Family: First Church, First Seminary, First Love | Family Day 2016
“A family is holy not because it is perfect, but because God's grace is at work in it, helping it to set out anew everyday on the way of love” (John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio).
The topic of family life is very popular in the Church today, perhaps too often for negative reasons. Looking past the issues that the family is experiencing in secular society, however, we see something quite beautiful. A Christian family has three key roles, all of which are very important for young men discerning the priesthood. The family is foundation and serves as the first Church, the first seminary, and the first love.
On Saturday, September 10th, Saint Joseph College Seminary celebrated its annual Family Day. Families of seminarians were invited for Mass and lunch, as well as to spend time with their sons. Something that really struck me through all of this was the idea of Church. Belonging to the Catholic Church, we must always have on our mind the universality of our Church. We do not exist simply as isolated parishes, but as dioceses, Archdioceses, and on the largest scale, as one Church united under the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ present in the world. Yet, shrinking back down, the Church can be as small as a family. In fact, Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church from Vatican II, became the first document to refer to the family as the “domestic church” (LG 11). This is a beautiful statement, and what it boils down to is that it is the responsibility of the parents to be the first teachers of the faith to their children, and, possibly even more importantly, it is the responsibility of each member of the family to be Christ to the rest of the family. Looking at the Queen of the Rosary chapel, more full than it will most likely be the rest of this academic year, it is very apparent that this idea of domestic church was lived out in a very real and tangible way.
Even more evident, however, is the role that the individual families played in their son’s vocation. John Paul II also refers to the family as the “first seminary”, for it is in the family that one’s vocation is first born and fostered. While each case is different, my parents were supportive of my discernment of the priesthood. Yet, they also challenged me to pray more and discern more. Even though I was not making a decision on priesthood as a senior in high school, my parents really wanted me to be sure that college seminary was the right choice for me. The purpose of college seminary, at its most basic, is to discern one’s vocation, whether that be to the priesthood or elsewhere. When my parents pushed me to go deeper in my discernment, they were being a seminary for me. Going further, they instilled in me the values of a good man, which translate directly into a good priest. I know I speak for my brother seminarians as well when I say that those same values were instilled in them.
Above all, however, the family teaches how to love. Being blessed enough to grow up in a two-parent household, seeing the love and devotion that my parents have for one another impressed on me the importance of unconditional love of family and of neighbor. Experiencing their unconditional love for me and my little sister inculcated in me the love of the Father. The loving relationship I have grown with my sister has taught me the deep value of siblings and the pricelessness of the feminine genius. Without this love, a family could not be a church or a seminary. It is because of this great love that I am able to have a relationship with God and am able to discern the priesthood, a life truly lived out of love of neighbor. It was extremely evident that this love existed in all the families of my brother seminarians. We come in different sizes, from different backgrounds and places, with different practices and ways of living, but it is love of Christ and love of family that binds us together, and helps make our domestic churches and seminaries into a larger community and into this wonderful seminary dedicated to our patron, St. Joseph, the head of the Holy Family.