The City of Woonsocket, largely through the influence of the local Pentecostal churches, has had a Day of Public Prayer each autumn for the past few years. The day of prayer, held at a public park, is an opportunity for local believers to pray together for civic leaders and for neighborhood needs. This past year offering a “Prayer for the Family” became my special responsibility. A search of the World Wide Web for assorted prayers for the family evoked an endless selection but a Prayer for the Family published by Pope Pius XII in 1957 shone out as keenly insightful and sadly prophetic. Remember that Pius’ prayer was written when 65 percent of American Catholics attended Mass every Sunday, when the national divorce rate was 22 percent, and when TV’s Lucy and Desi still had to sleep in separate beds. Although the Church’s liturgical calendar did not permit a Feast of the Holy Family this year, readers would do well to ponder family life today in light of Pope Pius’ wise sentiments:
“O Lord, God of goodness and mercy, in the midst of an evil and sinful world you have presented to the community of the redeemed the Holy Family of Nazareth as a spotless mirror of piety, justice and love. Behold how today the family is being undermined on all sides. Every effort is being made to desecrate the family by stripping it of faith, religion and morals. Regard the work of your own hands. Safeguard in our homes the domestic virtues, for these alone will ensure us harmony and peace. Come and stir up the champions of the family. Bestir the modern apostles so that in your Name, bearing the message of Jesus Christ and exhibiting holiness of life, they may revive the doctrines of conjugal fidelity for married couples, the exercise of authority by parents, obedience on the part of children and modesty on the part of girls. Grant also through the efforts of these apostles, that the home favored by you with so many blessings may again become an object of esteem and love in the minds and hearts of all. It is through the example of the Divine family of Nazareth that the Christian family is to be restored in Jesus Christ and to recover its former respect and dignity. Then every home will again become a sanctuary and every household will be rekindled with the flame of faith to teach patience in adversity and moderation in prosperity and to promote order, peace and harmony in all things. Under your fatherly gaze, O Lord, and with confidence in your Providence and in the loving support of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the family will become a sanctuary of virtue and a school of wisdom. It shall prove, as Christ has promised, a haven of rest against life’s burdens. In the sight of the world it shall render glory to you, O Father, and to your Son, Jesus, until the day when, through Him, we shall, together with all His members, sing the Divine praises in the heavenly ages to come. Amen.”
Pope Pius lists piety, justice and love as the cardinal virtues of the Christian home. Piety indicates a heartfelt, interior relationship with God. Justice specifies a balanced relationship between the spouses and among family members as well as toward the outer world. Love, of course, calls for a willingness to sacrifice willingly and warmly for the good of the family and the world. The Pontiff knows that these virtues are difficult to cultivate and maintain in a world intent on stripping the family of “faith, religion and morals” which are supernatural resources on which Christian family life depends. In contrast to the ways of the world, the Holy Father calls upon the “champions of the family,” the Church’s “apostles,” to promote the message of Jesus Christ especially through the holiness of their own lives. These apostles, who today are clergy, religious and laity, have the difficult tasks of instilling conjugal fidelity in a world that winks at casual relationships, cohabitation and divorce. They must also re-introduce parental authority and filial obedience as the natural order of things. They must also encourage “modesty on the part of girls” which sounds blatantly sexist today but certainly is a start toward the self-respect that all young people need.
The home itself, so often the occasion for ridicule, mockery and disrespect by the entertainment industry, must again “become an object of esteem and love in the minds and hearts of all.” The home must be “a sanctuary,” an orderly and harmonious place of “patience in adversity and moderation in prosperity.” Finally Pope Pius prays that, overcoming all spousal, familial and social estrangement, the Christian home will be “a haven of rest against life’s burdens.” St. Paul, in this Sunday’s second reading, makes a similar request: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” Both St. Paul and Pope Pius project a tall order for the modern family, an order that grows more imperative and more elusive every day.