Solemnity of the Holy Family: Being a Holy Family
We Americans are a competitive people. We have this drive to always want to be better than someone else. As a result, we spend a lot of energy comparing ourselves, or our situations with those with whom we work, live near, etc. In many ways this is healthy. I want a doctor who does everything she or he can to be better than every other doctor. The same can be applied to every service orientated position, or even to any person we work with or for.
However, we would be wrong if we were to apply this natural competitive attitude to our families. It is neither just nor wise for us to compare our families to our neighbors. Yet, so many of us do this. "I wish my marriage was as happy as theirs. I wish my children got along as well as theirs. I wish our family was as strong as theirs." This is wrong because, first, every family is a unique relationship of singular individuals. It is impossible for two families to be identical. Second, every family has challenges that usually are not apparent to the eye of the envious neighbors.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. In our natural competitive attitude, we are tempted to look at the Holy Family as an ideal we cannot realize in our families. But, Jesus, Mary and Joseph had their share of struggles. The trust which is fundamental to a marriage was challenged by the pregnancy. Joseph was forced to bring Mary to Bethlehem when she was nine months pregnant. He must have felt terrible when they had no choice but to have the child in a stable. Then they had to get up in the middle of the night and escape Herod by moving to a foreign land, Egypt, away from family and traditions. Still, the Holy Family made it through the difficulties of their family life for one reason only: they had great faith. Joseph had faith in the angel of his dreams and treated the pregnant Mary in an honorable way. He had faith that God would help him protect the child, and he moved the family to Egypt. Mary had faith both in the angel and in God's working through Joseph. Jesus, having emptied himself of his divinity, had faith in his parents to care for him.
The Holy Family conquered their struggles through their faith-life. This must be the primary concern of our families. Sometimes parents wish they had the financial resources of their neighbors to be able to provide more for their children. That is a great ideal, but do not forget, what children really need is a Christian home, not the things that the neighbor’s kids have.
The readings for this Sunday present some aspects of a Christian home. The first reading from Sirach says that children need to respect their parents. At first it refers to young children as it notes that mothers and fathers have their authority from God. Then it refers to older children when it says that children should take care of their parents when they age. Little children learn respect for their parents from the respect they see their parents giving each other and the respect their parents have for their grandparents. I have always believed that the way you treat your parents will be the way your children will treat you. If your relations with your parents are motivated by respect and love, and are evident in your kindness to them, your children will have learned this aspect of Christianity and will treat you the same way as your years mount.
The second reading deals with the relationships within a family. Paul tells the Colossians and us to treat each other with kindness, to be patient with each other, to forgive each other continually, not to let out pride determine what we say and do to each other. He uses the term heartfelt compassion. The way we accept each other comes from deep within our hearts. If we strive to live this way, than as a family we can pray together not just in Church, but in every aspect of our lives. "Whatever you do, whether in speech or in action, do it in the name of the Lord."
Paul presents the roles within the families of his epoch. At that time the equality of women was not recognized. In the Roman Empire women were seen as property that needed to be protected by their fathers or their husbands or, if the father died and they were not yet married, their brothers. The respect given to a woman was different from that given to a man. That is why we have the phrase, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” closely followed by “Husbands love your wives.” The heart of this reading is that husbands and wives must respect each other. This same line of thought continues with children being told to respect their parents, and parents being told not to nag, to continually find fault, with their children.
A few years ago, one of the finest men I have ever met died of a massive heart attack on Christmas day. One day about ten years before this, he spoke to me about his daughters who were in their early twenties at the time. He said to me, “My girls are really good kids. Yeah, they both made mistakes and had babies before they married, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are both good kids.” Those are the words of a father who would not let anything change his deep respect he had for his children. My thought is that the reason why the girls were such good kids and why they both went on to be good mothers and wives, was because they were treated with respect
by their father, and mother for that matter, and they returned this with respect and deep love. God bless him and God bless all parents who never let anything diminish their respect for their children. And God bless children who receive and return their parents’ love. That is what Colossians, the second reading is about.
Today’s Gospel is acted out many Sundays right here at St. Ignatius, as well as other parishes. Mary and Joseph went to the Temple holding Jesus. Simeon and Anna made a fuss. So often a couple will come in to the church holding their newborn child. Their joy is indescribable. “Look who we have with us,” they say before they even open their mouths. I make believe I’m surprised; even though I may have seen the expectant Mom every week. I love seeing the babies, and I enjoy making a fuss. And I love seeing the huge change in the parents who present their first child.
I love seeing how much you love your children. I love the fact that you all are determined to provide the best for your children. Let me remind you, to be the best parents you can be, remain grounded in the Lord. Make prayer a part of your home life. Pray with your children at bedtime and pray for them after they fall asleep. Teach your children respect. Let them witness your respect for them, for each other, and for others and demand that they respect others, including you. Men, if you want to be good fathers, love your wives. Women, if you want to be good mothers, love your husbands.
Some may say, “I can’t do this. I can’t be the mother, the father my children need me to be.” If you ever had that thought, put it out of your mind. You can be all that your children need as long as your love for your children remains the love of Christ, sacrificial love. Then, do your best, and trust God to do the rest.
May all our families be Holy Families.