Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holy Families

If you decided that you wanted to become a saint, where would you have to go to make your dream a reality?

Would you have to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or Rome? Would you have to go to a monastery? Would you have to visit renowned people of faith around the globe? Would you have to visit all the world’s great libraries and read the works of faith handed down to us over the generations?

While all these pursuits might be helpful in nourishing our faith, they are not absolutely necessary to becoming a saint.

If we want to become saints - and all of us are called to be saints through our baptism - then we need to look no further than our families and our homes.

It is through our family that we first come to learn about our faith. Our parents are the ones who bring us to church and teach us our prayers. By their example, we learn what it means to be men and women of faith. And in the home we learn and practice virtues such as patience, kindness and love which are necessary for living a godly life in this world. It is through our families that God forms our minds and hearts to serve Him as women and men of faith.

There is no doubt that all the great saints had their beginnings in a family. Jesus Himself needed Mary and Joseph to teach Him how to speak, how to pray and how to obey God. One of the Church’s greatest saints, Saint Augustine, was converted by the ceaseless prayers of his mother, Saint Monica. In more recent times, Saint Therese of Lisieux learned her faith from her godly parents both of whom are also canonized saints. In fact, they are the first saints to have been canonized as a couple. Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke frequently and fondly of how his parents nurtured a sense of faith, courage and integrity in him.

All of us, no matter where we are on our journey of faith, are called to make our families a priority. It is in our homes and among our loved ones that God wants to make us holy.

Today’s readings are rich with advice and encouragement for us in relationship to our family members. We could be here until next Sunday going through every line of these Scriptures and reflecting on their meaning for marriage and family life. In fact, it would be a good idea for all of us in the coming week to look these readings up in our Bibles or online and pray over them so that we can begin to act on them. They give us a beautiful blueprint for how God intends us to live. However, today, for the sake of time, let us focus on what the role of each member of the family is.

Our first reading tells us that “God sets a father in honor over his children.” In any family, the father is irreplaceable.  It is by the father’s words and example that daughters come to know that they are beautiful and worthy of being protected. Sons learn from their dads about courage and integrity and about the dignity with which they should treat women. Not only do fathers bring economic security to families, they bring psychological and emotional security as well. Also, it is through our earthly fathers that we learn to relate to our Heavenly Father. If our father on earth is stern and distant, we will perceive God the Father in the same way. However, if our father is warm, affectionate and loving we will relate to God the same way. So all fathers have a very important role - a true vocation from God - to be examples of love to their wives and children.

Mothers also have an irreplaceable role in the home. All new life comes through the mother who shares her body first with her husband and then with the children which come from their loving union. This is a beautiful reflection of Jesus who gives His own Body and Blood to give us live and nourish us in the family God. Mothers teach their children how to be gentle, how to take care of themselves and how to care for each other. When children are hurting, their first instinct is to run to their mothers because they have a special touch in bring comfort and making the pain go away. As Jesus honored His Blessed Mother, we should all honor our own mothers no matter how flawed or imperfect they may be, because they are God’s gift to us reflecting His own tenderness and mercy.

Children also have a very special role to play in the family unit. It is for the nurturing of children primarily that God created the family. It is through children that parents experience true self-sacrificing love. By facing all the challenges that come with raising boys and girls, parents grow in patience, love and gentleness. Also, children grow in virtue by sharing in chores around the house. By emptying the dishwasher, raking the leaves, cleaning their rooms, they learn diligence and the satisfaction that comes from doing a job well. When they interact with their brothers and sisters, they learn how to share and to put the interests of others before their own. Through their families, children learn to become good citizens of their country and holy saints in God’s Kingdom.

No families are perfect and not every family is whole. Many times through death or divorce, homes cannot always have both a father and mother. However, God provides the grace to overcome the shortcomings and weaknesses of our families. So the other essential element of any home is Jesus. When we put Jesus at the center of our family lives through prayer and through attending Mass, He will provide us with all we need to grow in love and faith.

In no other time of human history has it been harder for the family. However, through faith, we can reclaim the blessings that God intends to offer us through the home. It requires us to make a renewed commitment to our own family, taking up whatever challenges may come our way with determination and courage. When we embrace it all with the grace that God gives we will find ourselves growing in holiness and, in the end, becoming saints.

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