REFLECTION FOR THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: GEN 15:1-6,21:1-3; HEB 11:8,11-12,17-19; LUKE 2:22-40
The theme of today’s celebration is an invitation to reflect on the vocation of the family in today’s society. This theme has a twofold dimension. Firstly, it means that our identity is that of the Holy Family. Secondly, flowing from our identity is that we are called to be a Holy Family for all. In other words, the first speaks of identity; the second meaning speaks of the family’s mission to the Church and to society. Identity and mission therefore are intrinsically related. Indeed, Pope John Paul II often repeated to the families, “Family, become what you are!”
What does it mean to be a Holy Family? The Christian approach to the understanding of marriage and family is from divine revelation; what creation intends for marriage and the family. The point of departure therefore is from faith in the divine plan of God. Only the creator can reveal to us the purpose of His creative work and creation. This is what the first reading regarding the promise of Abraham is all about.
What, then, is the divine plan of God for the family? It is a call to communion. We are called to share in the love and life of God. The Trinitarian God is a unity of persons in communion in love and life. Consequently, we who are created in the image and likeness of God are called to Trinitarian love, that is, love in diversity. We are called to be in communion with each other. Accordingly, a family is defined as a communion of persons. He wants us to be an intimate community of life and love.
The basic communion is the communion between the husband and the wife. Most of all, they are called to be the sacrament of Christ in the world, the sign of Christ’s love for His Church, a love that is faithful, indissoluble, total and fruitful to the extent of dying for each other, and sanctifying each other in grace. Such is the vocation of married couples, to be a sign of Christ’s love for each other and for the world.
To ensure that communion is real and lasting, the Church makes it clear that marriage must be faithful, indissoluble and fruitful. This is what divine revelation has taught us. Without fidelity in marriage, without trust, no communion is possible. Love and relationship requires total trust and openness of mind and heart. Without indissolubility, there will always be the attempt to walk out of a marriage instead of purifying it. Love needs to be purified and this entails overcoming frictions and misunderstanding along the way. Unfortunately, many cop out when they face difficulties. Getting into another relationship without first healing the wounds from the previous relationship will also end in failure. Most of all, true love is always fruitful. It brings forth new life and desires to share the love that couples have for each other with someone and with the rest of society. Children therefore are always seen as precious gifts from God to us as they teach us how to love and to increase our love for each other by loving our children.
The second level of communion is the communion between parents and children. The task of parents is to promote unity among the members of the family. But they cannot do it unless they first walk the talk. The father who is the head of the family has a special duty to ensure that the family is united in love, mutual understanding, respect and consideration for each other’s sensitivities. Parents must lead the way for their children in living a life of communion. They must inspire and teach their children the importance of communion not by their words only but most of all by their patient love, compassion, forgiveness and encouragement.
Parental love is to be the visible sign of God’s love for the children under their care. They are called to show the face of the Father to their children and the compassion of the Good Shepherd. Just like priests are called to be the face of the Heavenly Father and of Christ’s mercy and love, so too parents are called to do the same for their children. Do they see you as a financial controller, discipline master or a father and friend? Necessarily, parents cannot be judgmental and act in an authoritarian manner. It is not what we say to them but how we say it. Children do not want to be judged because they are being judged all the time by their friends and by society. They need to be accepted, to be understood, to be forgiven, and be encouraged and be directed. They need a parent who is the like Prodigal Father in the gospel, not a policeman or a judge at home.
What does it take to be such a family? We need to be Holy! Our model is of course the Holy Family. They are our teachers of family life. We need to have faith. This faith dimension is essential. We need to strengthen the faith of our spouse and children. This explains why the theme of faith runs through all the scripture readings, beginning with the faith of Abraham, and especially, of Mary, Simeon and Anna. Just as Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple for worship, we must ensure that the family is grounded on our faith in Christ. What kind of faith is therefore needed to build a Holy Family, a family for all?
Firstly, we need doctrinal faith. Our parents and children must be instructed on the understanding of marriage and the Christian family. We cannot presume that they know the Church’s basis for the unity, indissolubility and fecundity of marriage. Indeed, most of the information Catholics have with respect to marriage and family is from the secular world’s point of view, based on human reason which is often distorted by individualism and self-centered principles, rather than reason inspired my faith. This explains why many young people’s views on marriage, family and sexuality are very secular, individualistic and materialistic. We must educate them in the true meaning of love, sexuality and chastity as self-giving and true. Formation and ongoing education in the truths of the teaching of the Church on family, marriage and sexuality therefore cannot be left to chance but must be taught and interiorized by us Catholics.
Secondly, we need existential faith. This faith is a personal trust in the Lord, like that of Abraham. We must surrender ourselves to the divine plan of God. Those of us who have difficult marriages and children, this is where we need to have faith like Abraham. We must strive to be faithful to His divine will. It is not easy, but with the grace of God, it is not impossible. Only with faith can we continue to forgive our spouse and be patient with each other in our weaknesses. Only with faith, can we continue to love them when they have been unfaithful and are so difficult to love. As couples, you are called to sanctify each other to the extent of giving your life for each other. This is what the marriage vow is all about. We must not repeat the mistake of Abraham and Sarah who initially took things into their own hands by taking the maid, Hagar, instead of waiting for the Lord to give them a child, causing untold problems later. We must have faith in His divine plan for us. God will see us through our problems, challenges and trials of marriage life. But we must come to Him for grace, wisdom and encouragement.
Indeed, the Sacrament of Marriage is to provide you that grace to live out your married life as a couple and as a family. For this, we need to strengthen our relationship with God through faith in worship and prayer. Anna is one good example. She must have felt so lonely to be widowed at such an early period of her marriage. Instead of being resentful towards God, she used that so called tragedy to build her relationship with God. Consequently, if we do not strengthen our spiritual life, especially our prayer life, love for the Word of God, as couples and family, I cannot see how we can remain united in love, forgiving of each other and empowering each other in faith and in love. The family that prays together will stay together.
Thirdly, we need performative faith, that is, a faith that is lived out in obedience, like the case of Abraham and Mary. We must show good examples. Indeed, we have the case of the Holy Family to teach us. They were people of love. Mary was ready to help Elizabeth. When Jesus was lost in the temple, Mary reacted out of love and concern, not out of anger. We need support and encouragement. We need witnesses of good marriage and family life. Every family is called to be an evangelizing community of love and to be the Good News to others. The family is to be the place where the Gospel is taught and lived.
Indeed, at the end of the day, to be a Holy Family is to be a Family for ALL. The family does not stay within itself. It reaches out to the family of families, beginning with our neighbours, the parish and to society. It is at the service of the world like Jesus who was given to the world. Like Jesus, we are called to be the light of the world and a witness. The family is at the service of society and society in turn is at the service of the family. We cannot build loving family without the Church and the Church cannot be a loving family without good families. So family and Church, and society, need to help each other to foster and defend the vocation of the human being, marriage and the family.
The real problem facing the world with regard to marriage and family today is not same-sex union, those who choose singlehood based on selfish reasons, or even divorce, but because there is a lack of beautiful marriages. Hence, the modern generation has become cynical of marriage, whether solemnized in Church or state. Because they do not last, many prefer to cohabitate. And with the breakdown in marriages, children suffer because of a lack of parental love and holistic upbringing. Many are wounded by their parents’ divorce and lack the capacity to be formed in love and in truth. As a result, history will repeat itself. Hence, Pope John Paul says, “Family, become what you are!” Truly, the future of the New Evangelization depends on whether we can build holistic and happy families. This is our vocation.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved.
Published with permission.
Source: Catholic Spirituality Centre