On the feast of the Holy Family, Dec. 30, 2018, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix promulgated a new apostolic exhortation entitled “Complete My Joy.” Although addressed to the people of his diocese in honor of its 50th anniversary, it is of universal significance and great value to all who are striving to understand and live the call to holiness within marriage and family life.
“Even though this was meant for the Church in Phoenix, all who read him have become members of the Church in Phoenix! After all, the Church is One,” exclaimed Pascal Chimeze, a Catholic Charismatic leader from Nigeria, via Apostoli Viae, an online Catholic community. “Bishop Olmsted wrote as though he was in Nigeria and had experienced, firsthand, the too many challenging and difficult times many families pass through.”
The exhortation opens with the bishop’s own reflections on the gift of his family life, takes readers through the God-given nature of the family itself and the distinct and complementary roles within it, and develops the idea of the mission of the family.
Bishop Olmsted is candid about the current challenges faced by families; he urges them to remain strong even in the midst of the current culture, which is so often opposed to authentic family life. He quotes Servant of God Sister Lucia of Fatima, who wrote that “the final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage and the family.”
Recognizing that many have come from broken homes or are experiencing hurt or disappointment within their own families, Bishop Olmsted reminds families that suffering itself can be a source of grace within the family and that God desires to not only heal but restore what has been lost. “When you offer your suffering up to God,” the bishop writes, “He will use it like oil from the press to anoint your family. In this way, you mysteriously but truly participate in the redemption of those you love most in the world!”
The letter ends with practical examples of ways in which marriages and families can be strengthened: including keeping holy the Lord’s Day together, family prayer, shared meals, limits on technology and outside activities, and Marian consecration. He reminds families that by living their vocation, “you are helping our skeptical generation to believe that free, total, faithful and fruitful love is still possible.”
The Register had the opportunity to ask Bishop Olmsted via email more about the motivation behind “Complete My Joy,” its connection to his prior and widely acclaimed exhortation to men entitled “Into the Breach,” and his hopes for those who read the letter.
Bishop Olmsted, this is a time of great grief in our Church, and yet by Providence it is also a jubilee year for the Diocese of Phoenix. What is the meaning of a jubilee year? How can the two realities be reconciled? And why did you decide to emphasize the family during this year?
We celebrate a jubilee year because we believe in God’s love at work in history. Jesus promises us, “I shall be with you always.”
What we celebrate are not our achievements, but God’s mighty deeds in Christ and his Body, the Church. We remember with praise the Lord’s blessings, but also recall our sins and the sins of others, even ones of great scandal. Paradoxically, even our sins — when humbly confessed — lead us to praise God for his fidelity, not because we are worthy, but because he is rich in mercy.
Our Diocese of Phoenix is commemorating its 50th year, a relatively brief period of time, yet a time deeply impacted by the sexual revolution, with the great harm it has inflicted on marriage and family, personal relationships and society. The Lord, in his loving providence, has destined us to be witnesses of his mercy at this time in history. Recognizing the challenges we face, as well as our own weaknesses, we place all our trust in God.
Does this exhortation build on or continue your immensely successful letter to men, “Into the Breach?” How so? Did it evolve similarly?
“Into the Breach” and “Complete My Joy” both derive from a keen sense of the spiritual battle that is crippling society and harming family life in our time.
Men are tempted to abandon the field of battle in what has been called “Fatherless America.” Large numbers have lost a sense of their purpose in love. There is confusion about masculinity and femininity. So I felt called to write about the identity and mission of men in the Church and society today and to exhort my sons and brothers of the Diocese of Phoenix not to hesitate to engage in this spiritual battle.
“Complete My Joy” builds on the previous apostolic exhortation. Having addressed the crisis of fatherhood and masculinity, it became evident that something similar was needed for married couples, because even greater attacks on marriage have emerged in recent years. Many today have never heard of God’s plan for marriage. They do not know that the vocation to family life is beautiful and noble, that it is indeed possible, with the help of God’s grace, to love your husband or wife with a love that is free, total, faithful and fruitful.
You mentioned early in the document that you are “convinced that the priestly work we spiritual fathers do for the upbuilding of the family is our most important work. I think this more today than ever.” What makes you think this?
Because we live in “Fatherless America,” there is a greater need for spiritual fatherhood today than ever. Many children suffer because they were abandoned by their dads, and sometimes even abandoned by their spiritual fathers. The way forward is not to abandon our mission as priests but, while humbly aware of our shortcomings, to trust even more fully in the ability of God to exercise his fatherhood through us whom he has called to this mission.
You list many modern dangers to the family in the document. What do you personally see as the greatest threat to the family today? And what is the greatest sign of hope?
The greatest threat to the family today is losing sight of God’s plan or, even worse, failing to believe it’s possible to be lived. The most diabolical of all temptations is discouragement. We need to practice the virtue of hope, trusting the Lord always.
A great sign of hope are the many couples who begin marriage preparation in our diocese convinced that it will be a waste of time; but when presented with God’s plan for marriage, in all its nobility and beauty — and yes, also with the sacrifices that any Christian vocation requires — decide to throw away the false notions of secularized society and embrace God’s plan.
What is your hope for those who read this exhortation? How can they “complete your joy,” a joy which you so beautifully describe as beginning in your own family life?
A spiritual father rejoices in those whom God has given him to love, just as he weeps when they go down the wrong path. Whoever reads my exhortation and hears within it the voice of the Lord and finds fresh hope and encouragement in their marriage and family will, as St. Paul wrote, complete my joy.
Claire Dwyer blogs about saints, spirituality and the sacred every day
at EventheSparrow.com and contributes regularly
She is editor of SpiritualDirection.com and coordinates adult faith formation
at her parish in Phoenix, where she lives with her husband and their six children.
READ THE EXHORTATION
“Complete My Joy” can be read in its entirety here.