THE BIBLE AND FAMILY VIRTUES
Nahum, the seventh of the minor prophets according to the Vulgate, was from Elkosh, a small village of Galilee, hence of the territory of the destroyed kingdom of Israel. With a very beautiful style, he prophesies the destruction of Nineveh and of Assyria. The prophecy is posterior to the year 665, and is prior to the fall of Nineveh that took place, according to the last discoveries, in the summer of 612; and perhaps it was written during the imprisonment of King Manasseh, when Nineveh was at the height of its power.
Habakkuk, the eighth of the minor prophets, is one of the major Hebrew prophets. He left no news of himself, aside from his prophecy. It seems that he belonged to the tribe of Levi and lived during the first years of Josiah; certainly he lived before the invasion of the Chaldeans in 609 that he announces as imminent. Habakkuk's prophecy is about the Chaldean invasion.
Zephaniah, the ninth of the minor prophets, was, according to some, of royal blood and a descendant of Hezekiah. He exercised the prophetic ministry during the first years of King Josiah. It is believed that he lived and preached in Jerusalem. Zephaniah is clear, easy, and lively, though he lacks some originality. The tone of his prophecy, especially in the third chapter, is messianic.
Haggai, the tenth of the minor prophets, is the prophet of the exiles who have returned to their homeland and of the new temple. After seventy years of exile, the chosen people, authorized by the edict of Cyrus, returned to their homeland. The first group of survivors, after reaching Jerusalem, restored to its former place the altar of the holocaust. During the second year of King Darius, God inspired Haggai to stimulate the zeal of the Jews so that the temple would quickly be finished, and Haggai accomplished the task with his prophecies, all done during the second year of Darius, in different months. Haggai's style does not have splendor, and it is closer to prose than to poetry.
About two months after Haggai, Zechariah, son of Berechiah, began to prophesy. He seems to belong to the tribe of Levi. The last of his oracle is dated on the fourth year of King Darius. The book of Zechariah speaks of the restoration of theocracy and of the future messianic kingdom. It has marvelous unity, describing the messianic kingdom, first with visions, then with discourses, finally with oracles, and changing style according to the subject; it is almost prosaic in its visions, oratorical in its discourses, poetic in its oracles. Its obscurity is due to its many symbols, its many mysteries and to some prophecies that will take place at the end of the world.
Of Malachi, the last of the minor prophets, we know nothing; not even his name is reliable because it means Angel of the Lord, a title anyone sent by God can have. From the vices this prophet scolds in the people, it is argued that he is a contemporary of Nehemia, that is, he prophesied under King Artaxerxes Longimanus, i.e., after 432 before Christ. The book of Malachi loves the force of dialogue and with pure language and clear and energetic style, he rebukes priests and people, and shows that God is a loving father and an inexorable judge.REFLECTION XVII
The Bible and family virtues
Lovers of your teaching have much peace,
for them there is no stumbling block.
We know how much the Supreme Pontiffs, especially from Pius IX to Pius XI, worked to bring to the greatest splendor the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and to present that family as a perfect model of all the family virtues.Pius IX
approved in 1870 the statutes of the Association of the Holy Family. Leo XIII
, after a splendid encyclical on Christian marriage, established the Feast of the Holy Family, for the purpose of offering to families, at that time
de-Christianized by liberal sects, a model to imitate. Pius X confirmed and enriched with new indulgences the consecration of families to the Holy Family. Benedict XV extended to the whole Church the Mass and Office of the Holy Family. Pius XI, gloriously reigning,2 did not let the occasion pass to invite Christian families to contemplate their divine model which is the earthly Trinity: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Let us remember only his two encyclicals, one on Christian marriage and the other on the education of the Youth.
Why so many recommendations and so much concern by the Vicars of Jesus Christ for the perfectioning of families? Oh, because they knew well that the family is the cell of Society, the hearth of the most precious and necessary virtues: the family virtues.
If the family is healthy and holy, so will be the vocations of which society is the base. Hence, for the welfare of the Church and Society, it is necessary that families be other hearths of virtues.
Thus explains all the work, all the concern of the Supreme Pontiffs to bring to the highest splendor the Holy Family and to point it out as the perfect model to imitate.
To imitate the examples of a person, however, we must know them. Now how can families know the sublime examples of the Holy Family? They can know them by reading Holy Scripture: there are described examples of every virtue.
Leo XIII says: Fathers of families have surely in Joseph an admirable model of vigilance and fatherly concern; mothers have in the Holy Virgin, Mother of God, an eminent example of love,
of humble respect and submission, that of a soul of perfect faith; the children of families have in Jesus, submissive to his parents, a divine example of obedience to admire, honor, and imitate. Those who are born noble shall learn from this family, of royal blood, to maintain moderation in prosperity and dignity in afflictions; the rich shall recognize in this school how wealth is to be esteemed less than virtue. The workers then, and all those who suffer so much due to the difficulties of supporting a family and a poor condition, if they look at the holy members of this domestic society, will not want in the motive or occasion to rejoice in their lot rather than be saddened by it.
Nothing in fact can be found to be most salutary and most helpful for Christian families than the example of the Holy Family which embraces perfection and the whole of domestic virtues. Thus implored in the bosom of families, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph shall come to their help, shall conserve their charity, rule their customs, and stimulate their members to imitate their virtue and sweeten or make bearable the deadly trials that threaten us from every side.
All these sublime virtues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we can know by reading either the Old or the New Testament, with this difference that in the Old Testament they are narrated in a veiled manner, under the form of symbols and figures, and instead in the New Testament they are narrated to us in their entire beauty and reality.
In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul makes a list of the family virtues:
Put on then, as God's chosen ones,
holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but in simplicity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others, knowing that you will receive from the Lord the due payment of the inheritance; be slaves of the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will receive recompense for the wrong he committed, and there is no partiality. (Col 3:12-25)
Is it not true that the soul, after such a reading, feels herself all fired up and is brought to make resolutions for a more perfect life?
Oh, yes, let the Sacred Scriptures come to all our families; they shall sanctify them, model them after the example of the Holy Family!* * *
Furthermore, Holy Scripture tells us that aside from the natural family, there is another family, the religious and spiritual family, whose members are united not by bond of blood but by a spiritual bond that is grace. Here we ought to remember all the doctrine of St. Paul regarding the mystical Body, his vigorous exhortations so that every member may be of edification to another: but how would this be possible for us? We cannot but invite the reader to take in his hands the letters of the Apostle and to read especially those to the Corinthians and the Romans.
Also for this religious family, if she wants to see in her bosom the blossomings of the most beautiful virtues, her members must make as their daily food the reading of the Bible.3*
Let us pray to the Holy Family so that every Christian and religious family may learn, from the reading of the Holy Books, to know and practice the family virtues that must constitute our most beautiful crown in Heaven.
EXAMPLE. - A young pagan woman becomes converted upon reading the Gospel of St. Luke. - Calixta was still a pagan when the Bishop of Carthage gave her as gift the Gospel of St. Luke telling her, My daughter, take this sacred parchment. It contains the life of our Lord on earth. And what his love for men has done. Read this book: you will see Who it is we love.
These affectionate words penetrated Calixta's heart. She remembered them and opened wide the precious book.
From the start the Gospel historian, dedicating his work to a certain Theophilus, presents it to him as a methodical and true narration of events that others have already described before him.
This tone of sincerity and the simplicity of the narration impressed Calixta. She read some chapters and quickly she became interested, such that she never stopped reading.
A completely new world appeared to the young woman. Elisabeth, John the Baptist, Joseph and Mary, Simeon and Anna showed her, with their lives, the virtues that she did not know at all. Above all, however, Calixta came to know the presence of a being perfectly distinct from all the others and superior to every brilliant imagination. This incomparable being, of a truly ideal perfection, was Christ, was Jesus. What she had always sought but was not able to discover, she now found in this book.
She said: Oh, these are not imaginations of a poet... this is the portrait of a true being. This figure has so much truthfulness, naturalness, life and propriety as not to nail my faith. And the more Calixta studied the figure of Jesus Christ, the more she admired in Him a limitless perfection.
At the presence of this ideal of incarnate holiness before her eyes, how poor and miserable she found herself! For the first time a strong sentiment of humiliation subdued her, and she humbled herself to the point of despising herself.
The very good young woman, persevering in her reading, came to the episode of the feast in Simeon's house where the Divine Master shows all his immense love towards
the sinner who comes to anoint his feet and to wash them with her tears.CANTICLE [#]
At this point also Calixta's eyes were filled with tears! She imagined herself to be that unfortunate sinner that the Divine Master did not reject but rather welcomed with so much love while forgiving her all her sins.
Coming to herself, the young woman decided to change her life: and from that day on, she became a very good Christian.
LITTLE SACRIFICE. - Today I shall make three mortifications in reparation for the abandonment by so many families of the Holy Bible.
(Continuation of the Canticle of Moses)
He found them in a wilderness,
a wasteland of howling desert.
He shielded them and cared for them,
guarding them as the apple of his eye.
As an eagle incites its nestlings forth
by hovering over its brood,
So he spread his wings to receive them
and bore them up on his pinions.
The LORD alone was their leader,
no strange god was with him.
He had them ride triumphant over the summits of the land
and live off the products of its fields,
giving them honey to suck from its rocks
and olive oil from its hard, stony ground;
Butter from its cows and milk from its sheep,
with the fat of its lambs and rams;
Its Bashan bulls and its goats,
with the cream of its finest wheat;
and the foaming blood of its grapes you drank.
(So Jacob ate his fill,) the darling grew fat and frisky;
you became fat and gross and gorged.
They spurned the God who made them
and scorned their saving Rock.
They provoked him with strange gods
and angered him with abominable idols.
They offered sacrifice to demons, to no-gods,
to gods whom they had not known before,
to newcomers just arrived,
of whom their fathers had never stood in awe.
You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you,
you forgot the God who gave you birth.
When the LORD saw this,
he was filled with loathing and anger
toward his sons and daughters.
I will hide my face from them, he said,
and see what will then become of them.
What a fickle race they are, sons with no loyalty in them!
Duties of children, of parents, of servants, and of masters
Children, obey your parents (in the Lord), for this is right. Honor your father and mother. This is the first commandment with a promise, that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life on earth.
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.
Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ, not only when being watched, as currying favor, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, willingly serving the Lord and not human beings, knowing that each will be requited from the Lord for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.
Masters, act in the same way toward them, and stop bullying, knowing that both they and you have a Maser in heaven and that with him there is no partiality.
I give you thanks, O God of my father; I praise you, O God my savior! I will make known your name, refuge of my life; you have been my helper against my adversaries. You have saved me from death, and kept back my body from the pit, From the clutches of the nether world you have snatched my feet; you have delivered me, in your great mercy From the scourge of a slanderous tongue, and from lips that went over to falsehood; From the snare of those who watched for my downfall, and from the power of those who sought my life; From many a danger you have saved me, from flames
that hemmed me in on every side; From the midst of unremitting fire, from the deep belly of the nether world; From deceiving lips and painters of lies, from the arrows of dishonest tongues. I was at the point of death, my soul was nearing the depths of the nether world; I turned every way, but there was no one to help me, I looked for one to sustain me, but could find no one. But then I remembered the mercies of the LORD, his kindness through ages past; For he saves those who take refuge in him, and rescues them from every evil. So I raised my voice from the very earth, from the gates of the nether world, my cry.
1 The spelling “Naum” is also used (cf. p. 284).
2 Pius XI (Ambrogio Achille Ratti, 1857-1939) was Pope since 1922: he was therefore “reigning” when LS was written. The two encyclicals referred to after are respectively Casti connubii (31-12-1930) and Divini illius Magistri (31-12-1929). This second encyclical offered Don Alberione the stimulus for his book on Pauline formation “Donec formetur Christus in vobis.” (1932)
3* “Divine Providence gave us two tablets of salvation: the Most Holy Eucharist and Holy Scripture. We must cling to both, wherefore the urgent need that, beginning from fervent Christians, everybody gradually return to the pious family reading of the Gospel; so that this divine book, like a radiant beacon light, may again cast heavenly light on the whole world, and again drive away its darkness.” (St. Jerome to Eustochio)