Fathers and mothers have the ability and responsibility to lead their families to holiness, wrote Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in an apostolic exhortation.
The title of the document, "Complete My Joy," is taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians when the Apostle challenges the reader to "make my joy complete."
"Over these past 50 years, countless faithful Catholics have surely attained the goal of their lives -- eternal salvation," Bishop Olmsted wrote in his introduction.
"Credit here is due to the rich mercy of God, to the dedicated priests and religious who have served our diocese so well, and to you and the many faithful families who have lived -- and continue to live -- your vocations with generosity and even, at times, heroism," he said.
The bishop recounted his own family upbringing and the role it played in his own vocation.
"When I consider the blessings that God has bestowed on me in my life, second only to my baptism into Christ's family is the blessing of being raised in a faithful and united Catholic family," he wrote. "My parents, Patrick and Helen, committed themselves to God in the vocation to holy matrimony, and this provided a stability for me to grow as their son and as a son of God."
The bishop promulgated the apostolic exhortation as part of the Diocese of Phoenix's 50th anniversary Jubilee Year of the Family. The special year began Dec. 2 -- in 1969 on that date the diocese was established. The document is dated Dec. 30, the feast of the Holy Family.
The family -- husband, wife and any children they may have -- is an image of the Trinity, Bishop Olmsted wrote, citing several recent popes. By its very nature, "your family" is a communion of love and life.
"The Christian family is also the littlest living cell of the church -- the domestic church," he wrote. "Your home is, and is called to grow, as an outpost of the mission of the church militant on earth, in union and service with your parish."
He emphasized the importance of the role of parents in exercising responsible authority and educating their children. He also said that a married couple's family home "is a life- and love-giving center in the world for as long as they both shall live, all the way to their heavenly home."
"Simply put," he added, "the family is a big deal because it is the God-given and natural ‘soil' meant for each new child's growth."
And no matter what challenges married couples may face as parents in their family "in living God's plan, the Lord has more grace in store than you can imagine. The nature of the family is a gift and a calling to life and love."
The mission of every Christian family, wrote Bishop Olmsted, is to heal and re-evangelize the body of Christ, "so that the light of Christ can shine forth to all peoples." Part of this is to live a chaste life, which isn't celibacy, but rather self-control in sexuality so as to will the good of the other.
"Chastity actually liberates true sexual love! It opposes the slavery caused by its opposite vice: lust," he wrote. "The chaste couple can live their sexual relationship beautifully."
For those who struggle with unchastity and every other vice, the grace and mercy of Christ is readily available, the bishop wrote, as he encourages all to make frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Bishop Olmsted then addressed the different gifts mothers and fathers bring to a family. Citing St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a martyr of Auschwitz, the bishop wrote that women are naturally called to cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance the growth of others. Fathers, meanwhile, bring the gift of security and stability, serving as "provider, protector and spiritual leader."
Those blessed with strong marriages are called to evangelize other families in their parish and in the wider community, wrote Bishop Olmsted. He urged couples to find ways to get involved in their parishes or other apostolates.
Today, no family is without its sufferings, so this is why the church is a place of spiritual healing, wrote Bishop Olmsted. "Families of faith, the church desires to be your support and guide as you navigate daily life in the hostility of the post-modern climate."
The busyness of daily life can leave families drained and disconnected, he noted, and can lead to difficulty in not being present physically and emotionally. Addictions to technology also can sever the bonds of intimacy and love, he said.
"Left alone, even while home together, family members may find themselves turning more and more to shallow entertainment. Children and parents are left lonely in their own homes," wrote Bishop Olmsted.
As an example to parents, the bishop pointed to Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of five women who entered religious life, including St. Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the church. Married in 1858, they knew suffering well, he wrote, and they were the first married couple in the history of the church to be canonized together in 2015.
The church "gives them to you, mothers and fathers, as witnesses to the joy of the restorative hope of the Resurrection, to the grace to bear the heaviest crosses and to the sanctity of marriage and family life," he said.
Bishop Olmsted offered six guidelines for parents for strengthening family life: keeping holy the Lord's day; monthly confession; a consistent daily family meal; time spent together as spouses; establishing clear digital boundaries; and consecrating the family home to Mary.
He especially encouraged parents to bring their young children to Mass.
"Your presence is wanted and needed among us in the family of the church," he wrote. "While the squirming or crying of children may seem bothersome, these certainly do not block your reception of God's grace. ... Present at Mass during these early years, your children are learning the rhythm of relationship with the Lord and his church."
The bishop encouraged spouses to spend time away together, take part in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament together and participate in an annual weekend retreat.
He urged all families to have an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the diocese, in a place of honor in their homes, and to invite her intercession by consecrating their family to Jesus "through her immaculate heart."
Bishop Olmsted also talked about St. John Paul II as the "pope of the family," noting he received from his own parents the gift of faith.
"For reasons known only to Christ, 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," Bishop Olmsted wrote.
"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," he said, "you are helping our skeptical generation to believe that free, total, faithful and fruitful love is still possible."
Tony Gutierrez is editor of The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Diocese of Phoenix.