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Family Love

Love one another as I have loved you.  Words spoken two thousand years ago.  Today they are given a new life and a new voice in the latest Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Frances, Amoris Laetitia. The joy of love.

The Pope's letter is an exhortation on family life. And if Jesus' words find a fitting echo that echo would be in the family. I am going to try and offer snippets from a 250 page document. The triune God is a communion of love and the family is its living reflection of that divine communion, father, son and Holy Spirit.  Where is God? Who is God? Look at the life of a family as it struggles to love and you see God revealed.  Against this background of love one virtue stands out, a virtue overlooked in our world of superficial relationships:  Tenderness.   In our families we must learn to imitate Jesus' own gentleness in relating to one another.  Tenderness is a sign of a love that is free of selfish possessiveness.

Nowadays we confuse genuine freedom with the idea that everything is possible and permissible.  The ideal of married love: stability and exclusivity, is swept aside if it proves inconvenient or tiresome. I don't want to get trapped in a relationship that could hamper my personal goals.  We treat relationships as we do material objects:  everything is disposable, use it up, throw it away, exploit and squeeze it to the last drop.  Sooner or later those who use others end up being manipulated and discarded themselves.

The strength of the family lies in its capacity to love and to teach how to love.  I thank God that many families, which consider themselves far from perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward even if they fall many times along the way. (we are all dysfunctional). The family members are much more than the sum of all the little things that annoy me.  Love does not have to be perfect for us to value it.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI visited the Holy Land and he had this to say about Nazareth where Jesus himself grew up in a family.  "The covenant of love and fidelity lived by the Holy Family of Nazareth illuminates the principle which gives shape to every family.  Nazareth teaches us the meaning of family life, its loving communion, its simple beauty, its sacred character. May it teach us how irreplaceable is the family's training, its role in society."   The lessons we learn in our family we can learn nowhere else.

We often expect too much from one another; the other person can neither play God nor serve all my needs.  Love coexists with imperfection.  A love that is weak, incapable of accepting marriage as a challenge to be taken up, fought for, reborn, renewed and reinvented until death, cannot sustain the great commitment needed for marriage.

Much hurt results when we stop looking at one another.  We often hear in families:  "My husband does not look at me; he acts as if I were invisible". Or, "Please look at me when I am talking to you."  "My wife no longer looks at me; she only has eyes for our children."  "In my home nobody sees me, as if I don't exist."  Love opens our eyes and enables us to see the great worth of another human being. And we need to listen to each other.  How often do you hear, "he doesn't listen to me, even when you seem to, you are really doing something else.  I talk to her and I feel like she can't wait for me to finish."

In the family three words need to be used:  "Please", "Thank you" and "Sorry".  Let us not be stingy with these words but use them day after day.  The right words, spoken at the right time daily protect and nurture love.  A wife can care for her sick husband and thus, in drawing near to the Cross, renew her commitment to love unto death. In many families a capacity for selfless and loving service is shown when children prove troublesome and ungrateful.  This makes those parents a sign of the free and selfless love of Jesus.  At the same time children are a gift.  Each one is unique and irreplaceable.  We love our children because they are children, not because they are beautiful, or look or think as we do, or embody our dreams.  We love them because they are children.  A child is a child.  The love of parents is the means by which God our father shows his own love. God awaits the birth of each child and accepts that child unconditionally.

I am both glad and proud that I am part of a community that can produce a document like this that is both profound and practical.  Jesus' exhortation, love one another as I have loved you, indeed finds a voice in His church in 2016.

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 May 2016 20:30

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