Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
Matthan [became] the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah. Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Mt 1:15-17)
“Patriarchy” gets a bad rap in this age so dominated by radical feminist ideas, but the Church has always seen the Patriarchs in the most positive light. They are our “fathers in faith,” and the traditional list of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament is Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. What interesting figures they were too! The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” (Heb 11:13) To call Jesus the “King” of all the Patriarchs, then, means something very transcendent. He is the fulfillment of all the desires of the people of faith represented by the Patriarchs. He is the long-awaited One who was also their Son, in a human sense. More importantly, He is their Lord and King—and ours—because He “reigns” over the faith of us all.
Earlier this year I celebrated my 60th anniversary of religious profession and was given a truly extraordinary gift by my friends, perhaps the most meaningful gift of my whole life. They had commissioned an iconographer to create a beautiful “family icon” for me. This type of icon is painted on a large piece of wood with an exquisite image of the Madonna and Child in the center and on either side smaller images of all the patron saints of my parents and siblings. It now hangs in a prominent place in Trinity Retreat House, and I have the joy of seeing it every day. It reminds me of God’s Providence over my family of origin and, by implication, over my whole ancestry on both sides of my family, dare I say back to Adam.
Now, if you looked into my family tree you would find a whole lot of colorful characters, especially on my mother’s side, which of course is the Irish side. Honestly, you may not find too many saints—most of my people were probably just happy to make it into Purgatory—but you would certainly see that my family on both sides were faithful Catholics through many generations, in fact, stretching back as far as our recorded history can remember. I sometimes marvel at the perseverance in the Faith of that long line of faithful men and women who handed on the Catholic Faith to me. And when I ask to Whom we may attribute that fidelity, the answer is abundantly clear. The cross-generational fidelity of a family to God cannot be the result of any one individual’s strength or virtue, even though virtuous example is always necessary for handing on the Faith. Yet, that kind of long-term fidelity can only be due to the grace of One who stands outside of time looking down on our families with love. He who is Lord and King of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is also the One who blesses “to the thousandth generation” (Ex 20:6) those who fear Him, and that is not an idle promise. It is God’s promise, and He is always faithful to His promises.
Anyone person of faith today has to recognize the severe challenges to family life in the modern age. In fact, I would say that attacks on the family are one of the atrocious hallmarks of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Families have experienced the literal splintering of their family trees through divorce that has been made casual and easy virtually everywhere in the world. The legalization of contraception and abortion has had devastating effects not only on family size but also on the religious faith of those who practice them. Pornography and the pervasive moral relativism that has entered our culture through the mass media have had deeply debilitating effects on our families, especially on the younger generations who are so vulnerable to these negative influences.
In the face of all this modern warfare on families, we must never lose heart but must trust in the King who reigns over our families. Do you think He who created families in their generations is unconcerned about these modern attacks on family life? Nothing could be farther from the truth. We have all experienced the fallout of the anti-Christian and sometimes inhumane culture on our families. Now is the time to get back down on our knees and do what all the Patriarchs did from the beginning—they confided their cares to God and trusted in His grace to save them and keep them together as a family. Their fidelity was rewarded with a blessing, to the thousandth generation. Now let us ask the King for that same blessing. He is only too happy to give it!
Dear King of Patriarchs and Lord of our faith, we turn to You in our desperate need to keep our families in Your grace in an age which militates against the sanctity of family life. Grant us Your abundant blessing now and always, and keep us faithful to Your Church through all generations. We ask this in Your most holy and glorious Name. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]