Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Feast of the Holy Family: Praying for Our Families
A few weeks ago I was chatting with one our young ladies who has been teaching for a few years. She told me that there are children in her class that have little to no support at home. She said that she does her best to work with them, but she is limited to what she can do during the class day. Then she said, “All I can do is pray for them.” I was thinking that she was doing a lot. She might be the only person in the world who is praying for each of these children, and that is sad, but she is praying for her children. There is power in prayer.
I was thinking about this and about how important it is for all of us to pray for our children and for our families. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. This celebration reminds us of our responsibility to be a holy family, as well as our obligation to pray for our families.
In today’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple. It is a wonderful scene with numerous characters. You parents can remember when your children were infants. You couldn’t wait to show them off to family and friends. You celebrated their lives on a very special day when you presented them to the Lord to receive his life. They left the Church the day of their baptism still your children but also the Lord’s. Mary and Joseph must have loved showing Jesus off just as you loved showing your babies off. They must have enjoyed the fuss that people made about him, just as you enjoyed people stopping to look at your babies and say a kind word to you.
One of the people making a fuss over Jesus was a man named Simeon. The Gospel of Luke says that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to come to the Temple that day. He was certain that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord. He prophesied that this child is the glory of Israel and a revealing light to the gentiles. Eight-four year old Anna joined in the celebration. It would have been a marvelous day if it weren’t for something that Simeon said to Mary. He told her, “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed -- and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword -- so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.”
What a horrible way to destroy a beautiful day. Here Mary and Joseph are doing everything right, and this man tells Mary that the child’s life will result in her suffering. They were good parents, the best parents, why should either of them have to suffer because of the child? In this Mary and Joseph were no different than all parents. Because parents love their children, everything that happens to their children has an impact upon their lives. If Jesus was going to suffer from the chaos of the world, then his parents also would suffer. In the same way, when any child suffers, whether the child is sick, or are treated poorly by others, the parents suffer.
The Gospels present Mary and Joseph as calmly meeting each challenge the baby’s life brought. In Matthew this included Joseph’s considering whether or not he should send Mary away when he found she was pregnant, the journey with his pregnant wife to Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi and the flight with Mary and the child to Egypt to protect him from Herod. In Luke’s Gospel the challenges included the poverty of the stable, the prophecy of Simeon and, twelve years later, the loss of the boy Jesus in the Temple. Later on, when Jesus begins his ministry or public life, Joseph is missing, probably he has passed away, but Mary is present, calmly telling Jesus that the bridegroom has run out of wine, calmly calling him to her while people were crowding about him, and calmly standing beneath the cross. Check the gospels. Mary stood beneath the cross. She did not collapse. She was not crumpled up in hysteria.
The tranquility of the Holy Family is the result of their union with God. The peace that Jesus brings is not the absence of war or external turmoil. The peace the Lord brings is internal, spiritual. United with God, our families can calmly deal with the challenges of life.
We need to pray for them. We need to pray for our families. Our families are little churches. Their homes are where Jesus, Mary and Joseph dwell.
Many of our families are still growing. There are many pregnant girls in our parish. We need to be praying for them. We need to pray that they have a safe delivery and a healthy baby. We need to support these girls and their husbands in their determination to raise children for Christ. Many of our Moms and Dads are in their twenties or early thirties. We need to give them the support of our prayers as well as the encouragement of our words that they are good Christian parents. They must be. They are here aren’t they? That takes a lot of work, but they value bringing their children to the Lord.
When you see a pregnant girl in Church, don’t be shy. Tell her that you are praying for her, and then do it. Say a decade for her and the baby that is coming. When you see a young family trying their best to control their little children, give them a good word. Let them know that it is wonderful that they have made coming to Church a priority even though it is often a challenge. Our young families should know that when they walk into Church, they are walking into their home where they are welcome, wanted and needed. When they realize that they are surrounded by people praying for them, it will be so much easier for them to nurture the union with God they need to be a holy family.
And to our young families, when you first held your children, when you brought the baby home from the hospital, when you survived the first night the baby would not get to sleep, you probably asked yourself, “How will I, how will we, deal with the challenges this new life is going to bring?” Perhaps you are still asking yourselves that question. Certainly there is not a parent who has not wondered, “How can I be the best parent possible?”
Look to the Holy Family. They kept their union with God as the foundation and glue of their lives. This resulted in the tranquility that let them meet each challenge conquering the chaos instead of being destroyed by it. The effort you make to nurture and develop your prayer life, your union with God, is fundamental to the stability and tranquility of your family.
Pray for your children every day. Pray for them when they are still under your roof. Pray for them when they move out to begin their careers. Pray for them when they establish their own families.
Many of us do not have children by birth. But we still have children, a lot of children. Every child in this Church is a member of our family. Every child here is our child. We need to pray for our children.
And, finally, to all our families whether Mom and Dad are young, middle aged, or seniors, the message for the Feast of the Holy Family is simple: Pray every day. Pray for your family every day. If your children are still home, pray together as a family every day. Whether they are at home or on their own, our children need us to nurture our union with God. When we do this, we never have to fear the challenges our children’s lives will bring. Perhaps there is a sword that will pierce the hearts of all mothers and fathers. We have no reason to be afraid of the future. We have everything we need to meet each challenge calmly. We have the Lord. We can be a holy family.