The last two weeks (Part 1 and Part 2), we have been 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. He delves into the importance of having a marriage centered on Jesus Christ. This week we will look at his practical suggestions on how to strengthen your marriage and family life.
Bishop Olmsted identifies six key areas of growth for your marriage and family spirituality:
- Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy
- Monthly Confession as a Family
- Daily Family Meal
- Prioritize Spousal Together Time
- Establish Digital Boundaries
- Marian Consecration of the Home
Let’s look into each one of these in a little more detail.
Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy
Bishop Olmsted finds no greater joy than seeing “fathers and mothers together leading their families to Mass on Sunday” (124). Make the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy the highlight of your week. “Make Sunday Mass attendance a non-negotiable when…planning the family calendar, even when the family is on vacation” (124).
Monthly Confession as a Family
Although the Church requires us at a minimum to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a year, Bishop Olmsted urges you to “not settle for minimalism as an individual or family.” Rather, he recommends “monthly confessions with parents leading the whole family to the Sacrament” (127). “Teach your children to go to confession regularly, once per month and you will instill in them a habit that will guard their soul throughout their lives” (128).
Daily Family Meal
In our busy world, families seldom eat family meals together on a regular basis. “One social study found this regular meal to be the number one family habit that led to children’s success in school” (129). “The family meal, as unrushed as possible,” says Bishop Olmsted, “is where real encounters happen between parents and children” (129). Do not miss out on this fruitful time with your children!
Prioritize Spousal Together Time
Spouses need time alone together away from work, household chores, and their children, as a “fundamental source of renewal for your marriage” (131). “There is no substitute for good time away together,” says Bishop Olmsted, to “nurture the love you committed to [each other] at the altar” (132). Recommendations include adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and an annual weekend retreat as the “Lord rejoices in your spousal love” (132) and wants you to grow in intimacy with Him and each other.
Establish Digital Boundaries
“Pornography, violence, profanity, endless ideologies and angry political material are often available in the palm of your children’s hands,” (134) warns Bishop Olmsted. “Without establishing clear boundaries for digital devices at home, your ‘plan for spiritual life’ can be undermined and even sabotaged” (134). Replace digital time “in favor of real play, real conversation, and real friendship (134). “The gift of your time, which is a non-renewable resource, is given to you by God for experiencing life” (135).
Marian Consecration of the Home
Bishop Olmsted says to “invite Our Lady to dwell with you through consecrating your home to Jesus through her Immaculate Heart” (142). He asks that you “place an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a special place, perhaps your prayer space, in your home” making it a “special occasion” inviting “a priest or deacon to bless the image while he blesses your home” (142). “Our Lady will help us to the halls of Heaven with her prayers” (144).
In closing, Bishop Olmsted quotes St. John Paul II’s encyclical letter Redemptor Hominis (The Redeemer of Man):
Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it. This, as has already been said, is why Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself” (RH, 10). (145)
“It is not by chance,” says Bishop Olmsted, “that Jesus called you and me to be His witnesses at this troubled time in history, in the post-sexual revolution confusion” (150). Jesus is “calling us to know, love and serve Him” (150) in the spiritual battle for marriage and family.
Dear husbands and wives, mothers and fathers…let your hearts rejoice anew at God’s call to bear witness to Jesus and His Gospel by loving one another in the very family in which you now are living. You are not alone as you face the sorrows and struggles, the lights and shadows, that are part of family life. Recall Jesus’ promise, “Know that I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). (149)
“For reasons known only to Christ,” says Bishop Olmsted, “He has chosen you whom He has joined in marriage to be, at this time in history, an icon of His love for His Bride the Church” (151).
When you make sacrifices, then, for one another, when you encourage and forgive each other, when you worship the Lord together, when you welcome children and raise them in the practice of the Catholic faith, you are helping our skeptical generation to believe that free, total, faithful and fruitful love is still possible. Indeed, nothing is impossible with God; trust Him and begin. (151)