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The Blessed Virgin and the Sanctification of the Family
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Some time ago while in Washington, I stopped at the Georgetown University Library to check the latest issue of the monthly magazine, The Marxist Review. Sure enough, there was an article on womens liberation. A sentence or two by way of introducing, The Blessed Virgin and the Sanctification of the Family.
The struggle for the emancipation of women is part of the struggle of the whole people.
There can be no emancipation for women without a revolution.
This mass participation of women in the class struggle is thus becoming a highlight of our epoch of social renewal.
They (women) are beginning to realize that the success of the struggle depends to a large degree on the extent to which this struggle fuses with the actions for a radical restructuring of society.
What is the value of these quotations from The Marxist Review? Their value lies in the fact that one of the main goals of world Marxism is, A radical restructuring of society. In more simple terms, Marxism aims to eradicate the very existence of the family as it has been understood since the dawn of human history.
Breakdown of Family Life
It is common knowledge that something drastic has happened to the family in the modern world. Countries like the United States reveal such a breakdown of marriage as Western civilization has not known in two thousand years.
The divorce rate has escalated to well over fifty percent nationally. Remarriages and multiple marriages have become commonplace.
The birth rate in many so-called developed countries has dropped to zero population, where one nation after another is not reproducing itself enough for survival. Contraception has become the rule rather than the exception. Sterilization is now a common practice. And abortion is not only legalized, but I would say legislated in most of the countries of Europe and North America.
The practice of sodomy has now been popularized beyond our wildest imagination, and legalizedin practiceto the point where normal marital relations are labeled old fashioned, traditionalist, and the remnant of a past age.
The very meaning of words like fornication, adultery, self-abuse and infidelity, has been radically changed. They are certainly not considered sins by millions of once believing Christians, or sadly even by many professed Catholics.
There are many reasons for this rebellion against the family and revolution against marital stability. But one of the main reasons has been the demonic zeal of Marxism, which has penetrated, by now, every country in the world.
We return for a moment to the few quotations I made at the beginning of this talk about womens liberation which entered the modern world from Communism.
You cannot read one book by Nicolai Lenin without seeing proof of what I have just said. Radical feminism with its hatred of men and its enslavement of women under the guise of liberating them from home and the familyhas its roots in Marxist-Leninism as I have learned years ago. I began reading Marx and Lenin from the age of fourteen.
Every basic idea of radical womens liberation, that is destroying family life, can be found in the writings of Lenin. In many cases, radical feminism has borrowed the exact words of the evil genius who, along with Karl Marx, created world Communism.
Restoration of Family Life
The title of this chapter is the Blessed Virgin and the Sanctification of Family Life. I plan to speak of the Blessed Virgin in the last part of these reflections. Now I wish to identify what I believe is the only sure way of restoring sound family life in our day.
Family life can be restored in countries like ours only by Catholic families living up to the teachings of Christ and His Church.
This means two things: 1) It means that ordinary Catholic families cannot survive. They must be extraordinary families. They must be, what I do not hesitate to call, heroic Catholic families.
Ordinary Catholic families are no match for the devil as he uses the media of communication to secularize and de-sacralize modern society.
No less than ordinary individual Catholics can survive, so ordinary Catholic families cannot survive. They have no choice. They must either be holywhich means sanctifiedor they will disappear.
The only Catholic families that will remain alive and thriving in the twenty-first century are the families of martyrs. Father, mother and children must be willing to die for their God-given convictions.
Back in the second century, the Fathers of the Church scoffed at her persecutors who were trying to crush Christianity by fire and sword. The persecutors were told, The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. The same is true today.
What the world most needs today is families of martyrs, who will reproduce themselves in spirit in spite of the diabolical hatred against family life by the enemies of Christ and His Church in our day.
We said that family life can be restored only by Catholic families who are holy or sanctified.
I now want to make a second statement on the same subject. Family life can be restored in our society only by the apostolic zeal of holy Catholic familiesreaching out to other families who are in such desperate need today.
Pope John Paul II called this, The apostolate of families to families.
In other words, the sanctification of family life implies two responsibilities, not just one: the personal duty for each Catholic family to grow in holiness, as a family; and the social duty of working, as a family, to help other families remain alive and to grow, as families, not in spite of but almost because of the demonic opposition from the unbelieving world all around them.
Role of the Blessed Virgin
We are now in a position to ask: What is the role of the Blessed Virgin in the sanctification of the family? In other words: How important is Our Lady in making holy, or sanctifying the Catholic family?
Her role, I do not hesitate to say, is not only important but indispensable. How?
Mary is indispensable because of her powerful intercession with her Son, to obtain for Catholic families the graces they need to protect themselves from the enemies of the family in the modern world.
Mary is indispensable because she provides the example to Catholic families of the virtues they must practice to sanctify themselves and to save and sanctify others in the apostolate of families to families.
Praying to Mary
Praying to the Blessed Virgin is the first and most fundamental way that families can become holy. What does this mean in practice? It means at least seven things:
These foregoing seven practices of devotion to the Blessed Virgin are by no means exhaustive. But they are typical of the kind of silent and vocal prayers that Catholic families should exercise if they wish to obtain from Mary what they, as families, constantly need from her Son.
With no apologies I will add still one more pious Marian practice that will do wonders for your family. This is to reciteand I would say memorizethe Litany of Our Lady, and periodically say this Litany of Loretto together as a family. Nineteen eighty-seven was the four hundredth anniversary of the approval of the Litany of Our Lady by Pope Sixtus V.
Our last and, in a way, most important means of sanctifying the family is for each memberfather, mother and childrento imitate Our Lady in the practice of those virtues which she practiced on earth, and wants us to follow her example.
I would choose especially three virtues of the Blessed Virgin. A family must be convinced that these three virtues are necessary even for the preservation of the family, and of course for its sanctification. The three virtues I specially recommend are Marys
We invoke Mary as Virgin Most Faithful, but seldom ask ourselves, what exactly does this mean? It means above all that Mary, unlike her Son but like us, had to live on faith. She had to believe that the Child she conceived at Nazareth was her God.
She had to believe, without really understanding how, that the helpless Babe in her arms at Bethlehem was the Creator of heaven and earth.
She had to believe that the young boy she cared for and then the young man she watched over and confided in was Yahweh who gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites and on the last day will come in power and majesty to judge the living and the dead.
She had to believe that the Jesus who preached to the multitudes in Palestine and was then unjustly condemned to death was the Author of Life.
She believed as she stood under the Cross on Calvary that her Son would rise glorious from the grave.
After His Ascension, she believed that He went to heaven and would one day bring her to join Him in heavenly glory.
No wonder Elizabeth told Mary that she was blessed because she believed in all the things that had been told her.
We return to our reflections on the family. How can a Catholic Family in every age, and with emphasis in our age, be sanctified? It can be sanctified only if every member of the family has a strong unquestioning, simple yet enlightened faith.
We have no choice. Either, as families, we keep and growlike Maryin the true faith, or we shall weaken, gasp for breath, and dieas families.
To paraphrase a familiar saying, A family that believes together, stays together. Faith in Jesus Christ, faith in the Church He founded, faith in His Vicar on earth, faith in the Real Presence made possible only because of Mary, faith in Gods providence, no matter how mysterious or painful, faith like Marys, is the foundation of family life and the bedrock of its sanctification.
We invoke Mary as Mother Most Chaste, and again we are liable to overlook the profound depth of meaning hidden beneath these simple words.
They mean that Mary practiced the most perfect kind of chastity all through her life. When told by the Angel that she was to become the Mother of the Most High, she did not doubt this was possible, but she did prudently ask, How will this be done? since she had already consecrated her chastity to God.
Again, we turn to our meditation on the family. How can a Catholic family survive in todays sex-preoccupied world? In an age when sexual pleasure is being hailed as mysticism, when marital infertility is reduced to an exact science, and marital infidelity has become a fine art, the Catholic familyevery member of the familymust practice chastity.
Then as the world tells us in print, radio and television that chastity is humanly impossible, we turn to Our Lady. She was told that nothing that God wants is impossible. With His grace chastity is not only possible but practicable, in fact deeply enjoyable.
I consider these words to be my central message. The Blessed Virgin is our great model and proof that Gods grace is stronger than our human flesh; that God wants everyone, in every state of life to practice chastity according to their different vocations.
Mary had her vocation and married people have theirs.
Mary had her vocation and unmarried people have theirs.
Mary had her vocation and children have theirs.
Mary had her vocation and all the members of a family have theirs.
But one thing we all have in common; we are all, without exception, to practice chastity.
It is here that the Blessed Virgin, which I would restate as Happy Chaste Person, is such an inspiration to Catholic families. Her chastity proves that our chastity is not an empty dream or a delusion. It is a real reality, provided, like Mary, we rely on the power and grace of God.
I do not hesitate to say that, after faith, the single most necessary virtue for a family to practice is sincere and selfless chastity.
The Church is so eager to remind us of Marys chastity as the inspiration of our purity, that she has us address Our Lady as:
always seeking to impress us with the fact that if chastity is ridiculed by the world, it is reverenced by those who, like Mary, humbly depend on the graciousness of God.
We finally invoke Mary as Mother Most Amiable and Virgin Most Merciful because of her extraordinary practice of charity.
She was amiable, or loving, especially towards Jesus and Joseph, and she was merciful by forgiving, even as Jesus did, the murderers who unjustly crucified her Son.
We are finally, for the last time, back to the sanctification of the family. This time we ask ourselves, How important is charity for the sanctification of the family? It is so important that, without charity as amiability and charity as mercy, family life is impossible.
We began this chapter with some statements from the Marxist Review. Communism, we saw, aims to radically restructure society by liberating women from the slavery of the family. And we know they are succeeding remarkably in Europe and the Americas.
Before I close, let me appeal especially to women not to be seduced by this propaganda. Your model of true freedom is Mary, the Mother of the Holy Family. In your hands, you Catholic women, lies in large measure the destiny of human society.
Follow Mary in entrusting your marvelous freedom to the will of God. Allow Him to do to you, and for you and with you, according to His word. Tell us, as Mary told the servants at Cana, Do everything He tells you to.
Remind us, as Mary reminded the children of Fatima, to do penance (suffer) and to prayas familiesfor families throughout the world.
The sanctification of family life on earth is the promise of glorification of family life in heaven. There, please God, we shall all be reunited as families, in the company of the divine family of Father, Son and Holy Spiritnever again to be separated or divided for all eternity. Amen.
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