Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. Jesus chose to enter the world as a baby, as part of a family. In this way, family life has been part of God’s plan for our salvation, a path to holiness. You might say well that’s easy for a family with two members who knew no sin and the third who was very righteous. But as we see in today’s Gospel, life was not easy for the Holy Family. They are not holy because they never struggled, never worried about what to do, never had problems. No, they are holy because despite their challenges and sufferings they kept trusting in God and His plan for their life. And the family is the path to holiness for most of us here. By placing our trust in God throughout the joys and struggles of married life we are called to grow in holiness.
Before exploring further marriage and family life, a short story. I heard this on Relevant Radio. There was a fireman, I believe from Ireland, who was asked to comment on the one thing that stood out to him the most throughout his career. He had this to say. Whenever I responded to a fire at a residence I could usually tell when a couple was married or just living together. When the couple was just living together, the man of the house would always get out even if all the other family members were not out yet. Whereas, if the couple were married the man of the house would not leave until the other family members were out of the house. That is the self-sacrificial love marriage calls us to.
The Church has always emphasized the importance of the family in society, the importance of family as part of God’s plan for us to live a holy and happy life. Why is the family so important? St. John Paul II had this to say, “The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love and in doing so become a living reflection of God’s love.” The family -- husband, wife and any children God gives them, becomes a living image of the Mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. As the concrete image of God to the world every family by its nature is a communion of love and life. In the world today where many people wonder whether God exists at all, where has He placed the clearest sign that He is indeed present and that He is love? He placed it in the family, man and woman united in life-long marriage, raising children which are the fruit of that love.
If family life is so natural to us, then why are there so many broken families? Why can it be so difficult to live out? Well, family life exists now on a spiritual battlefield. Satan is profoundly aware of the importance of the family in God’s plan and its irreplaceable role as an icon of the Trinity. We shouldn’t be surprised therefore, that Satan would aggressively target the family. In fact Sr. Lucia (one of the three visionaries visited by Our Lady at Fatima) wrote, “the final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about Marriage and the Family. So whoever stands up for the sanctity of Marriage and the Family can expect to be fought against because this is the decisive issue. Yet we should not despair. Rather this should challenge us to put our complete trust in our Lord and be engaged in the battle on behalf of married love and life. For instance, we need to stand up for marriage as being between one man and one woman for a lifetime. Our culture wants to recognize homosexual unions as being equivalent to marriage. But that is not the case.
So let us now look at the mission of every Christian family. The family, including every one of your families, is the center of life and love for the world and the Church. St John Paul II said, the future of the world and of the Church passes through the family. The first point regarding the mission of the family is that: Marital love is fruitful. Marriage and conjugal love by their nature are ordered to the procreation and education of children. Using contraception to separate the marriage act from being open to life is wrong. Despite what our culture has to say, children are the supreme gift of marriage. By having children our hearts will grow in virtue and in the capacity for love, which is the real meaning of our lives. And then as parents it is our role to be the primary educators of our children, especially in the areas of faith, virtue and prayer.
(2) Second point: Masculinity and femininity in the family are part of God’s remarkable plan. Studies tell us that a child develops best when he has a father and mother at home. Our culture attacks this fact by legalizing adoption to homosexual couples.
(3) Third point: Husbands and children need the unique feminine gifts that can only come from the one who is wife and mother in the family. Scripture, in many ways, acknowledges the godliness of maternal love. In the prophecy of Isaiah, God’s love is compared to that of a mother when the Lord says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. (Is 66:13) Women have a unique way of seeing the wholeness of the human person which is a great gift, not only to the family but to the world.
(4) Fourth point: Husbands and fathers also have an irreplaceable mission in the family. There is a security and stability that only you can give your family. But this will only bless your family to the extent that you fulfill your role as provider, protector and spiritual leader. As primary protector of the family your attention is drawn to protecting against threats both inside and outside the family. These threats take various forms: for example at this time in history there is the threat of overuse of technology and the always evil problem of pornography. Fathers, do what you must to protect the precious time and the healthy imaginations of your family. Denying a smartphone/restricting its use is no sin. As fathers you also need to be the spiritual leader of your family, which is often the most difficult task. Your steadiness in going to weekly mass and receiving the sacraments, your growth in disciplined prayer and your pursuit of a deeper personal conversion throughout your life provide an invaluable lesson in spiritual leadership. This along with your love for your wife and your presence to your children will be the best of fatherly gifts and make a powerful difference in their lives and in their faith. When you, as fathers, affirm your sons in word and deed and spend time with them, you are acknowledging their goodness so that they can live confidently as beloved sons without trying to find their ultimate meaning in the things of the world. When you affirm your daughters as good, beautiful and precious, the most important man in her life, she will be well-equipped to say no to the false flattery of the world that so often fails to see her true dignity, value and worth.
(5) Fifth point regarding the mission of the family: What about our elderly parents, slowed down perhaps by disease or dementia. Our culture advocates for legalizing euthanasia so as to be able to dispose of the elderly when it’s inconvenient or costly to care for them. But what does our first reading from the Book of Sirach say, it says “My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives…Kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins.” This is very powerful. Honoring our parents (mother and father) is an act of righteousness which actually atones for our sins.
Each and every family without exception feels the burden of sin, the pain of suffering. The sin of one family member upon another may be the greatest of sufferings within the family. Verbal, physical or sexual abuse inflicts unspeakable hurt in a family. Addiction to drugs, alcohol creates chaos in family life. Divorce while socially acceptable, can leave in its wake injured spouses, traumatized children and broken homes. Yes, marriage and family themselves are caught up in the fallen-ness of the world. There is no escape from the sufferings of life, but if we offer them up to Christ, they are filled with grace to help us bear the suffering. Jesus has a plan for our families and His purposes will not be thwarted by sin and broken-ness if we but surrender our hurts to Him in love and trust. God sees our sufferings, is with us in our pain and desires that we allow Him to use each pain /each suffering for our own holiness and for the salvation of our families. Suffering can be powerful and redemptive. When united to the Cross of Christ, no prayer, no hurt is ever wasted. Every moment of suffering can be an act of love. When you offer your suffering up to God He will use it like oil to anoint your family. In this way you mysteriously but truly participate in the redemption of those whom you love most in the world.
What can we do to strengthen our families/our family life? (1) As mothers and fathers we need to take our families to Mass each Sunday. Even when the family is away on vacation make Mass attendance a priority. On Sunday the entire day can and should be lived in a holy way, with prayer and spending time together. (2) Monthly confession with parents leading the whole family to the Sacrament is an ever-lasting memory for a child and a great aid to the soul. (3) Having a daily meal together as a family has a certain grace to it. It is where real encounters occur between parents and children and between siblings. Satan is committed to filling up our lives with so many things to do that it’s very difficult to sit down and eat as a family. Try to resist that. (4) Prioritize time together as spouses. Relationships are built on spending time alone together. One suggestion is spending time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament together. The Lord rejoices in your spousal love and wants it to mature in your hearts as your grow in holiness together. (5) Establish boundaries for the use of technology in the home. Restrict the use of technology for your children in favor of real play time, real conversation and establishing real friendships.
To conclude, Christ has chosen us whom He has joined in marriage to be, at this time in history, an icon of His love for His Bride the Church. When you make sacrifices for one another, when you encourage and forgive each other, when you worship the Lord together, when you welcome children and raise them in the practice of the Catholic faith you are helping our skeptical generation believe that total, faithful and fruitful love is still possible. Indeed, nothing is impossible with God; trust Him.
It is said, “The only failure in life is not to become a saint.” This is true. It is indeed true for every member of our families. Let us turn to the Holy Family, on this the Feast of the Holy Family, and ask for their intercession to help us put our complete trust in God for our families and to lead us along the path of holiness to the halls of Heaven.BACK TO LIST