Holy Family – Feast of
December 30, 2007
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Today is the 5th (6th) day of Christmas – and it is not the feast of five golden rings (six geese a laying). Instead, it is the feast of the Holy Family.
On this day we have Joseph, Mary, and Jesus - the Holy Family – as an image for our contemplation. Lots of times our experience of the Holy Family is in nativity scenes or holy cards or statues. They always look so beautiful and peaceful.
But the scriptures show us that what they confronted some serious difficulties. They had a rocky start due to Mary’s pregnancy – the holy family nearly ended in divorce at the very beginning. Then they had to travel in Mary’s 9th month. A crazy despotic king was after them when Jesus was about two years old. They became immigrants and refugees and lived in Egypt for a few years. These were hardly peaceful circumstances. And yet, they were the holy family who lived in peace and in unity.
How did they do it? For that matter, how can we do it? How can our families be holy families?
After all, the odds are against us, if you look at national statistics.
Just getting a family started and then trying to keep it together can be a daunting task.
The scriptures give us some good practical examples of how to be a holy family.
From both the book of Sirach and from the letter to the Colossians the key word is respect. Respect for parents. Respect between husbands and wives. The truth is that respect can carry us a long way toward the exercise of greater virtues in our lives. St. Thomas Aquinas said that grace builds on nature. So when we exercise natural virtue, it provides more room for the supernatural virtues. Respect is a natural virtue.
Good old fashioned manners are a marvelous way to practice the virtue of respect. From “please” and “thank you” to the finer points of acting like ladies and gentlemen, the virtue of respect can be the glue that holds together a family, just as it is the glue that can hold together a society.
All of us know that there has been a rise in uncivil public behavior through this past generation. Course language, course gestures, course humor, and an increasing lack of respect has affected our society to the point that uncivil behavior has been accepted as quite normal.
You want to have an affect on family life and on society? Do something counter cultural and cultivate formal manners. They give us practical means of respect. Not sure what to work on? Have a family meeting and make a list of civil behaviors to cultivate in the family. Behaviors that exemplify respect in the way we talk and dress and inter-act. Then, help each other in positive ways to work on respectful behavior. All of us can work on this in the coming year.
Of course, God wants us to go deeper than just manners. After all, even good manners can become stiff and cold. That’s not appealing either.
Listen to the words of St. Paul. He said this: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another… and over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts.”
Wow. How many people would like to live in a family that had all that going on? Pretty good, huh?
Husbands, love and cherish your wives in the way that she would like to be loved and cherished. Wives, love and respect your husbands in the way that he would like to be loved and respected. Not sure what that is? Easy. Ask each other. Give each other concrete examples. Decide what you want to work on as a family for next year and then make a plan to work on it. Parents, the best gift you will ever give your children is to show them how to love and respect another person. You show them and they will give it back to you. The same is true with priests and parishes. We are all in this together.
Pray together as a family. In order to have the supernatural virtues of love and joy and peace we need to give God space to work in our families. Pray together every day. The rosary and scripture reading are two very good tools for family prayer. The Church gives us lots of options here. But pray together.
We need holy families. The world desperately needs holy families that are filed with heartfelt compassion, humility, patience, love, and peace. God’s plan for your family and for mine is that we grow that way. Then we are a sign of hope and a source of strength for others.
Just like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are a sign of hope and a source of strength for us.