There was a family that was very poor. Because they could not afford to buy a house, they had to rent out a small basement apartment. It was small and cramped for a family of five, but they tried to make the best of it. The children chipped in to keep it clean. They prayed before meals and made sure to be thankful for what they had.
One of the children’s teachers stopped by to pay a visit. She was appalled by the poverty they lived in. The next day, the teacher pulled the child aside to tell her that she felt sorry that she did not have a home. The young girl replied, “Oh, we have a beautiful home! We just don’t have a house to put it in.” (adapted from Msgr. Arthur Tonne, Stories for Sermons).
When the teacher looked at the family’s apartment all she could see was what they lacked. But the young girl looked at it differently. She saw all that they had. They had love, and they cared for each other. To her mind, that is what made a home.
Today we reflect on and celebrate the model for all Christian families, the Holy Family of Nazareth. Like many families in today’s world, the Holy Family were poor. In fact, in the early years of Jesus’ life they were homeless. We know that Jesus was born in a barn. But shortly after his birth, he lived as an immigrant in Egypt. They would have to find whatever lodging they could, and Joseph would have to find work in a country where he did not know the language and had no connections. They would have faced the same suspicion and resentment that so many immigrants in our society have to deal with.
Though the Holy Family lived in poverty, they had the ingredient most necessary for any family to be happy. They had Jesus. With Jesus at the center of their family, they could weather any storm. Though they had little money, they were blessed with the greatest treasure any home could have - Jesus.
This is very important for us to remember in the hectic world we live in. We can get so wrapped up in all the details of having and maintaining a home, that we forget the reason we have one in the first place. We have a home so that we can show love to one another and so that we can raise children who will come to know, love and serve our Lord.
All parents want to give the best they can for their children. It is natural for a mother and father to work hard so that their children will want for nothing. But the most important gift we can give them is our witness to the love of God. If they have Jesus in their hearts, they will want for nothing. No matter how difficult life will get for them they will always have the strength of God to get them through it. On the other hand, if we do not teach our children how much God loves them, they can never be happy no matter how many presents we shower them with.
Consider all the presents the children of our parish received over this Christmas time. Dolls, computers, bicycles, video games, clothes, cell phones....the list is unending. Even though we have spent thousands of dollars on these gifts which of them will have lasting value for them? Which of those gifts will console them when they are picked on at school? Which of those presents will help them deal with peer pressure? Which of those gifts will teach them to be kind and loving to others? When they are older, which of those presents will help them when a relationship fails, when their house is foreclosed on or when they are diagnosed with a serious illness?
But if along with those gifts we have instilled faith in them, we will have given them something that no one can take away and that will sustain them throughout their lives up until the time they have their own families.
The secret to a happy family life is easy. It is Jesus. When He is at the center of our homes, then our families will be successful. They will be marked with the peace and joy that only God can give. And the way to put Jesus at the center of our families is by prayer - first of all, by attending Mass together every Sunday, and secondly, by praying together at home, at the very least saying grace before meals. That foundation of prayer will make the good times more joyful and the hard times more bearable. It will give parents and children the patience to put up with each other and the ability to forgive as Saint Paul urges us to do in the second reading. It will stir up in our homes a love which others will notice and want for themselves. And it will sustain us on our journey through this life until we finally reach our heavenly home.
Family life is the heartbeat of the Church. As a Christian community, we can only be as strong as our families are. Let each of us, therefore, put our commitment to our family at the top of the list of our Christian responsibilities. In that way, both our Church and our society will be renewed, and we will experience the peace and joy of having a home no matter how small or large a house we may have to put it in.