HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY, December 27th, St. Mary’s Church, Westport
Family life must all fit harmoniously within the neighbourhood and its culture. There are so many pressures on families today, pressures which those who have gone before us would never have experienced. Success in technology has not succeeded in leaving us with more time for each other. Indeed, at times when people had to wait for the fire to kindle, the kettle to boil, when they had to walk and cycle, one got the impression that had people have time for each other, more time to listen and talk and share.
Society depends so much on the family. The qualities which we value highly in our culture are love, justice, truthfulness, respect for the rights and dignity of others, concern for those in need, the spirit of co-operation, forgiveness and patience. These are virtues which are needed in our world and which parents endeavour to teach and put into practice in family life.
Families come in all forms, shapes and sizes. On the one hand you have families where love is shared, there is growth in understanding and a loving relationship in the home where everyone is enabled and encouraged to take responsibility. On the other there are families where love is under constant threat, where a parent is struggling to survive financially and provide for the children. There are homes where parents are separated or divorced, with all the attendant problems. There are other homes where there is violence and searing pain.
Yet, in-spite of all the pressures to which the family is subjected, the family is very resilient and still retains enormous strength and is a powerful instrument of healing and hope. The Church shares in the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and the anxieties of peoples’ daily pilgrimage.
In today’s Gospel we have the story of Jesus as a twelve year old getting lost on the occasion of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. One senses the stress which Mary and Joseph experienced on that occasion. In a different kind of way it reminds us of the stress which parents experience as they see their son or daughter leave the home, perhaps not only in a geographical sense but sometimes in an emotional sense. It may be as a result of a major row, the differences in temperament of family members that leave them feeling strangers to each other.
A huge challenge in family life today is trying to come to terms with the different paths that family members take in life. When a family member decides to take a road of which the parents do not approve, one might be tempted to ask the question that Mary asks in today’s gospel “why have you done this to us?” An understandable question – perhaps it is an indication to see the bigger picture as a family member may be struggling to establish his or her identity.
Forgiveness and patience will be called for. In practicing the ordinary family virtues of patience and forgiveness, we are doing much more than overlooking the faults of others and giving them a second chance. We are being introduced to the wonders that are hidden within them and within all of us.
If we fail to provide support for marriage and the family then we should not be surprised if a world without loyalty emerges, one where relationships are casual, where people are taken advantage of and then treated as part of disposal society. It is the prelude to the less human world – a world of power without morality, sex without love, childhood without stability and relationships without trust. Families are the crucible of humanity. They are the miniature world in which we learn how to face the wider world. The family is in fact a seabed of the future. By destabilising marriage we are rapidly eroding the social structure on which humanity depends. Of course, some relationships will fail, yet the family unit is probably one of the most valuable supports in tough times as well as in good times. On this the Feast of the Holy Family we pray for all families, for those who are rejoicing, those who are carrying the cross of serious illness, loneliness, bereavement or broken relationships.