Last week, we started looking at Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation Complete My Joy, which he wrote to husbands and wives, mothers and fathers of the Diocese of Phoenix. Bishop Olmsted points to Jesus Christ as the source of hope and love in marriage and family life. This week, we will continue in our examination of this timely and much needed exegesis into both biblical and Church teachings on this important topic. As he says:
It is a great privilege and a great duty, that we strengthen and encourage [husbands and wives, mothers and fathers], and that we remind them that their vocation is a vital contribution to the world.
Bishop Olmstead begins the second part of his exhortation by comparing marriage to a well-manicured garden versus an abandoned yard overgrown with weeds. “The family has a nature,” he says, “a given meaning, structure and goal…when it has the conditions necessary for thriving” (20). The conditions necessary for thriving can be found in the structure of the family that is “from the Creation until now, man and woman covenantally bound by vows for the sake of their own good and the sake of any children who come forth from their ‘one flesh’ union” (20).
Bishop Olmsted asks a simple question, “Why is family such a big deal?” (21). Family and marriage have many definitions in our culture today and there is much confusion as to what constitutes a family. “The nature of the family must be explained and defended,” says Bishop Olmsted, “because this question is now being asked regularly, and answered badly” (21). He continues, “Simply put, the family is a big deal because it is the God-given and natural ‘soil’ meant for each child’s new growth” (21).
Stressing the importance of understanding God’s will for the procreation of new human life, Bishop Olmsted says “the Catholic Church has been entrusted with a profound insight into the beautiful mystery and meaning of marriage” (22). “Man is a unity of matter and spirit, of body and soul, and only God can create a soul…immortal…and…immediately” (22) when the sperm from the man enters the egg from the woman. “By joining a spiritual soul to the biological material provided by mom and dad, God brings a new human person into existence!” (22), he explains.
“The nature of the family, into which each human being is vulnerably conceived, vulnerably born, and vulnerably raised,” says Bishop Olmsted, “is clearly seen here to require more than biological motherhood and fatherhood, a secondary protective reality which speaks to our dignity as persons” (24) is required. This secondary protection is MARRIAGE, “which today requires the full voice and effort of the Church to uphold” (24)!
The social construct of marriage and family appears in every known society throughout all of history. “In human history,” says Bishop Olmsted, “anywhere marriage is thriving and garden-like, society is strong. When marriage becomes jungle-like, society suffers” (25).
“Therefore, the Church refers to the family, based on marriage, as the ‘fundamental cell of society’” (26), says Bishop Olmsted. This is consistent with the long-held teachings of the Catholic Church. He says that we “should not be surprised, then, that in societies where the family is flourishing, the common good thrives as well” (26).
Love is willing the good of another. St. Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Beyond mere survival of the species and the good of society, “the family is the irreplaceable center of love and life. The nature of human beings is to need love as well as life!” (27), says Bishop Olmsted, “love is not optional.” However, our culture is confused on the meaning of love and is in “a bit of a mess and needs a good pruning to be seen as the garden that it is” (27). Bishop Olmsted looks to St. Thomas Aquinas, 13th century theologian and philosopher, for the proper definition: “Love is willing the good of the other.” “Love is one person willing the best, the good, for another, for the other’s sake,” says Bishop Olmsted, let “us not be afraid to prune that which is confused and overgrown” (27).
Bishop Olmsted then goes on to explain that marital love is free, total, faithful, and fruitful. This exegesis would require several more blog posts to explain the richness of this teaching. We have extensively blogged on this topic in the past:
Part 3 of Bishop Olmsted’s exhortation discusses the mission of every Christian family. “When family life is lived in accord with the dignity inherent to it, it heals and re-evangelizes the Body of Christ so that the light of Christ can shine forth to all peoples…because the family reflects the love of the Holy Trinity” (48), says Bishop Olmsted. Quoting St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, “‘The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love”-the love of the Trinity and Christ’s love for the Church” (48).
We have also blogged extensively on the mission of the family. You can read more in these blog posts:
- John Paul II: The Pope of the Family
- Family: An Intimate Community of Life and Love, Part 1 and Part 2
- Marriage: An Image of the Trinity’s Life-Giving Love
- Marriage: An Image of God’s Love for Humanity
Bishop Olmsted’s exhortation on marriage and family is chock-full of wisdom. We urge you to read this document. It will change how you view your vocation as a husband and wife, father and mother. No matter if you have a great marriage or one that is in need of improvement, this document will help you to make your marriage better.
In closing this week, we want to share one more thought from Bishop Olmstead…
Jesus has a plan for your family and His purposes will not be thwarted by sin and brokenness-if you but surrender your hurts to Him in love and trust. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah29:11)” (105).
Next time we will finish our discussion of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s Apostolic Exhortation Complete My Joy with his practical suggestions on how to strengthen your family life.
 John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, §17.