HOMILY OF ARCHBISHOP MICHAEL NEARY FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY, SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28TH, ST. MARY’S CHURCH, WESTPORT, 2014
It is very appropriate that we would celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family at Christmas time. After all, Christmas is recognised as a family feast, getting together perhaps from across the world, endeavouring to link up with their families by visits, phone, Skype and other means. When God came among us the first Christmas night he did so as a member of a family, within a family. The family is an icon of God and St. John reminded us “God is love”. The love of husband and wife who are created in his own image and likeness reflect this love of God. The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us of the sacredness of the family itself. For the flourishing of human society the family is central. The good of persons and of society is affected by the healthy state of the family. Much of the dysfunction that occurs in society has its roots in the dysfunctions found it the breakup of the family today.
The family-founded on the marriage of a man and woman is the place where children can best encounter and know God: it is a school of faith and values: is where the mutual self-giving and faithfulness of husband and wife provide a secure and protected place where young life can flourish, where children can develop, mature and grow to adulthood assuming their own responsibilities as members of society.
The Church shares in the joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties of peoples’ daily pilgrimage. Serving the family is one of the essential duties of the Church. Promoting the dignity of marriage and the family must be a constant concern of the Church. This becomes all the more necessary in those places where the family is suffering from internal crises or is exposed to adverse cultural, social and economic pressures which threaten its inner unity and even stand in the way of its formation. While certainly conscious of and sensitive to the many complex crisis situations in which families are involved, as well as the moral frailty of every human being, the Church is convinced that she must remain absolutely faithful to the truth about human love, otherwise the Church would betray both its founder Jesus Christ and the true dignity of the human person. An awareness of the beauty of marital love must be constantly renewed and safe-guarded in the face of the serious opposition which the Church meets on the part of those who advocate a false civilisation of progress.
Marriage demands a depth of commitment and fidelity otherwise our relationships run the risk of succumbing to the superficiality of the consumer culture something to be kept going as long as one is getting satisfaction from it. When pledging ourselves to someone in marriage we leave ourselves vulnerable to misunderstanding, to hurt and the possibility of rejection. When we are most generous, we are also most vulnerable. Married couples will testify to the fact that to live faithfully in marriage requires humility, trust, compromise, communication and a sense of humour. It is a give and take experience involving hurt and forgiveness, failure and sacrifice.
Our competitive culture tends to promote aggressiveness and struggles for power. These are a common part of life, especially in the work place. Married couples tell us that it is all too easy for couples to bring an unhealthy competitive spirit to their marriage. The incredible “busyness” of family life can take its toll on marriage. Daily, families are overwhelmed by the demands of work, business travel, getting to and from schools, keeping appointments, fulfilling civic responsibilities. Balancing home and work responsibilities is a shared obligation for spouses. This is a critical issue facing families today. We need to examine the priorities we have for our family and compare them with how we actually spend our time.
We all make mistakes, sometimes deliberately out of anger or spite, most of the time out of ignorance or impetuosity. What we are asked is to give others a second chance. 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 a wonder hidden within them and within all of us together. As we, like Mary and Joseph, keep all these things in our hearts and reflect upon wonders we cannot grasp, our spouses and children, our neighbours and friends, introduce us to God’s presence in our midst. Together we grow “in wisdom and age and grace before God and others”.
Each one of us has our own different ways of expressing love and care for our families. Unless that is high priority you will find that we may gain the whole world but lose those who are closest to us.