Sexagesima Sunday – St. Jean Vianney on the Holy Family
The final two Sundays of of the month of the Holy Family, coinciding with the final two Sundays of Septuagesima time, are given to St. Jean Vianney’s own profound teaching on the Holy Family. The Curé d’Ars, born some decades before Pope Leo XIII, whose own devotion to the Holy Family has already been seen, speaks in words which seem as timely in 2022 as they were in the 1800’s. In his sermon for the feast of the Holy Family he draws attention to the attack waged upon family life, and the consequent need which the Church and society have to turn to Mary and St. Joseph for intercession.
At a time, both then and now, when marriage and family life are scorned as irksome, unnecessary or even selfish (for hurting the planet), St. Jean Vianney teaches the great dignity and mission found within the home.
First, the family’s dignity – “The first blessing which God gave was for the well-being of the family. With family life the history of the world commences,” he writes. Each family, great or small, is an image of the ultimate division which will be made between the family of the blessed in heaven, and the anti-family of the damned in hell.
Second, the family’ mission – it is threefold: “the care of the material life, the spiritual life and the supernatural life.” These three aspects are the complete antithesis of the messages which are pushed today, by which faithful love, marriage, and the family are relentlessly attacked and undermined. The saintly parish priest recommends that in order to effect a conversion of heart, not only in society but in the homes of Catholic families also, “Christ must come back again into the family.”
Sermon of the Curé d’Ars for the Holy Family – Part I.
Beloved in the Lord! Our Holy Father stands on a watchtower and looks down upon his children with enlightened eyes. He is aware of the melancholy fact that family life is in a disturbed and wavering condition. For this reason he draws our attention toward the Holy Family at Nazareth, and calls upon all the faithful of the entire world to join the Society of the Holy Family, which he has inaugurated. In plain words, we will now consider: the foundation of the family, what it is, and what it should be, the reason of its ruin, as well as the means of its restoration. May God bless my words at the intercession of the Mother of God and St. Joseph!
The family is the most ancient institution which God founded in Paradise, when He called the first pair of human beings into existence. The first blessing which God gave was for the well-being of the family. With family life the history of the world commences. In the course of centuries many dynasties have been established and mighty kingdoms founded; they lasted for a short while, and have disappeared. An institution, however, which has not been destroyed by the many revolutions of time, is the family; generations come and go, but family life remains. It outlasts everything, until, finally, the whole of humanity will at the end of time be divided by God into two great families; God’s family in heaven, and the devil’s family in hell. As it was at the commencement, so will family life be the end of the world’s history. In the little word ‘family,’ there reposes happiness and peace for some, and likewise for the greater part of mankind, at the same time, however, also misery and curses, heaven and hell.
The family received from God a threefold mission: The care of the material life, the spiritual life and the supernatural life. We will to-day, in particular, consider closer the two last questions, because by the very fact of this great duty being neglected the ruin of the family must follow in consequence, bringing with it a miserable eternity for parents and children.
It is, of course from a natural standpoint, understood that when man is born into the world, he should receive all the bodily care possible which the state of life will allow. Protection and attention in health and sickness are indispensable to him. The benevolent, loving and inventive care of a family, how it beautifies and makes easy man’s path through life! In his old age he longs for this family, and he would wish to close his eyes in its bosom.
But, with the material care alone, the problem of family life is not solved; man does not attain the goal by strength and height of body. He requires as a thinking being, provided by God with a free will, spiritual care also, instruction in that which is good, so that he can fulfil his mission and attain his object. He was created not only for this earth, but, also, for a higher everlasting life; he must find one day his bliss in God.
For this reason it is, above all things, necessary that he should know the means that are indispensable for him to this end – and that is the knowledge of the commandments of God, or, in one word, Religion. But how is it in most families with this, the most important thing of all? God says: Strive first after justice, and all things else shall be given you. How seldom is this divine command observed. Prayers have been forgotten, and the church is only known from the outside. Ought we to be astonished if the peace of God has disappeared from the hearts of parents and children; if the hands, instead of being clasped in prayer, are lifted up for acts of violence; if blasphemous curses are uttered?
The foundation of many families takes place often in grievous sins. Therefore, I cry out to you, beloved Christians, that: Christ must come back again into the family! The Holy Trinity cannot give its blessing to a modern marriage which is not contracted filled with the spirit of the Holy Family at Nazareth. People enter into matrimony without the necessary preparation. They neither take counsel with God nor the Church; they are occupied with the dowry, and arranging everything as well as they possibly can; for the Church, the hearts of the young couple can find no time.
So long as there is a suitable maintenance, everything else is of minor importance. Whether their life partner is of the same religion as themselves, or whether he knows anything at all about religion, is a matter which does not interest them. They receive the Sacrament of Penance and the Holy Eucharist unworthily, and enter the married state with a threefold sacrilege upon their souls. They discover only too soon in their wedded life that, not true love, but passion; not happiness, but, instead, a material and spiritual misery, has come to stay with them.
Just look around in the homes of so many newly married couples. In the houses of the wealthy, what luxury; in the apartments of the middle class, what extravagance; even in the rooms of the poor, how many wants have been gratified of which our simple ancestors knew nothing!
But we look in vain in most families for any signs of Christianity. The holy water font which formerly was to be found in every room is hardly ever seen nowadays. The pictures of Christ and His Blessed Mother have had to make way for worldly and indecent representations. We seek in vain for a crucifix. The literature corresponds with the prevailing spirit of the household. The Catholic press is entirely ignored; it is inconvenient to have the mind led to serious subjects, to be reminded of the transitoriness of all things earthly, and of the reward beyond. Ungodly novels and magazines, dulling to the souls, inimical to religion, and newspapers which stupefy our moral sense, are the mental food.
Do not tell me that these are only exterior signs; they affect the heart. At any rate, by considering these things, we learn to know the prevailing spirit of the household. Where are the morning and night prayers, which formerly were said in common by every family? Or, where this is not possible, do the children ever see their parents kneel down to say their prayers? How do they keep Sundays and Holy days?
To all this I hear the simple answer: We have not time for all this, but the good will is not wanting. In reply to this I must draw attention to the crowded liquor saloons, theatres, and places of amusement; it does not look as if people had neither time nor money.