BECOMING HEALED FAMILIES
You will remember that at the end of last year’s Synod on the family that Pope Francis said “we still have one year to mature, with true discernment, the proposed ideas to find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and challenges that families must confront, to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families”.
By now we have three months left!
During our triduum we have been bringing our families before God and pondering on our vocation to be holy and reconciled families. Tonight we are praying about healing for our families: Becoming Healed Families. This is not only an urgent pastoral concern, but it is an attractive prospect for us all. We all come from families, we all have some family connections -even if we are called to the single life.
Let us reflect for a few moments this evening on the Gospel of the Family, on the reality of wounded families and on becoming healed families.
1. THE GOSPEL OF THE FAMILY.
By using the word ‘Gospel’ of the family we are professing that family life is good news, family life is part of God’s plan, family life is holy . And this is so of all families whatever their religion: family life is full of grace.
Christian family life is full of grace in a more explicit way in that Jesus, the grace of God incarnate, is at the heart of every Christian family.
St Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here” (2 Cor 5:17). A Christian family then is a new creation.
From the earliest days disciples of Jesus have referred to the Christian family as a “Domestic Church”; this was not just because the early Church met in private family homes long before it was possible to build formal churches, but because Christian families are the most basic of all Christian communities. This idea of the family as a Domestic Church has inspired the movement of basic Christian communities around the world” communities of families living by Gospel values, even our parishes are seen as “families of faith”.
Our experience of family as a Domestic Church overflows into experiencing the parish as a larger family where together we journey in faith and hope and where we translate the words of the Gospel into deeds of justice, love and peace.
In the family of the parish we begin our Christian journey in baptism, confirmation and Eucharist, the sacraments of initiation, in the family of the parish we discover the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation, in the family of the parish we seal our covenant of love in matrimony and when, fortified by the sacrament of the sick, our earthy life comes to its end, we are brought to the parish Church for the final commendation and farewell.
The Gospel of the Family is full of good news in abundance.
While we do have a wonderful vision of the Christian family, it is too easy to talk about families in glowing or even sentimental terms while ignoring the harsher realities of everyday life. You may have heard of the elderly lady who on hearing a young priest give a romantic sermon on marriage was heard to say “I wish I knew as little about marriage as that young priest!”
The reality is that the structures of sin cloud family life. The alienation to which we seem naturally prone can often result in wounded families.
Husband and wife can drift apart to the extent of becoming “married singles”; children can feel alienated from their parents, and even sometimes from one another. Historic wrongs can lead to one side of the extended family being alienated from another. It’s not uncommon for children to hear that “we have nothing to do with your uncle Joe”.
Family alienation can take many forms -from cold wars ( with the silent treatment) to hot wars (with outright arguments or fights), to infidelity, to separation and even divorce. The final alienation can be death when a family member dies and the opportunity for reconciliation seems lost for ever. To use Pope Francis’ image, the family can be a “field hospital” -just like the family of the Church or the parish. Field hospitals are places for emergency treatment, wounds have to be cleaned and bound, tears have to dried, comfort and reassurance have to be given and hope of recovery has to be prominent.
In all the reflections in preparation for both Synods (last year’s and this year’s) the messiness of marriage and family life has not be ignored. The good news (Gospel) is that wounded families can be treated, alienated family members can be reconciled (even beyond the grave), innocence and holiness can be restored. The Gospel of the family is a Gospel of Hope.
3.BECOMING HEALED FAMILIES.
The opposite of alienation is conciliation. While our world is clearly marked with serious alienations, many of which scar our families, humanity has not lost the capacity for conciliation. There is a vast resource of goodwill, of care and compassion, of understanding and insight at our disposal; this fund of compassion is the source of the healing professions. Doctors and nurses are in the front line of physical and mental healing; psychologists and counsellors are there to restore the wounded spirit; all sorts of organizations (like A.A.) and NGOs reach out to people in need. Healing is embedded in the human community.
We are blessed in this parish with a thriving branch of the Catholic Counselling Network where two trained counsellors are freely available to help those wounded by life.
During the Blessing of the sick at our weekly Novena we hear these words: “We thank you for the healing ministry of Jesus still present in the Church”. The Jesus who walked the roads of Galilee, forgiving sins, healing the sick and comforting the distressed is the same Jesus alive in his Church, forgiving our sins, healing and restoring us to the image and likeness of his Father and ours.
The healing power of Christ is not limited to the Sacraments: hearing the Word of God in faith is a healing of our spirits; speaking the truth in love is a healing moment for both speaker and hearer; silent and anonymous donations to the poor bring help to the needy and blessings on the donor. the horizons of healing are limitless.
I think it is relevant in the context of the family of the parish to highlight the significance of “like ministering to like”. Just as the people who best understand alcoholism, and who can best minister to alcoholics, are alcoholic themselves, so too the best ministers to families are other families.
Hence we have to become not only healed families but healing families. this is how God works. Like unto like: the gift of being healed is given so that it can be shared:
I am healed, therefore I can help to heal others.
My family is healed, therefore my family can help to heal other families.
We have been listening and reflecting; now let us turn to actual prayer -through the intercession of our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Prayer for the Healing of families
Healing of Family Memories:
We know the memory can play tricks on us; we know the memory is unreliable. Nevertheless memories from the past can surface to trouble us, disturb our peace, and reopen old wounds. Sometimes we can be prisoners of bad memories: childhood neglect; sibling rivalry; youthful rebellion against our parents. The memories of family poverty, or greed, or meanness can shame us even still. Whatever hurtful family memories we harbour, we can bring them to the Lord tonight. Our prayer for the healing of family memories comes from psalm 103:
Let each hurtful memory bless the Lord’s holy name: this is the way of healing for us
Bless the Lord my soul, let all that is within me bless his holy name (3)
Healing of Family relationships:
We know the ramifications of relationship within the extended family can go on and on. Many are hurt by a single word; some are hurt by silence, other by phoney friendliness. Family rows can spill over into trouble with in-laws. Some children will harbour resentment all their lives -even into their sixties and seventies.
Most troubling of all, perhaps, are torn family relationships when death intervened before peace could be restored.
Jesus is not limited by death: he has broken the chains of sin and death and has moved into a new kind of existence, into the new heaven and the new earth: all can be reconciled.
Nor is Jesus constrained by time or number: all can be restored in him. Let his healing word echo in our hearts now:
We bring any relationship that still troubles us to the Lord of the Living and the Dead and we ask him to bless it and heal us so that even though we do not forget the hurt, we do not cling to resentment and we become able to bless the people who have hurt us.
“Love one another as I have loved you. What I command you is to love one another. (3)
Healing of Family failures:
Every family has a public history and a private history. We may be able to put a brave face on our family in public but often there are skeletons in the cupboard: family breakdowns, infidelities, mistakes, failures, sins.
None of this is beyond the healing power of Jesus. He came to call sinners, he came to enhance our humanity, he came to heal our family failures
Tonight we bring all our family failures, sins, mistakes to the Lord who lets his power shine forth most magnificently in our weakness.
We remember the words of the Lord to St Paul:
My grace is enough for you (2Cor 12:9).
One of the unforgettable memories of Lourdes is the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament winding its way through the rows of sick pilgrims, and blessing them.
Miracles or not, it is hard not to moved by the inner healing in all who take part.
Tonight, there will be a mini Lourdes in our church: the Blessed Sacrament will be carried round the Church blessing each person and each family, healing us in mind and heart and body, making us healed and healing families of God.