Friday, January 03, 2014

Feast of the Holy Family–Raising Children Well

For the past few weeks, we have been so intensely focused on the coming of Jesus Christ, that today the Church invites us to take a step back and look at a larger picture: The Holy Family. The Son of God, in His Divinity, could have come to us full grown and alone or as a child under the protection of some royal court. Instead, he chose to come to us in the midst of the most fundamental dynamic in human life: the family.

The first thing Jesus sanctified by his presence was a family home – the poor cave Mary prepared for Joseph and their newborn Son. The first instrument he uses to draw men to himself is the family. The Holy Family immediately attracted the wise men and the shepherds to come and adore the Infant Jesus, because Jesus was at the center of their life. Does the joint witness and holiness of your family draw others to you and to Jesus Christ? Is He the center of your family life? A little examination of conscience for our family is important to do today as we reflect on the Holy Family.

Sometimes when we think about the struggles our own families are going through, we can think that the Holy Family is too good to be true or an unrealistic example for us to follow. But, by showing their poor means, their suffering, their long journeys, their devotion, and their many years in obscurity, Matthew highlights the ordinariness of this family despite its extraordinary members. This is a family we can and should see ourselves in. This is a family we can and should relate too.

In reality, most of our families are in relative obscurity. We don’t make the front page very often or have our own reality show. Our families work hard, try to make a living, pray together, raise their kids well, and try to do the best they can. Our families are most like the Holy Family when they are humble and simple like this. But, today’s celebration of the Holy Family calls us to continual, ongoing conversion.

First, to all the children here this evening: Are you like Jesus was when he was a child? Jesus is fully God, but he is also fully man. This means that he also had to learn things, like carpentry, through experience like all people do. Are you putting your best effort into your homework? Are you reading good books, not just because they are popular or fun, but also to develop your mind and heart? Do you listen to your parents and teachers, remember their advice, and learn from them? Jesus was filled with grace and this grace showed itself more and more. You received much grace at your Baptism and continue to receive grace when you go to Communion and to Confession. Does this grace show itself in your way of life? Are you doing what you can to stay healthy and strong? Are you kind to your siblings and friends and polite toward adults? Are you reverent and well behaved at Mass?

And here is my last point to the children: The whole universe is subject to Jesus yet he still chose to be subject to his earthly parents and be protected by them. Remember that the first reading said that if you honor your father you will be heard by God when you pray. And if you honor your mother God will bless you richly. Do you obey your parents and teachers the first time they ask you to do something? Do you talk to God often, and pray with your brothers and sisters? If you can do your best in these things then you can be like the child Jesus in the Holy Family.

To the parents and grandparents here today, I’d like to share a story from my own childhood. One of my fondest memories is of my dad teaching my three brothers and me how to pray each night before we went to sleep. My mom had a role in this too. When dad would come home dog-tired after 12 hours or more at McDonald’s, all he would feel like doing is kicking his feet up for a while. But my mom would always encourage him night after night to go into our rooms and pray with us. She was a Catholic elementary school teacher so she did much to teach us the faith. But on those precious evenings she worked behind the scenes as the gentle inspiration my dad needed to be the spiritual leader of our family.

I share this story with you not to imply that I had the perfect family, but to convince you not to take for granted your role as spiritual mothers and fathers of our Catholic faith. Our children have a natural capacity for awe and wonder and mystery. Their souls can be uninhibited fonts of faith, hope, and love. As a spiritual father myself I implore us all to continue to work together to cultivate and nurture the budding Catholicism of our children. They are looking to us to validate and share the faith that they are being taught at home or in school. For example, we should encourage the children we have or know to participate at Mass or to serve it; to involve them in the life of their parish; and devote whatever time and effort we can to their spiritual development. Grandparents can offer this help to their grown children. Aunts and uncles can offer this help to their nieces and nephews.

What we don’t want to do is give them mixed signals. For example, what message do we send our children when we teach them how to pray at Church or at school but then do not pray with them at home? Or when we prepare them for their First Confession but then never go to Confession ourselves or fail to bring them to Confession? The longstanding tradition of grandparents taking grandchildren to Confession is a beautiful one that should be revived. Lastly, what are we saying when we prepare our children for their First Communion but then miss Sunday Mass and Holy Days occasionally? Our children are open vessels; when they experience the graces of our faith they want it all. Vatican II taught us that the home is a domestic church and parents by their words and actions are the first heralds of the faith. Let’s embrace this responsibility with generosity and with joy, supporting each other in this mission.

On this feast of the Holy Family, St. Francis de Sales, has some helpful advice: “Raising a house, that is, a family, does not consist in building a splendid residence and storing up vast worldly possessions but in training children well in the fear of God and in virtue. No trouble or labor should be spared to do this,” he says, “for children are their father’s and mother’s crown” (Introduction to the Devout Life).

Each of us can do something, according to our state in life or our circumstances – especially prayer – to help the children we have or know to grow up well. Keep this challenge of St. Francis de Sales in mind whether you have children of your own or not. Do what you can through prayer and work to make your family, the domestic church, distinctive for its Catholic identity. It is possible for us to have holy families of our own. Our families, aided by the intercession of The Holy Family and centered on Jesus Christ, can – and must – be a means of our salvation.

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