(Saint Bernardine’s Church, Regents Park: Saturday 6:00pm; Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: Sunday 8:00am)
29 December 2013
(Readings: Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14; Ps 127; Col3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15, 19-23)
The most fundamental building block of the Church is not the parish or the diocese, but it is the family. The health of families is therefore one of the key concerns of the mission of the Church. To become a priest you need to spend several years of intensive preparation; to become a religious you also need to spend time in a novitiate to prepare you for the religious life you are setting out to live.
So what preparation is there for the formation of Christian families? Today’s feast gives an answer. In the Holy Family of Nazareth we see a sign of what Christian families are meant to be.
In the Mother of Jesus we see a parallel between her and the mother of a family. A mother nurtures her child within her own body, and then continues that nurturing long after a child is born. This nurturing includes in a special way spiritual nurturing, helping her child to learn about the love of God (1).
In Saint Joseph we see a parallel between him and the father of a family. A father has to guard and protect his wife and children. A father, like St Joseph, needs to show his own example of honouring God and obeying the law of God. Part of his protection of his family is to guard against anything which might be opposed to God’s law and which would undermine his children’s good and their human and spiritual wellbeing (1).
There is also a parallel between the holy Child of Nazareth and a human child. When a child “is enfolded in the protective love of the father and the nurturing love of the mother, it becomes an image of the Child of Nazareth who in time was enfolded in the love of Joseph and Mary just as, in eternity, as the Son he was enfolded in the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit” (1).
The family is the fundamental cell of the Church. Every calling or vocation comes out of the family. In our day and age we need the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth to help us to re-learn “key qualities of natural and supernatural life” (1). Among these are “the beauty of generosity and self-giving, of fidelity and chastity, as well as the basic dignity of womanhood and motherhood, of manhood and fatherhood” (1).
Our Readings today give us encouragement to honour our parents. One of the ways we can show our gratitude for all they did for us is to honour them in their old age. It’s not difficult to see the chain of love from generation to generation. Children who were once cared for and nurtured by their parents take on the care of those same parents as they grow older; and then they themselves need the care of their own children in their later years.
Saint Paul, writing to the Colossians, names many things which are necessary to keep family life healthy and strong: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; forgiveness, love and gratitude. He speaks about how we need to give way to each other, and to be obedient; and to avoid driving family members to frustration or resentment. These are attitudes and actions that we need to cultivate, to help love grow strong among us.
At the centre of the Holy Family of Nazareth is of course Jesus Christ himself. And that is one of the most important things for families: to keep God at the centre … to pray together, and to come together with all the other families in the Church to pray and worship.
I think it’s important to add that the Holy Family does not set out to shame us. We might be tempted to compare our own families unfavourably with the Holy Family, and shrug our shoulders and say, “too hard … my family is never going to be like that.” That is a temptation which we should resist. All of us are capable of doing small things that make our families resemble more and more the Holy Family. Above all, it’s love that counts, and perhaps at different times we are called to express that love more in one way than another: sometimes I may need to be more generous or more forgiving; perhaps at other times I need to be more grateful for what I do have.
Today, let’s bring our families to the Lord in prayer. In all the ways that we need His healing and blessing, let’s ask for those graces. May God help us to make His love the centre of our families, and help us to express His love in all our interactions with the other members of our families.
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(1) Aidan Nichols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour: A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 2, The Temporal Cycle: Advent and Christmastide, Lent and Eastertide, Balwyn, Victoria, Freedom Publishing, 2012.