HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
I welcome you all as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The place of the family in Christian life needs emphasis now more than ever since the stability and integrity of family life and threatened on every side. Christmas is very much a family time. Most of us will have made contact with our families over the festive season. This is a time when we reflect on virtues which flow from the flesh and blood which ordinary human-beings possess and which are shared most closely in the family circle.
The virtues which are stressed most of all are those of forgiveness and patience. We all make mistakes, sometimes deliberately out of anger or spite, most of the time out of ignorance or impetuosity. We are asked to give others the same chance. Jesus would say – seventy times seven. The fault which children find most difficult to overlook in parents turns out to be impatience.
In practising the ordinary family’s virtues of patience and forgiveness we are doing much more than overlooking the faults of others and giving them a second change. We are being introduced to a wonder within them and within all of us together. Our spouses and children, our neighbours and friends are introducing us to God’s presence in our midst.
Today we look with gratitude to our own families as a family of believers, a family that consists of the young, the middle aged and the elderly.
The young are born into a world that is fragile and uncertain about the future. They need to be nurtured, encouraged, trusted and enabled to find their place in society. They may appear to be suspicious of authority, particularly when authority has failed them.
The young respond with enormous generosity to the concrete needs of others. Society needs their idealism and energy. They see in Jesus someone whose love for the poor, the misunderstood and the misinterpreted shines out in exemplary fashion. The young need support to face up to life’s disappointments without losing heart.
Society needs those also who are in the prime of life, those who are in a position through their experience to distinguish what is important from what is unimportant. The selfless love of parents to invest the best of themselves in their families is something for which society can find no substitute. Our society needs those whether they are married or single, who have the generosity to listen to the troubled people and provide the supportive shoulder and the listening ear to help them in the long journey.
The family is the place where we learn to bring the best out of people while shrugging off negative criticism, bitterness and resentment.
Many of us will acknowledge the very significant influence that members of the extended family had on our own upbringing, notably our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Are we in danger of losing something of the value of the extended family today? The elderly are an essential part of the family of God. They remain young at heart and have the openness to greet the future with hope. They have been through the most important university of all, the university of life itself. They have acquired a wisdom that comes from the cut and thrust of daily living, they have met with disappointments and success. They have faith which coped with change both in society and in the Church. Inevitably they are troubled by ageing and illness. They have time to listen to others.
We are all too familiar that family life can be beset by dissentions and disorders, and leave much to be desired. Not only are tensions inevitable in families, so also is pain and suffering. At Christmas time, however, we are very conscious of the fact that the last word on human being is that we are loved and that we are free and able to go forward to better things, to begin all over again, to recover our experience of life and take up again the rebuilding of society. This word of hope lies behind all the good wishes we exchange and is the truth of all the gifts we give to each other. Even beneath our irritability, our quarrels, beneath the divisions which sometimes happen over little things, there is the immense desire to communicate to love, to be understood and to be loved.
This Christmas perhaps you might make available to the family an ingredient that is ever more pressing and urgent, namely, time. Time to listen, time to learn, time to support and above all time to pray together.
Often times when we conjure up a picture of family life we see a happy occasion with family members gathered around the dining room table or before a cosy fire in the family room. This is an ideal picture. But we know that family life can be beset by dissentions and disorders, and leaves much to be desired. What is important to us on this Feast day is that the Feast of the Family does not exclude hardship and strife originating outside the family today. The pressures on family life are enormous.
Not only are tensions inevitable in families, so also is suffering and pain. For many families Christmas is a very painful time. The pain of separation from family members who have died can be felt more keenly at this time. The separation whether it be due to death or estrangement or physical distance contributes to the loneliness which we experience. The general mood of celebration at Christmas time can make the pain within some families all the more pronounced.