for the Feast of the Holy Family
December 31, 2006
Today, on this feast of the Holy Family, the Church invites us to widen the focus of faith to include, not only Bethlehem and the wonderful way of Our Lord’s coming among us, but also Nazareth and the home in which, as the gospel expresses it, Jesus "grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men." As I read over the liturgy in anticipation of this morning’s homily, I was struck, not so much by the scripture pages, but more by the lovely opening prayer and the words which introduced it: "Let us pray as the family of God who share in His life"… and the special graces for which we prayed: "Teach us the sanctity of human love; show us the value of human life and help us to live in peace with all.”
That prayer invites you to reflect, not only upon the Holy Family at Nazareth, but also on your own family as well. It reminds you that as members of your own little community of faith, your all encompassing challenge, your daily task, is to claim for yourselves the adjective "holy"...your family to be truly your "holy family".
If you were to look up that word, holy, in the dictionary, you would find it defined by Mr. Webster :"a person, a place or a thing especially dedicated or devoted to the service of God," and you would find that the synonyms for the word holy are: "consecrated", "blessed", "sacred".
So the challenge for you as a family member, whatever be your particular role, is to make of your home a Sacred Place and all together in common achievement, to show yourselves to be a Family evidently and convincingly Dedicated to God.
What we are talking about, of course, is a significantly religious environment; a daily, lived-out, reverent awareness of God. This is the primary responsibility of parents, much more important than any merely material advantage. And it is something that cannot be conveniently delegated. Several years ago, a Catholic social scientist named Dr. William McCreavy published a very provocative study of the relative effectiveness of parochial schooling and religious parenting. With hundreds of in-depth interviews and elaborate statistical models, he validated his finding that 75% of all Catholic instruction is wasted if the at-home experience of the child does not continually enrich and reinforce what he or she learns in formal religious classes. Quiet example is always the most effective teacher - it brings religious truths to life.
We used the expression: "a significantly religious environment,” that is, the absolutely indispensable--without which everything else will fall short--purpose. How do parents rise to such a challenge? Well, of course, there are no glib and easy answers, no magic formula guaranteeing instant success. This is something that involves a life-time of learning and doing, with a lot of inevitable failure and falling short. But there are a couple of questions against which you parents might measure your adequacy. You might ask yourselves: "Is ours a home in which religious values are quietly affirmed rather than rigorously imposed?, a place where the spiritual dimension of life is part of every decision?, and where prayer is a daily family ritual rather than an occasional recourse in time of trouble? Children learn about God’s Presence and His Protecting and Providing Love by sensing and gradually coming to share their parents’ perception of God. Children learn what prayer really is, not just by memorizing words, but by seeing their father and mother living in a daily dependence upon God.
A second, searching question, inseparably related to the first: Ask yourselves…"Is the prevailing climate of our home one of gentleness and love, not just love in vague abstraction, but love continually expressed in personal and practical ways…in unselfish caring about others, in patience and forgiveness, and generous allowance for differences, accepting people as they are; and in a thousand and one ways, affirming them in their preciousness?” Children learn the real meaning of, and the ways of loving, not from watching the Simpson’s, or listening to the latest rock lyrics, but by the lessons in loving continually lived out before their eyes. This is the area where the authentically human and the truly spiritual are really inseparable and even indistinguishable.
Remember St. John’s lovely reminder: "If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is made perfect in us."
There is a passage in one of Pope John Paul II’s Pastoral letters which is really nothing else but an elaboration of that same scriptural verse. He was nearing the end of his long pontificate when he wrote these words. I’m sure he must have intended them to be his farewell gift for fathers and mothers everywhere; a vision he wanted to share with you!
You husbands and wives must be the first to witness to the sublimity of your shared vocation, to the sacredness of married and family life, to the day-by-day living out of your mutual gift to one another in life-long fidelity and love. Through the Sacrament of Marriage, your love is enriched with a supernatural value, enabling you to participate in the redeeming love of Christ. How best can you learn to love and to give yourself generously? Nothing is so conducive to loving, said Saint Thomas Aquinas, as knowing oneself to be loved. It is really in the family, as a holy community, where love is freely given, generously and without self-interest, that we, all of us, learn our first lessons in loving. The reciprocal love of father and mother is extended in their love for the children. The family, in the wonderful arrangement of God, is the place where each member is loved for himself and in which we learn to live the sincere and unselfish gift of self. It is truly a school of love.
"A School of Love" - what a lovely ideal to claim for your own and to bring to life: Your Home, Your School of Love.
As I reflected on those words, I found myself remembering a prayer which I wrote several years ago and which I entitled: A Blessing for a New Home. This morning I re-title it: A New Year’s Blessing for Our Home. I have duplicated copies of it for you and I suggest that tomorrow, as you gather around your festive board, in place of the usual blessing, you use it as your special prayer that the year 2007 may be for all of you together Your Holy Year:
Lord Jesus Christ, You have told us: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Relying on your promise, we come together in this, our home, welcoming You into our midst and asking You to claim Your place here. May Your Presence pervade this home and make it holy. May Your Love fill the hearts of those who dwell here; and so radiate out from here that others may experience a share in this blessing.
Make of this home a place where faith is daily brought to life as this family continually learns from You lessons of patience and gentleness, of constant caring and unselfish love. We pray that this blessing which we ritualize here today may so permeate this house that it becomes a permanent part of it - an outward sign of the Presence and the Power and the Protecting Love of Jesus, Our Divine Guest, always welcomed into our midst.