Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Feast of the Holy Family: Being a holy family
I hope you all have had beautiful celebrations with your families on Christmas Day. Perhaps, for some, Christmas seems to take a long time coming, and then ends quickly. Well, we don’t let this happen in the Catholic Church. Like Garfield hugging the Christmas tree to keep Jon from throwing it out, we hold on to the celebration all the way until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year until January 13th. Our main focus, though, is on the time from Christmas to the Epiphany, which includes today’s Feast of the Holy Family, this Tuesday’s Solemnity of Mary, and next Sunday’s Solemnity of the Epiphany.
Still, I think many parents here are breathing a little easier. I’m sure you feel particularly relieved because you felt you had to create Christmas for your family. Looking back at it, you certainly had to do many things, but, in retrospect, your families found joy in what God inspired you to do.
This is the Feast of the Holy Family. I think all of us are tempted to think that we can create a holy family. We can’t. Only God can provide the grace for our families to be separate for Him, to be holy. Still, we have to do everything in our power to give His Grace the opportunity to flow into our homes. That is where today’s first two readings are pointing us. Mothers and Fathers are to be respected by their children. Husbands and wives are to respect each other. Parents cannot allow their children to speak to them in a disrespectful way. This is not for the parents’ sake, but for the good of the children. Respect is not integral to human nature. Respect, like gratitude, has to be taught by parents and learned by children. I’m sure that on Christmas you said many times to your children after they received a gift, “And what do you say?” I’ve met many adults who take the generosity of others for granted. Perhaps, they were never taught to say, “Thank you,” when they were children.
In the same way, parents need to teach their children respect. If children do not learn how to respect their parents, how are they going to learn to respect anyone in authority? And how are children going to learn respect if they don’t witness the respect that their mothers and fathers have for each other? By treating each other with respect, husbands and wives are building the foundation upon which a holy home can be built, a place where a holy family can live.
A holy family has to provide opportunities for the children to develop their relationship with God. I’m sure all of you say grace before meals. This might seem to be an ordinary practice, but it is not. It is extraordinary. It opens the children to recognize that all good things come from God. Bedtime prayers are also very important. Through these prayers the children develop their personal relationship with God. They learn to talk to God, to pray for their families and for all who need their prayers. By the way, when the children reach six or seven, it’s a great idea for parents to incorporate an act of contrition into their little children’s bedtime prayers. This helps them learn to take responsibility for their actions as they ask forgiveness for anything they have done wrong during the day. And if a child can’t think of anything they did wrong, I’m sure Mom or Dad can offer a few suggestions.
Sometimes people look at this Feast of the Holy Family and say, “Well, this is unrealistic. How can we possibly be parents as good as St. Mary, the Immaculately Conceived One, and St. Joseph, the direct descendent of King David, chosen by God to be the foster father of the Lord?” Well, look at today’s Gospel. Even the best of parents make mistakes. They left their kid in Jerusalem, violating one of Msgr. Joe’s rules: You must go home with as many children as your brought. And they only had one. Jesus himself sort of scolded them when he asked them why they didn’t start looking for Him in the Temple, His Father’s house.
Sometimes a little child will complain, “You’re the meanest Mommy or Daddy in the world.” Usually, that is a good sign that Mommy and Daddy are more concerned with caring for their child then in preserving the child’s affection by letting the child do something that could be detrimental. My favorite experience in this regard comes from many years ago in another parish. At a Teen sharing based on the Fourth Commandment, a number of the Teens were complaining that their parents rules were too strict. Then one Teen said, “I don’t have any rules. I can come home as late as I want, even on school nights. My parents never look at my grades; so I don’t have to worry about their reaction to a bad grade.” Then the Teen started crying, “Why don’t my parents love me?”
Sometimes Pre-Teens and Teens might complain to me about something their mother or father said or did. My response to them is: But are they trying their best? If you want your parents to realize that you are trying your best in the things you do, why don’t you respect them for trying their best? For example, maybe you have problems with math, have done all your homework, done extra credit, and have even worked with some of the better math students in the class to understand a lesson. Yet, you still get a bad grade. You want your parents to realize that you are trying. Well, it is the same thing for your parents. It is more important that you realize that your Mom and Dad have your best interests in mind, then they succeed in being perfect parents.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.
When parents bring their babies for baptism, they take upon themselves the huge responsibility of raising their child for God. This is what you do, Moms and Dads. You are in the business of raising children for God. To do this, your home must be a little church. For this to happen your family must be holy. You cannot create a holy family. But God can. Find ways, perhaps new ways, to open your family to the Grace of God.
Today we pray that all our families might be holy families.