As we celebrate the Feast of the “Holy Family,” we feel very blessed to be able to come before God as a community of believers to seek the graces we need to live the married and family vocation to the full as Jesus, Mary and Joseph did.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph are called the “Holy Family” because the child is Jesus, the Son of God, and both Mary and Joseph lived God’s Will for them, throughout their lives with great fidelity, selflessness and trust in the Lord, regardless of the sacrifices, trials and suffering that had to undergo.
However, when it comes to us, the celebration of this Feast is more complex than we think; the meaning of both the words, “holy” and “family” is not so clear today. Traditionally, “family” means that the father goes out to work, while the mother stays at home to bring up all her children and attend to all the needs of the home. Today, the meaning and roles of spouses have changed; both parents are out working, and what comprises “family” is increasingly blurred. Some people and country even include dogs and cats as part of the definition of what is “family”. Other complication includes the marriage of the same gender as inclusive of what “family” is and the like.
However, to get a good sense of what “family” is from our experiential reality, I asked one of my nieces, Christine, who is happily married to a non-Christian and has a Baptised son of 12 years old, and is also a very active and experienced Catechist in another parish to share with me what “family” means. She says, “When I asked some of the kids in my catechism class to draw what ‘family’ is to them, many of them drew their parents, siblings and often included their maids, or someone who is close to them in the family, like their granny.”
Increasingly, the maids have become a very important part of our children’s life and growing up experiences because both parents are out working the whole day, except for the two hours in the evening; and for many their parents are out on business trips etc. For younger children, it’s the maid who cooks for them and sleeps with them, as parents are absent from the homes. So, it is not surprising that children would draw in and include their maids as family.
Now that we have come to some basic sense of what “family” is in our contemporary context, our next question is perhaps, what does “holy” mean, since we are celebrating the Feast of the “Holy Family.” To this, my niece says, as a Catechist, she is able to sense they type of family a child is from. If the parent of the child is a “Sunday Catholic” the child will surely also be a “Sunday Catholic.” Once the child is comfortable with you and can be himself, you can also sense quite clearly whether the child comes from a troubled and broken family or a happy and wholesome family, from the way he behaves.
As parents, you would certainly want the best of everything for your children. Primarily, all of you would want them to be happy; that when they grow up, they too would have a happy marriage and be good and responsible parents who would be able to provide for their family. And the surest way to do this is to teach our children how to love God, and to do this we have to live by examples. Children absorb values and pick up bad habits; while their school friends and society can have a strong influence on them, the greatest formative effects on children come from their upbringing experiences in the homes.
My niece Christine shared with me that she is one of the most reluctant parent to be involved in Church activities. She finds it very difficult to commit herself because of many reasons including reasons like, “If I am committed to Church activities, how am I to go for my vacations, do my own things, have my free time etc?
However, one day, she felt God urged her and gave her the strength to take up the challenge. To make the long story short, she felt that some how through her friends in her Parish, she decided to become a Catechist. In doing so, over the years she herself grew much in her faith. As she began to teach catechism, she began to realise more than ever how important it is first to ask herself, “How am I living my Catholic faith myself?”
Some years ago, I went to administer the Last Rites to a child who died at birth. After I administered it, I asked the parents whether they wanted to have a Mass for the child’s funeral. They politely declined and said that “It’s enough that the child has received the Last Rites, because the father of the child is a non-believer of any religion and the mother being a Catholic has not gone to Church since their marriage 15 years ago. My heart sank when I heard what the mother said because this is a situation where the mother’s faith is still alive but for one reason or another she is no longer practicing the faith. I asked myself, “Even if the child had lived, would he have known the Catholic faith?”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when Mary and Joseph said “yes” to God’s Will that they be parents to Jesus they were totally powerless and were at the merciless ways of King Herod who wanted to kill their child Jesus. Yet, we know from today’s Gospel that God always intervened and protected Jesus from being harmed through sending an angel to Joseph in his dreams to flee from Herod and finally to go to Nazareth and live there in safety.
This same God who protected and provided for Mary and Joseph is also the same God who will protect you in your married vocation and will also provide for your children in the growing up of their faith, if we want this to happen. All of you without exception, I am sure want the best for our children and long to live a happy and fulfilling life. On this Feast of the Holy Family, as parents, I pray for us to be given the Light of Christ at Christmas to open our hearts and minds more fully to know that the one and only and most important means of ensuring our child’s happiness in life is to teach them how to love God, Our Lord.
Once our children knows how to love God and has experienced God’s Love in the home, amongst the siblings and in their relationship with you as parents, you would have given them the solid foundation to live a happy and fulfilling life.
But, on the contrary, if we allow our children to drift in their faith, and over emphasise the secular values like achieving their “A stars” in school, we may be producing brilliant kids, but we can never be sure that they will eventually have a warm and compassionate heart that will love you and their siblings.
If their success is not founded on their gratitude to God’s blessings, and if God is of secondary importance where coming to Church is never too important or praying is never cultivated at home and the like, then in all probability our children may likely grow up to be very secular, success oriented, self-centered and sadly may already be drifting from the life of the Church and eventually not knowing how to love you when they grow old, simply because they do not know how to love God in their lives.
Sadly such trends are prevalent in families in today’s first world countries, and sadly this is also one of the biggest reasons of why divorce rates are so high. The brokenness in homes due to separations and divorce can be so traumatic that one’s hope of any deep happiness can be destroyed.
I am no authority in marriage, but let me conclude by saying that if we truly want our homes and families to be happy, and if we want our children to have a future where their own marriage would be wholesome and happy, then there is only one basic truth that we have to face. We must all learn to love God more fully EVERYDAY.
This can be taking our Sunday Masses more seriously, or praying more regularly as a family at home, or becoming more active in our Parish community activities or even reaching out to the poor and needy more generously, and selflessly. If we decide to do this, I have no doubts God will give us all the graces we need on this Feast of the Holy Family truly to grow into becoming more like the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The choice is ours.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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