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McTeigue: John Paul the Great and the Gospel of the Family

Familiaris Consortio

Sometimes, a homilist feels like a DJ at a wedding reception. He always knows that some people will leave disappointed because they didn’t hear what they were hoping to hear that day.

Today’s feast day is in honor of Saint John Paul 2, and so one might reasonably expect a homily that waxes eloquent in praise of that great saint.

We have just marked the end of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, of which John Paul should have been the patron. That synod did not leave the Church in a state of serene clarity, and so one might reasonably expect a homily that applies the wisdom of John Paul to the synod.

And today we have a disturbing passage from the Gospel of Luke, wherein Jesus describes the blessings of faithful servants and the doom of unfaithful servants. We tell ourselves we are one and fear that we are the other, and so one might reasonably expect a homily that helps us to take this painful parable to heart.

But why should we settle for reasonable expectations? Let’s try to do it all in the short time that God has given us!

The parable we heard today warns us that we do not know the day or the hour when our Lord might return to us in His glory, or when death might carry us off to Him. We would do well to be ready for either event. But that observation is as facile as it is banal, and by itself, it isn’t likely to do us much good.

The parable reminds us, and John Paul would surely agree, that the Lord comes to us day by day, moment by moment, in Word and Sacrament, in our neighbor, and in mundane events. Are we ready to greet our Lord hidden within the ordinary and the familiar? Do we see ourselves as serving our Lord’s hunger as we prepare yet another meal? Do we see ourselves as honoring our Lord’s wisdom as we write another essay? Do we see ourselves as reverencing our Lord’s innocence as we dry a child’s tears? These familiar acts, John Paul would tell us are truly familiar—that is, they are the acts of family. The family is an altar upon which are placed loving acts of praise, sacrifice and care—sometimes dramatically, sometimes quietly, and, please God, always with great love, regardless the cost.

The Synod on the Family would agree that the families entrusted to our care deserve, as their birthright, Capture“faithful and prudent” stewards. It is right, then, as disciples of Christ, to have an examination of conscience regarding our stewardship of the families entrusted to our care. Our Lord Himself resides in each member of our family, and we would do well to attend to His needs and the gifts He brings.

I fear that we often misunderstand these words of Our Blessed Lord: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Many seem to think that what Jesus means is this: “Well, if you’ve been given lot of resources and blessings, expect a lot of accountability. And if you’ve been given a whole lot of resources and blessings, expect a whole lot of accountability.” If that were a correct interpretation, one would almost be inclined not to be very blessed.

I think that’s a misunderstanding of the gospel. I think Jesus is saying this: “Look, if you’ve been entrusted with responsibilities, expect to give an account before God of your stewardship. And if you’ve been entrusted with responsibility for creatures made in the image of God and redeemed by my Precious Blood—if you have been entrusted with the care of family—then expect to give an exacting account before God of your stewardship.”

Frightening? Maybe. But it is also wonderful news! God gives not just His love but also gives us those whom He loves! He gives us the vocation of loving as He does—freely, fully, faithfully and fruitfully. God calls us to become like Himself, He Who is Love, and He gives us the family as a great school of love. That’s why the family must be cherished and protected and guarded most vigilantly—because without proper stewardship of family, we will fail, each of us and all of us, at our human vocation to become love by loving as God loves.

Let’s pray today for the intercession of Saint John Paul, that great apostle of the family, to bless the work of the synods and our family life, so that, like him, we may be faithful in love, even unto death. Then with him we can echo the words of the psalmist and say, “God indeed is my savior. I am confident and unafraid.”

May God’s Holy Name be praised now and forever.

Ave Maria’s Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., preached this homily on the feast of Pope Saint John Paul the Great last Wednesday. Father McTeigue is currently finishing a collection of homilies and essays on preaching entitled, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel. He recently began writing a weekly column, which this week focuses on what he would want the Synod Fathers to know about his long-suffering divorced friend, Pete. Father McTeigue earnestly seeks your prayers that his life and work be to God’s greater glory – and he invites your comments.

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