The Feast of the Holy family emerged quite late in Church history – in the 17th century. This North American tradition came to us from Canada. The Confraternity of the Holy Family emerged among the French missionaries to the Native Americans. In 1921 Pope Benedict XV inserted this Feast into the Roman calendar. What a perfect season to lift up our families to The Christ!
God came to Earth in the baby Jesus, enfolded in the arms of a loving family. Though conceived immaculately, God ensured that the earthly Jesus had a saintly father as well as a Blessed Mother. The unity of family was sanctified as holy and essential to human life. If even God on Earth needed a family, all the more do all of us.
One cannot avoid cultural confrontation when we lift up the Holy Family as a model of family life, and essential to each individual’s wholeness. What is a family?
A man and a woman united in marriage, together with their children, form a family.
(Catechism of the Catholic Church (2202)
What are the essential elements of family life that we all need?
1. Marriage: Marriage is a holy and complete self-giving of a man and a wife to each other forever. Holy, in that God – and the entire Trinity – forms a love triangle embracing a husband and wife. Your spouse came to you not as an accident of circumstance, but as a necessary gift from God. Loving your spouse, no matter the circumstances, is a means to your sanctification. Through spousal love we learn to love without limit. Is it hard? Darned hard. But learning how to love selflessly is the key to finding the “narrow path” to Heaven.
2. Children: Not everyone is blessed with children, but all children are blessings. We are to remain open to life (yes, that means no contraceptives), and we are to embrace each life God gifts the world with (yes, never abortion). Our children are not always as easy to love as when they are sweet babies, but they are always worthy of our selfless love. Likewise, children do not always adore their parents, but parents are always owed their honor and love. Parents and children form essential bonds that require constant nurturing, no matter your children’s ages.
The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task. (CCC 2205)
The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another. The family is a privileged community called to achieve a “sharing of thought and common deliberation by the spouses as well as their eager cooperation as parents in the children’s upbringing.” (CCC 2206)
3. Society: The family is the first and most critical element of society. In the family socialization takes place, learning how to live in community with others. We learn how to share, to wait, to take turns, to forgive, to repent, to do the hard work of love in the midst of the challenges of daily life.
The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society. (CCC, 2207)
4. Love: We learn how to love, the highest virtue, in the family. Without this unconditional love an individual remains broken. The family is a community of love and respect where each is entrusted with the good of others. Our Church reminds us that the love of family is a “privilege.”
The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another. The family is a privileged community called to achieve a “sharing of thought and common deliberation by the spouses as well as their eager cooperation as parents in the children’s upbringing.”
5. Faith: In the family we learn our faith. Our home becomes a Domestic Church, where we carry forth the prayer life of the Church in the sanctuaries of our homes.
Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them. (CCC 2223)
Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God.35 The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.(CCC 2226)
6. Vocation: The family is the foundation from which a child discerns his/her vocation. Vocation involves a calling, either to marriage or to religious life. Secondarily it may include choosing a profession. Within family life we watch for and nurture each individual’s special gifts.
When they become adults, children have the right and duty to choose their profession and state of life. They should assume their new responsibilities within a trusting relationship with their parents, willingly asking and receiving their advice and counsel. Parents should be careful not to exert pressure on their children either in the choice of a profession or in that of a spouse. This necessary restraint does not prevent them – quite the contrary from giving their children judicious advice, particularly when they are planning to start a family.
7. Service: The home is the center of selfless service toward others. In the early years the parents serve their children; as children age they serve their parents needs. From the warm center of family service we reach out to serve the needs of our neighbors.
The fourth commandment illuminates other relationships in society. In our brothers and sisters we see the children of our parents; in our cousins, the descendants of our ancestors; in our fellow citizens, the children of our country; in the baptized, the children of our mother the Church; in every human person, a son or daughter of the One who wants to be called “our Father.” In this way our relationships with our neighbors are recognized as personal in character. The neighbor is not a “unit” in the human collective; he is “someone” who by his known origins deserves particular attention and respect.
Today, as you celebrate the Holy Family at Mass, reach deeper and strive higher in how you lead and nurture your family. It makes all the difference for those to whom God has entrusted us. And it makes all the difference to our salvation as well.
Lord Jesus Christ,
who, being made subject to Mary and Joseph,
didst consecrate domestic life
by Thine ineffable virtues;
grant that we,
with the assistance of both,
may be taught by the example
of Thy Holy Family
and may attain to its everlasting fellowship.
Who livest and reignest forever. Amen