Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our Church reminds us today and every year on this feast that the Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is the model family for all of us. But, if I were to take a survey of “What is a family to you?” from all of you today, I believe many of us may not find this an easy question to answer spontaneously. One of the reasons why we may find this question difficult to answer is perhaps, each of us have very different and mixed feelings and experiences of what is a family.
On one extreme, we would get answers like, “My family life is truly so beautiful and happy, my family is very closely knit and we truly love and respect one another so very much; my parents are the best parents in the world and God’s greatest blessings for me in my life.”
On the other extreme, we would get answers like, “O my goodness, my family experience is desperate and depressing, in fact horrifying. There is no peace in the home, we are always quarrelling, we as parents are on the verge of divorce, and our children are in all kind of problems and the like.”
Most families would probably fall between these two extremes of experiences of what a family living. Many would be able to describe the ideal of what our family should be like, but in reality find ourselves falling short of the ideal and for many finding ourselves quite helpless and confused as to know how to improve the relationships that we have in our homes. Some of us would not even know where to begin and how to begin.
In today’s first Reading of the Book of Ecclesiasticus (3:2-6.12-14) and St Paul’s letter to the Colosians (3:12-21) in the Second Reading, both have excellent instructions on how we should honour our parents and care for them in their old age and the like. I urge us to read and reflect on them today. The fourth Commandment too tells us to “honour your father and your mother.”
At the time of marriage, the couples promise God to love each other “for better or for worse, in health and in sickness, in poverty and in riches, in long life and in short . . . till death do us part.” We also all know what Jesus teaches. He says, “Love one another as I have loved you” and this love means that we are to love one another unconditionally, totally and faithfully as God has loved us . . . even to the point of our willingness to die for the good and sake of the other, as Jesus has shown us, when He died on the Cross out of love for us.
Knowing all these teachings of Jesus and the Church is one thing, but putting them into practice in our daily living is the most difficult thing. Why is this so? I think one of the main reasons causing such problems is the confusing messages and images of what life is about from our secular daily living. If I were to ask ourselves the question, “What is happiness?” Again, like our earlier question of, “What is a family” many of us would not find it easy to answer the question.
Two days ago, one of my good nephew remarked how he was waiting in a long queue to get a seat in a restaurant. Then suddenly, a brand new white Lamborghini (sports car)pulled up. A young handsome man in his early twenties got out of the car with his girlfriend and walked into the restaurant, bypassing the queue and got a table. I replied that probably, the young man had prior booking or perhaps, his parents owned the restaurant. While my nephew is a very good Catholic and comes from a very good and happy family, I could sense how probably at the back of his mind, he was fantasising the ideal of how he wished he was the dashing young man driving the Lamborghini, which probably costs 1.5 million dollars. How many of us here too wish that we are the young man?
There is nothing wrong in driving a Lamborghini if you can afford one. The Church never taught that it was a sin to drive big sports car or live in big mansions. They are in fact God’s blessings if we can afford them. However, the Church also teaches us that the ideal of a family life is beyond driving Lamborghinis and owning big houses and the like.
The ideal and happy family life has to do with living in peace, loving one another selflessly, forgiving each other willingly, sharing with one another generously, serving and respecting each other humbly within the family and indeed in any community – whether it is a community of priests, religious or parish. How do we live such a life, you may ask? We try so hard, and it is so difficult to live all these Gospel values of Christ.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if you find living the Gospel values difficult, so did Mary and Joseph, so did all the saints, including our late Pope John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa and any holy person that you know of. I believe they all only have one secret – and that is their lives are focused solely on God;Jesus is at the centre of their lives, and they try to love and serve others simply because they do it out of their love for the Lord.
When children come to me for Confessions I am very touched by their innocence and the purity of their faith in God. So after they confess their sins to me, I would often have a conversation like this with them. I would often ask them, “When you do all of these things that you just confessed, how do mommy, daddy, brothers and sisters and everyone feel? They will spontaneously reply, “Sad.” “How do you feel?” I would ask. Again, they would reply, “sad.” Then I again ask, “How would Jesus feel?” “Sad.” “But, if you are good, kind to people, and you listen to mommy and daddy how do they all feel?” “Happy”, “How would you feel?” “Happy”, and “How would Jesus feel?” “Happy”. So, you see, Jesus wants you to be a good boy right? Do you want to love Jesus? “Yes.” “So if you love Jesus and if you are a good boy, Jesus will be happy, you will be happy and everyone will be happy . . . . Right?!” “Right!”.
I think, this Confession conversation applies to all of us adult too. And if we can all try to love Jesus as much as we can then, I believe everything else will begin to fall into place. Our lives will be more peaceful and life-giving. We will not be struggling to try to do the right thing or to try to please another person or give in to an argument, but more importantly, we begin to see Christ in others and learn to love Christ, Our Lord concretely through our love, patience, care and concern for others. Even when we want to forgive others, we would draw strength from knowing that because I love Our Lord, who has forgiven me much, I will then want to forgive others because I love Christ who is present in them.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, if you read the lives of the saints, this is the basic approach of living their faith that they take . . . it’s not easy, but there does not seem to be any other way that I know of . . . Mary and Joseph too were able to live their life for God so faithfully and so fully, precisely because they were also able to keep God at the centre of their lives. They simply lived and carried out God’s Will and lived in His ways. Even though they did not understand the mysteries of God, they obeyed them fervently . . . and over time . . . they grew in holiness and closeness to God.
As I conclude, let me remind ourselves that if we truly wish to live a more wholesome and happy and fulfilling family life, then there is only one secret and that is to put God at the centre of our lives and try all means and ways of loving Him as wholeheartedly as we can . . . whether through prayers, acts of charity, generosity, humility, forgiveness and the like, all out of love for God our Lord.
When we are able to do this, our lives will be transformed and Christ, Our Lord would be our model, image and ultimate goal in life. When this happens, our lives will truly be built on the securest foundation of God as our rock, and the Holy Spirit as our inspiration and strength. The more each of us in the family can live in this way, the more united, and peaceful and loving our families would be for St Paul in today’s second reading tells us, “Whoever keeps God’s commandments lives in God and God lives in him.”
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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