Sermons

Summary: The Christian has special duties to family. This is an important way to image Christ in our lives.

Monday of 3rd Week in Advent

Gaudium et Spes

The outpouring of grief around the world over the murder of twenty-six innocent people, twenty of them children, in Connecticut has generated a number of Internet videos featuring one or the other version of the Pie Jesu, a text of the Requiem Mass. That suggests we turn our attention to the virtue of pietas, usually transliterated “piety,” in the life of the Christian. The fact that Jesus is addressed as Pie Jesu means that if we want to image Christ in our lives, we need to learn and practice this virtue.

The Council Fathers do not use the word “Piety” or pietas in Gaudium et Spes. But if we go back to the Latin root, we can see that they write about it all the time, because it is tied up with our duty to our family, both our blood relatives and the wider human family. In the Aeneid, Vergil refers multiple times to the Roman hero Aeneas as pius Aeneas. He demonstrates this when he carries on his shoulders his aged father from the burning city of Troy. Cicero tells us that pietas is “the virtue ‘which admonishes us to do our duty to our country or our parents or other blood relations.’” This virtue of piety extended to all a person’s ancestors. This was not just a feature of Roman civilization. We see it here in this extensive toledot, or genealogy of Jesus. In fact, this Gospel is so Jewish it looks like a book of the OT. Jesus and his disciples kept this virtue by remembering all the ancestors of the Messiah, even the several kings like Manasseh, who led really evil or imprudent lives. The important thing is that our kin are our family, and family is where we become fully human, and where we can most fully image the unity found in the Blessed Trinity. Moreover, when we have the virtue of pietas learned in our blood-relative family, we can more completely function in the family of the Church.

I’ve heard it explained in Chestertonian tones: We get to pick our friends, but our family is thrust upon us without our acquiescence. Family is where we learn to get along and love people who get on our nerves. We love them because they are a gift from God, sometimes a gift that is not agreeable. Once we learn to love our brother or sister or father or mother who is cranky and never listens to us, we can then learn to live with and love a disagreeable fellow parishioner or irritating cleric. And the love we lavish on them may even help them to become more like Christ.

The Fathers of the Council tell us that family is a social tie that relates with immediacy to our inmost nature (art 25). God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood. For having been created in the image of God, Who "from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26), all men are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself.

For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: "If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.... Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law" (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.

We have a duty in love to the entire human family. “Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family.” (Art 26) The Council Fathers teach that “there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since he stands above all things, and his rights and duties are universal and inviolable. Therefore, there must be made available to all men everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as food, clothing, and shelter; the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family, the right to education, to employment, to a good reputation, to respect, to appropriate information, to activity in accord with the upright norm of one's own conscience, to protection of privacy and rightful freedom even in matters religious.” They do not teach that these must be provided without expecting men and women to exert effort in their own behalf. They are fundamentally telling everyone that they should be available. That means basic human rights like food, clothing, employment, education, shelter should be attainable by all, close at hand and in such quantity that attaining them does not require superhuman effort.

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