By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, July 5, 2010

Family, the First Place for Faith

On Saturday I had the blessing of celebrating Mass for 450 families who had gathered at the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage site for the annual Family Life Conference. This event, organized by Catholic Family Ministries, brings together families who are seeking to celebrate and deepen their faith, and to embrace anew the mission that is theirs in the Church and world. We all know the importance of healthy family life not only for those within the family unity but also for the Church and society in general. Therefore it was very encouraging for me to see so many families gathered together to thank God for the gifts he has given them and to seek His help to remain strong and vibrant in faith and love.

Two key dimensions of the mission of the family were highlighted by the Gospel passages proclaimed this past weekend. They help us to appreciate that the family is the first place where Christ is to be encountered, and that it is the seedbed of vocations to lives dedicated to proclaiming his Gospel.

Saturday was the feast of Saint Thomas the apostle. The Gospel narrative was the familiar account of the encounter between the risen Lord and Thomas, who had declared that he would not believe that the Lord had been raised from the dead unless he could touch his wounds (cf. John 20: 24-29). The Lord gave him this grace. Having touched the wounds of the body of the risen Lord, he was brought to the great acclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God”. Touching the wounds of the Lord was important not only for the faith of Thomas but also our own. The wounds proclaim that the one who appeared to the apostles after the crucifixion was neither some figment of their imagination nor someone other than Jesus himself. They announce the truth of the Resurrection. The One who appeared to the Apostles is the same Jesus who had died on the Cross. Salvation has therefore come to the world. Furthermore, the Risen Lord remains always with his Church so that all might know the joy of encountering him.

Families are the place where children first come to faith in the Lord. Parents have the sacred duty to bring their children up in the faith that has come to us from the apostles. Thomas teaches by his own example that we are brought to faith when we touch the body of the Risen Lord. This happens for us in ways other than the unique experience granted to the apostles, but it is nonetheless real. We touch the body of the risen Lord in the sacraments of the Church, especially the Eucharist. We touch his body when we gather together as a community of disciples. And we touch his body when we reach out in love to the poor and suffering. The mission of the family is to help one another recognize and touch the body of the risen Lord present with us today, and to support one another as this encounter with the Lord draws us to ever deeper faith.

On Sunday the Gospel passage from Saint Luke (cf. Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20) recalled the command of Jesus to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Those “labourers” come first and foremost from families of faith. Although every diocese will usually appoint a priest as its vocation director, nevertheless it is true that the first and most important vocation directors are parents. They know their children better than anyone else and are thus uniquely positioned to look for signs of a vocation in their son or daughter. I mentioned this to the parents at the Family Life Conference and I could see that they were ready and eager to take up this call. This is a sign of great hope for the Church. A vocation is nurtured in a vibrant community of faith, especially in the family. If parents today are attentive to discerning the hand of the Lord guiding their son or daughter and are prepared to speak to their children about the consecrated life as a priest or religious, we shall surely be witnesses to a new springtime of vocations in our day.

I am about to return home for a couple of weeks of vacation, to my family where my own vocation was nurtured. My next blog post will be July 26th.