Homily | Faith and Family Festival 2022

Faith and Family Festival

Bishop of Youngstown

This is Bishop Bonnar’s September 25, 2022 homily for the Faith and Family Festival at Walsh University in Canton, Ohio.

How good it is for us to be here today and to celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ and the bedrock of our society, family!

When I was a parish priest and preached at funerals, I would often ask two questions.

First, where would we be in life without our faith? 

Second, where would we be in life without our family? 

It is a joy for me as your bishop to celebrate these two pillars of our lives. I want to welcome Father Leo, our keynote speaker and all those who are with us today. And I want to offer my sincere gratitude to David Schmidt and the committee for making this day possible. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!”

Recently I participated in the Annual Formation for New Bishops in Rome, otherwise known as “Baby Bishop’s School.” All of us new bishops must attend this gathering. I was part of a group of 180 bishops from around the world. The week before there were 150 bishops. During that week we were briefed by various Vatican Dicasteries and Offices. On one of those days, we reflected on “The Two Priorities Indicated by the Pope in the Way of the Church: The Family and Universal Fraternity.” 

In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia,” “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis reflects on the wonderful gift of family. First, in the first sentence of this document, the Holy Father writes, “Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church” (#1). Families in so many ways have much to contribute to the Church. Time and again what they bring is joy. I could never quantify the amount of joy I have received not just from my own family but from all the families I have interfaced with in priesthood. This day gives me even more joy!

Second, the Holy Father writes, “Every family should look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Its daily life had its share of burdens and even nightmares, as when they met with Herod’s implacable violence” (#30). The Holy Father even quotes Saint Paul VI who said, “The covenant of love lived by the Holy Family of Nazareth illuminates the principle which gives shape to every family, and enables it better to face the vicissitudes of life and history. On this basis, every family, despite its weaknesses, can become a light in the darkness of the world” (#66). Indeed, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are a model for all our families as we aspire with God’s help to be a light shining in darkness.

Finally, the Holy Father notes the beautiful relationship between the family and the Church. He writes, “With inner joy and deep comfort, the Church looks to the families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, encouraging them and thanking them for the testimony they offer…Within the family which could be called a domestic Church, (Lumen Gentium 11), individuals enter upon an ecclesial experience of communion among persons, which reflects through grace, the mystery of the Holy Trinity” (#86). In other words, the family embodies the presence of Christ and reflects the communion of the Holy Trinity. Where would we be without family?

Apart from being a place where we learn about God and understand the importance of communion with others made possible often by forgiveness, what is it about family life that makes it so special?

The Word of God presents a three-fold response to this question. First, families are special to behold because they open our eyes to the needs of others and to share. We come to see that the world is bigger than me and that we are to share what we have. In the Gospel today Jesus tells the story of a rich man who could not look beyond himself and his personal comforts.  Lazarus, a poor man, lying outside his door, lived off this man’s scraps. The rich man was blind to his needs. In the end, when he died, the rich man was condemned to a life of torment. The lesson here is that ultimately, we are called to eternal communion with God in his Kingdom, however, we reap what we sow.   

Second, families are special because they are a classroom in which we come to learn and grow always in a spirit of gratitude. In the first reading today the prophet Amos speaks about the danger of complacency. The people of his time have grown “complacent” which means “a feeling of contentment and satisfaction to a fault.” They have become so consumed in the comforts of this world that they have dismissed the beauty and significance of the comforts of the world to come. As a domestic Church, every family is called like any church to save souls. At the heart if this effort is the need for conversion that overcomes complacency and looks every day beyond this world. In the words of the Nicene Creed, the family helps us to believe and say, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Finally, the family is sacred because it helps us to live in the present moment by in the words of today’s second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to Timothy, pursuing “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.” All those virtues are classes in the school of the family. The direct object of these virtues is Jesus Christ. I am forever indebted to my dear parents, God rest their souls, who taught me these virtues which I still struggle at times in my humanness to perfect. Above all, they introduced me to Jesus. We said Grace before every meal, and we always knew how hungry my dad was by how fast he led us in that prayer. Mom and dad would bless us before we would go to sleep or when we were sick or before we would travel a long distance with the words, “Passion of Christ strengthen you, passion of Christ strengthen you, passion of Christ strengthen you,” as they made the Sign of the Cross over us with every invocation. And that road toward righteousness and devotion was paved by Sunday Mass. Every week we sat in the first pew. I often wondered who they knew because we had the best seats in the house.  

One of the questions as a young one I would often ask mom in that first pew was, “Where is God?” Mom would often point to the sanctuary. Over time and after all my theological studies I have found another response to that age old question, namely, God. God is in our families as he dwells among us.  Our homes are holy ground.  

As we celebrate these sacred mysteries today, we thank God for these wonderful gifts of faith and family. We seek the intercession of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph on all families. And as we receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, we pray that like those two disciples on the Road to Emmaus that our eyes will be opened to behold the presence of Jesus in ourselves but most especially in our families. 

May the Lord increase our faith.  Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!

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