Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Our experiences of our own family tells us that this is a very important aspect of our lives. Very generally, we can say that, if we live in a happy family we are generally happy persons, but if we live in a family that has constant quarrels then, in all probability, we will be deeply affected by such a painful situation, and it would be difficult to find peace and happiness within our hearts.
Shaunti Feldhahn a Harvard-trained social researcher, popular speaker, and best-selling author writes that 53% of very happy couples agree with the statement, "God is at the center of our marriage" They tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfilment and happiness" (pg. 178, Highly Happy Marriages; only 7% of struggling couples who agree with the statement).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus, Mary and Joseph reveal to us in many ways, why they are the “Holy Family.” Jesus we know, was left behind in Jerusalem, as Joseph and Mary thought that He was with his relatives. And when they eventually found Jesus, He was teaching the elders and doctors in the Temple. And, when Mary asked, “My child why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been; looking for you?” Jesus’ reply was, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?”
As we reflect on the meaning of “the Holy Family” of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, let us first and foremost remember that they were holy because they were totally obedient to God’s Will regardless of the trials, temptations and traumas they had to go through in their lives. Moreover, in all that happened to them, they surrendered their lives in total trust to God the Father’s Providence. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are then our model and the model of all Christian families. What about us? How can we live the holiness of God’s Will and Providence in our families?
Pope Francis, in his homily on Family last year emphasised that one of the most important condition of growing in holiness and wholesomeness as a family is to “Pray”; to pray together and to develop a personal prayer life. To “pray”, we must be authentic and not be false in our prayer.
Pope Francis remind us that if we pray like the “Pharisee” then our hearts do not be expressing our thanksgiving to God for His blessings and His Mercy. We would be justifying the selfish life we are living and will be boastful and be judging others as though they are not as holy as us. However, if we pray like the “tax collector,” then as he prays with few words, his heart is also filled humility. He admits his sinfulness and unworthiness before God, and sincerely begs God for His Forgiveness and Mercy. The prayer of the “Pharisee” is pleasing to God, while the prayer of the “tax collector” is not because it is full of vanity.
Pope Francis adds, “In the light of God’s word, I would like to ask you, dear families: Do you pray together from time to time as a family? Some of you do, I know. But so many people say to me: But how can we when our lives are so busy and hectic, and when we can hardly find a moment of peace? Yes, all that is true enough, but all families, and all of us need God. We need His help, His strength, His blessing, His mercy, His forgiveness. And we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength! And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents….praying for each other. This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer.
The second very important need in families is to live in such a way that the faith is kept alive. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Do we keep the faith for ourselves, in our families, as a personal treasure like a bank account, or are we able to share it by our witness, by our acceptance of others, by our openness? We all know that families, especially young families, are often “racing” from one place to another, with lots to do. But did you ever think that this “racing” could also be the race of faith? Christian families are missionary families. In our everyday living and we should bring to everything the salt and the leaven of faith!
A third point Pope Francis wishes to remind us, is our need in our family to experience “Joy”. We need to ask ourselves, Is there Joy in our family and homes? The true joy which we experience in the family is not superficial; it does not come from material objects; from the fact that everything seems to be going well... True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons; something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey
But the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God; the presence of God in the family and His love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all. And above all, a love which is patient: patience is a virtue of God and he teaches us how to cultivate it in family life, how to be patient and loving with each other, and with ourselves. In a patient love, God will know how to create harmony from differences. But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, and self-centredness will prevail and joy will fade. But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally and shares it with one another. Such a family will then become the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society as a whole. Pope Francis reminds us, by saying, “Dear families, always live in faith and simplicity, like the Holy Family of Nazareth! The joy and peace of the Lord be always with you!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all know that very much of what we are today comes from our family background. Our family experiences especially during our childhood have lasting effects on our attitudes, the quality of our relationships with people we live and work with daily and even the perception we have of ourselves and of life.
For example, if John were to grow up in a family whose parents and siblings have a very healthy and wholesome relationships, and where God is at the centre of their lives, and where the practice of the Catholic Christian faith is an important part of growing up, then in all probability John would be a person who would be caring, compassionate and respectful of others. Indeed, John would be a good person, have as a spouse, or if he has a “calling from God,” he would be a good candidate for the priesthood and religious life.
However, if the same John were to have been born into a family whose parents are abusive, divisive and self-centred, and where God and religion are not important and worse still if they condemn the church, religions and God, then Jack would grow up being unloved, wounded and also deeply negative about himself, his family and the world.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is very clear that unless we make God the centre and foundation of our family, all our relationships and in all that we do, say and decide daily, we will never have the deep peace that our hearts long to have. This is because, every human person is created in the image and likeness of God who is the fullness of Love (1 Jn 4:8). This means that our deepest desires in our life is to love God and in loving God, we naturally want to love one another as brothers and sisters, because we are all children of God.(Ref: Adapted from - Pope Francis, homily at St Peter’s Square; 27 October, 2013 )
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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