Gift of self in marriage, family and fellowship

| October 23, 2019 | 0 Comments

Bundling takeaways from the fruits of a Siena Symposium for Women, Family and Culture that my wife and I recently attended reminded me that I should read the third chapter of Genesis — expulsion from Eden — more thoroughly.

The final verse of that chapter is grim: “He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gn 3:24).

Life as we know it has been a tough path since then, yet God established for mankind a path for restoration and redemption. He has shown us ways we can serve one another through understanding better the gift of self in our own lives.

A few more nuggets worth sharing:

It was probably a controversial title for the Siena Symposium to choose in the secular world: “The Gift of Masculinity in the Home, the World, and the Church.” But the Aug. 17 gathering at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul zeroed in on the complementarity of relationships between men and women and self-gift, in the sense that relationships with others are the only way we can give ourselves as gift. We are about community after all, and self-gift starts at home — with mom and dad recognizing each other’s God-given gifts, providing stability and virtue to family life.

The director and co-founder of the Siena Symposium, Deborah Savage, emphasized that listening to God is essential for an ordered life; otherwise there is chaos.

How do we learn this? In part, by learning that self-giving in marriage enhances our understanding of God and humanity.

Our keynote speaker, Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, encouraged us to “find ourselves in this gift of self.” Furthermore, he stressed, men should love like Christ on the cross, in a self-emptying way. Read in the proper context, St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is particularly rich in understanding this language of self-emptying, surrender and self-gift. Our Shepherd pointed out that the “salvific reality of marriage is to make real the love of Christ and his Church” (see Eph 5).

The apostle teaches us that marriage, the priesthood, diaconate, the religious life and laity apostolates — essentially all Christians — must learn that strength comes through self-emptying, giving of self in accordance with what is best for God’s kingdom.

Author, educator and speaker Dale Ahlquist, in his “Chestertonian” wisdom, explained how families are the central unit of society, and not the individual. Albeit controversial in his time, G.K. Chesterton looked at the “whole purpose of marriage” as the way “to work through incompatibility.” The teachings and example of Jesus solve this “incompatibility” through the understanding of our Lord and Savior’s own self-gift.

Given the notion that a family is based upon a father, mother and a child or children, the family — Catholic families — can restore the proper tenets, doctrine and principles that society can distort. The family in society can do this through common sense, freedom and justice. And as family, we learn to lay our lives down for each other and our neighbor by sharing our gift of self.

Chesterton’s approach was that we need to teach and defend family life. He highlighted that family members with their unique gifts help one another prepare for the rest of the world, when they go out on their own. The family is the test of freedom. Freedom to learn, act and behave virtuously.

Vincenzo Randazzo added a refreshing millennial perspective, speaking on the “pursuit of heroic virtue” as a Catholic man within the challenges of his generation. Yet his upbringing taught him the power of prayer, to embrace the faith, and yes, sometimes take the difficult path of exemplifying virtue, which may be countercultural. His family, his extended family —cousins, aunts and uncles — gave him the opportunity early in life to learn the difference between virtue and vice. To prepare for the rest of the world by testing the risks and rewards of living in virtue. To test freedom. With a rosary in tow! With Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

The key takeaway? As a father and brother watchman with a Catholic responsibility to stand at both the breach and the heights, I’ll give it the ol’ college try: It is through family — through self-gift — that we ignite relationships with others in Christian fellowship and throughout society. It is where we learn a key truth: your life is not about you. Life is the gift of self that Christ taught implicitly, explicitly and by example.

Deacon Bird ministers at St. Joseph in Rosemount, All Saints in Lakeville, and assists the Catholic Watchmen movement of the archdiocese’s Office of Evangelization. Reach him at Learn about the archdiocese’s Catholic Watchmen initiative at

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Category: Catholic Watchmen