Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Holy Family Sunday, the last Sunday of the year, honors Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the holiest family that ever was or will be. It’s the perfect time to start strengthening every family by imitating them. The Fatima seers knew it.
At Fatima 100 years ago, “God chose to conclude the Message in Fatima, in October 1917, with three further apparitions which I regard as three more calls placed before us,” wrote Sister Lucia in her book, “CALLS” From the Message of Fatima. She and her two saintly cousins saw them as “significant apparitions.”
Focusing on the first as the apparition of the Holy Family — Our Lady, and the Child Jesus in the arms of St. Joseph, blessing the people — Lucia wrote: “In times such as the present, when the family often seems misunderstood in the form in which it was established by God, and is assailed by doctrines that are erroneous and contrary to the purposes for which the Divine Creator instituted it, surely God wished to address to us a reminder of the purpose for which He established the family in the world?”
Remember, she said this in the later 1990s. Long before, in 1981 she wrote in a letter to Cardinal Carlo Caffara a dire warning he revealed in 2008 and which we see rapidly unfolding in the world: “The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family. Don't be afraid…because whoever works for the sanctity of Marriage and the Family will always be fought against and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue.” She ended saying, “nevertheless, Our Lady has already crushed his head.”
In “CALLS” Lucia explained the necessity of the family’s sanctification.
A Fatima-loving Saint Confirms
St. John Paul II who had close connections to Fatima saw what was coming for society and the family.
In 1981 in Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), he noted the times were “a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it.” He lists and names the attacks which we see now unfolding in full force. Simultaneously he stressed “the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family.”
Earlier, in his homily on Holy Family Sunday in 1978, he strongly reminded: The family “constitutes the primary, fundamental and irreplaceable community for man.”
He stressed: “The mission of being the primary vital cell of society has been given to the family by God himself."
The saintly Holy Father said the Church gives particular witness to that during Christmastide by the feast of the Holy Family “to recall that the fundamental values, which cannot be violated without incalculable harm of a moral nature, are bound up with the family.”
“The family of Nazareth…really constitutes that culminating point of reference for the holiness of every human family,” John Paul II emphasized, echoing these beliefs through the years.
In his Angelus on Dec. 31, 2000, he again reminded of many attacks on the family, concluding, “All this shows how urgent it is to rediscover the value of the family and to help it in every way to be, as God wanted it, the vital environment where every child who comes into the world is welcomed with tenderness and gratitude from the moment of his conception; a place marked by a serene atmosphere that encourages the harmonious human and spiritual development of all its members.”
Then in his 2001 Angelus on Holy Family Sunday, John Paul II again emphasized: “The Redeemer of the world chose the family as the place for his birth and growth, thereby sanctifying this fundamental institution of every society.”
He called “the family of Nazareth a model for every home.”
Sister Lucia was of the same mind reflecting on the family after seeing the Holy Family at Fatima.
Instituted by God
“God entrusted to the family the sacred mission of co-operating with Him in the work of creation,” Lucia began, adding that this act highlights his goodness as Father. “Thus the Divine Creator wished to entrust to the family a sacred mission that makes two beings become one in union so close that it does not admit of separation. It is from this union that God wishes to produce other beings…”
Lucia reflected on marriage. “God established Matrimony as an indissoluble union. Once a couple have received the sacrament of Matrimony, the union between the two is definitive and cannot be broken; it is indissoluble as long as the couple remain alive.”
She noted the very clear and simple reason — “God ordained it to be” — citing proof in Genesis 2:24 and “which Jesus Christ confirmed and endorsed in Matthew 19: 4-6, in the face of human efforts, at that time, to pull in the opposite direction.”
Becoming one in the bond of love and commitment and co-operation with God in the work of creation, “involves the sacrifice and immolation that the giving of oneself always implies” and it also involves “mutual understanding, forgiveness and pardon. It is thus that a home is built up, made holy and gives glory to God.”
In his 1978 homily, John Paul II called these fundamental values. The first “is the value of the person which is expressed in absolute mutual faithfulness until death” and the second is “the personal value of the new life…of the child, from the first moment of his conception.”
Way to Family Sanctification
How does a family become sanctified? Lucia reminds that parents have a duty to their children and the same for children to parents.
A primary duty, she said, is for parents to instill a knowledge of God and His commandments at an early age, teaching children to “keep them in mind and to observe them.” Parents who don’t do this fail “to fulfill the mission entrusted to them by God.” Lucia always cites many Scriptural references as proofs. In this case, it begins with Deuteronomy 6: 6-7. She’s not afraid to warn transgressors, either. “Parents who disregard this law of God make themselves responsible for the ignorance that is responsible for the disordered lives of the children who torment the declining years of their parents, and are themselves lost.” For this sublime mission parents “are answerable to God.”
The Fatima seer stressed it’s essential that parents guide “their children’s first steps to the altar of God, teaching them to raise their innocent hands and to pray helping them to discover how to find God on their way and to follow the echo of his voice. This is the most serious and important mission that has been entrusted to God to parents; and they must fulfill it so well that throughout their lives, the memory of their parents will always arouse in their children the memory of God and of His teaching.”
What about the children?
“The children,” Lucia said, “must never forget or set to one side the respect, gratitude and help which they owe to their parents, who are for them the image of God.”
As parents sacrificed themselves to raise, educate, and establish the children in life, in turn the children are duty-bound also to sacrifice in order “to give pleasure, joy and serenity to their parents, aiding and assisting them, if necessary, in such a way that everything is done out of true love and with one’s eyes fixed on God.”
In his 1978 Holy Family homily, John Paul II pointed out that the Gospel “shows us, very clearly, the educative aspect of the family,” referring to 12-year-old Jesus in relation to Mary and Joseph, and how he “was obedient to them.”
It’s an example for children, of course. “This submission, obedience, readiness to accept the mature examples of the human conduct of the family, is necessary, on the part of children and of the young generation,” confirmed John Paul II. “And parents must measure their whole conduct with this "obedience", this readiness of the child to accept the examples of human behavior. This is the particularly delicate point of their responsibility as parents, of their responsibility with regard to the man, this little and then growing man entrusted to them by God himself.”
Lucia said, “This is how a family sanctifies itself, grows and prospers in that unity, fidelity, mutual understanding and forgiveness which generate peace, joy, mutual trust and love.”
Struggle and Way to Triumph
In that 1978 homily John Paul II noted how material, economic and social views were often prevailing over Christian principles and morality. But Christians can’t ignore it.
“It is necessary to defend these fundamental values tenaciously and firmly, because their violation does incalculable harm to society and, in the last analysis, to man,” he insisted. The role of the family becomes decisive.
“The future of humanity passes through the family,” he highlighted in Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World).
With that being the case, what does the family need to do? “The Church relies especially on the witness and contribution of Christian families to fulfil her urgent mission. Indeed, in the face of the dangers and difficulties that beset the family institution, she invites families to have greater spiritual and apostolic boldness, knowing that the family is called to be ‘a sign of unity for the world’ and thus to bear witness to 'the Kingdom and peace of Christ…”
So what does the family also need to become to pattern itself on the Holy Family?
Hint. Six times in Familiaris Consortio John Paul II calls families the “domestic church.” And in his 2001 Holy Family Sunday Angelus, he reminded “the humble dwelling place in Nazareth is an authentic school of the Gospel. Here we admire, put into practice, the divine plan to make the family an intimate community of life and love; here we learn that every Christian family is called to be a small ‘domestic church’ that must shine with the Gospel virtues.”
Back in Familiaris Consortio we also learn that the “future evangelization depends largely on the domestic Church,” and that “only with God's unceasing aid, which will surely be granted if it is humbly and trustingly petitioned in prayer,” will families rise to responsibility as the domestic church. A major help is Our Lady, “Mother of Christian families, of domestic Churches.”
Fatima Seer’s Visualization
Sister Lucia has a beautiful way of describing the holy families we’re called to be.
“A home must be like a garden, where fresh rosebuds are opening, bringing to the world the freshness of innocence, a pure and trusting outlook on life, and the smile of innocent happy children. Only thus does God take pleasure in his creative work, blessing it and turning his fatherly gaze upon it. Any other way of behaving is to divert the work of God from its end, to alter the plans of God, failing to fulfill and carry out the mission that God has entrusted to the married couple.”
Looking to the apparitions at Fatima, she concludes, “Hence, in the Message of Fatima, God calls on us to turn our eyes to the Holy Family of Nazareth, into which He chose to be born, and to grow in grace and stature, in order to present to us a model to imitate, as our footsteps tread the path of our pilgrimage to Heaven.”