Feast of the Holy Family:
My sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus,
A few years ago Pope Francis addressed the employees of Vatican City, and said: “Take good care of your family. Family is a treasure, children are a treasure. Young parents need to ask themselves whether they have time to play with their children, or whether they are too busy to spend time with them…. Play with your children. It’s so beautiful.”
God calls us as family. We begin our life in family. We form families, either biological or in other ways. This basic relationship of the biological family with mother, father and children is given to us throughout our Scriptures and is the basic of civil society.
Today this relationship of family is being challenged on all sides. We must not be distracted! Instead, we are challenged to continue to encourage the basic reality of a family with mother, father and children. We are invited to encourage marriage between a man and a woman—but always as a sacrament, a sacred bond lived out in Jesus Christ and in His Church.
In today’s Gospel Mary and Joseph present Jesus in Jerusalem’s Temple in fulfillment of their religious tradition. You parents can remember when your children were infants. You couldn’t wait to show them off to family and friends. You probably had a big celebration on that very special day when you went to your parish church and presented them to the Lord to receive his life in Baptism. They left the church on that day of their baptism still your children — but also the Lord’s. Mary and Joseph must have loved showing Jesus off just as you loved showing your babies off. They must have enjoyed the fuss that people made about him, just as you enjoyed people stopping by to see your babies and say a kind word or two to you.
When you first held your children, when you brought the baby home from the hospital, when you survived that first night when your baby would not get to sleep, you probably asked yourself, how will I, how will we, deal with the challenges this new life is going to bring? Perhaps you are still asking yourselves that question. Certainly there is not a parent here who has not wondered: how can I be the best parent possible? What will happen to my child during his or her life? What sort of person will he or she become?
Today the Church bids us to look to the Holy Family. They kept their union with God as the foundation and glue of their lives. This resulted in a tranquility that let them meet each challenge they faced…conquering the surrounding chaos instead of being destroyed by it.
This is why the constant battle that you parents fighting against sin in your lives is a responsibility you owe to your family, not a matter of individual choice. This is why the efforts you make to nurture and develop your prayer life, your union with God, is not a matter of your own individual relationship with God but is fundamental to the stability and the tranquility of your family.
You parents live in a society that does too much but not enough. Other forces tempt you to do too much. They convince you that if you are going to be good parents you have to have your kids in every activity possible, be a part of every organization you can, be the perfect homemaker, cook, provider, repairer, and referee. They convince you to do too much… but not enough. For many parents there is not enough time to develop the union with God that is the heart of your family. You try too hard… but not hard enough. Your prayer time should not be something you throw into your day. It should be the ground upon which you build your day.
The sudden and unexplained collapse during the last fifty years of the institution we know of as family is a great mystery. Why, during these times, how so many young people simply begun living together as a family when they really were not? Fully one third of the children born in America today are born out of wedlock. The numbers of children who are being shaped and formed without a father and a mother living with them is staggering. Who are their grandparents, and how many sets of grandparents do they have, given the number of stepfathers and stepmothers they have? What sorts of values are being displayed in the lives of the adults with whom children live?
Much is said these days about the troubles within our American public-school system. While a lot may be wrong in the system, the chief thing that has gone wrong is the absence of genuine families in which the children are being raised. All too often they are not being raised with mom, dad, and siblings. Too many are being formed many hours of each week away from home. Schools cannot replace families.
And a lot is being said these days about so-called “family values”. What values? In what families? We are told that public schools are not supposed to teach morals and values and that these should be taught in the home. But what homes? And what is meant by the word “home”? Certainly not very many kids have the good fortune to be living in and raised in the traditional nuclear family.
Yet it was in my family that my character, personality and individuation were formed. I became an individual and a person with a distinct character because I lived in a family. For a family makes an individual, and individuals in turn constitute the family.
It is in our family homes that we learn a philosophy of life. It is there that we acquire principles by which we should live and relate to others. It is there, in the domestic church, that God is acknowledged, that prayer is learned, and devotion is formed. It is there that our soul is nurtured at the family altar, the family table in which we share a communion of food for the body, the mind and the soul. It is in our family homes that our intellectual formation really takes place, where books are read, articles are discussed, and critical thinking is developed. How can all of this vital formation happen if one is not being raised in a family? Without it education, religious devotion, and the formation of our hearts and souls in the art and skill of loving commitment… all collapse.
Is it any wonder, then, that our Church pays close and reverential attention each year at this time to all that it means to be family? For even God himself chose to come among us not as some sort of space alien that stepped off of a cosmic space ship, not as some sort of mysterious guru discovered in a mountain cave, but rather a member of a human family, with all that it entails.
So in thanking God for the gift of the Christ Child, let us also thank God for our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and the wonderful gift that we have been given, our family.
Father A. Francis HGN