeatedly. We cannot be told too often.
Marriage is not a sacrament merely on the wedding day. It is a continuous “sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” How consoling it is for parents to know this!
How it gives them strength! How it checks them when human weakness inclines them to quarrel! How it increases the joy of their two-in-one-ship! How it enables them to see their children as blessings! How it helps them to offer up to God their daily work: their care of children, their meals, their play, their household tasks.
Who would dare to bicker and quarrel and deliberately sin in the presence of the other six sacraments? Who dares to despair, then?
Even so, Catholic parents can be led to understand and then practice the same joyful spirit in their special sacrament. We stand in great need of explanation. That is a place where any servant of Christ can begin to improve family life. Tell us of the beauty and depth and grace of marriage.
B. From the first point it follows that marriage is a vocation. Truly it is a religious vocation, in the broad sense of that term. It is a way of salvation, chosen by the majority of the people. And since it is a way of salvation, it must be looked upon as such.
Marriage should not be viewed simply as a proper means of perpetuating the human race. Every marriage is that, pagan (or natural) or Christian. It surely should not be viewed merely as a legitimate means of quieting concupiscence. That is a secondary aspect.
The special thing about a Christian marriage is that it is truly a means of serving God, a way of salvation. And how marvelous and mysterious it is! For by choosing the way of marriage, man and woman no longer work alone for salvation, but together in a most intimate way.
Their marriage is a means to sanctity, and the advance of one should be a help to the other; the defect of one will weigh down the other. In any event, we need to realize more than we do that marriage is a vocation, a chosen way of serving God. And in that realization the family will take on new and deeper meaning.
How blessed the parents will see they are! They have all the joys of the natural family. But over and above, they have, in their sacrament, a religious way of life, too.
How much more important the family becomes as we begin to see that, although in a different way, we are serving God as are the priest and the nun! It will not solve all difficulties, of course, just as ordination or solemn vows do not automatically make perfect men. But you know what an aid to perfection is the knowledge of one’s vocation. So it should be with Catholic parents.
C. If marriage is a continuous sacrament and a true vocation, then daily family living must give evidence that it is a religious life. Both in the spirit of the members and in the externals of the home itself religion must be evidenced. Here we Catholic parents need help. We need instruction and we need confidence..
“You should fear nothing, if you are equipped with the strongest spiritual weapon —Holy Communion. It prevents mortal sin—the greatest evil in the world—from taking root in your soul and even washes away the stains of venial sin so long as you have no affection for it nor desire to commit it in the future. The coming of Jesus in Holy Communion awakens new love in your heart and encourages you to live in purity and sinlessness, which is a necessary condition for happiness.” -Clean Love in Courtship, Fr. Lovasik http://amzn.to/2fOwQm9 (afflink)
As no sensible person would make a long road trip without first consulting a map, so the person intent upon gaining Heaven should first resort to a competent guide to reach that Goal of all goals. And no better guide to Heaven exists than An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Doctor of the Church. It is at once easy to read, being laid out in short chapters, yet thorough, authoritative, reliable, kind and gentle a mirror of its author. It is a book, moreover, for all, because all are called to the devout life. True devotion to God, the author points out, adorns every vocation. The devout life, moreover, is a lovely, a pleasant, and a happy life.
If your life seems to make no sense, or if you don’t know which path to take, St. Francis de Sales will console and inform you. In this warm little book, he explains to you what God’s will is and how He reveals it yes, even to you, and even in the seemingly random events of your life.
No matter what you’re going through now (or may have gone through), you’ll see why you should love and trust in God’s will and long for its fulfillment. Best of all, you’ll learn a sure method for discovering God’s will in any situation today!
As you begin to discern God’s loving hand even in seemingly chaotic events, St. Francis de Sales will lead your mind and your heart to the still waters of God’s gentle consolation.