[mp3t track=”http://traffic.libsyn.com/stanastasia/Homily123012.m4a” volslider=”y” autoplay=”y” title=”Thriving or Surviving Family?” ind=”y” flip=”y” caption=”caption text”] Fr. John Riccardo outlines a plan for thriving, not merely surviving.
Every year right after Christmas, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. There is an important reason for this. It’s easy to think the Incarnation means God took on a human body, that he appeared in human flesh.
But there is much more to it than that. In Jesus, God unites himself to an entire human nature. He fully enters into human experience, with all its peaks and valleys. And a part of that human experience, with more than its share of peaks and valleys, is family.
Jesus spent over ninety percent of his years in the obscure, nitty-gritty of family life. Though only a few chapters of Scripture are devoted to this lengthy period, what they reveal is significant. First of all, despite the cuddly image of our nativity scenes, the original nativity was anything but cozy. A woman nine month’s pregnant rides seventy-five miles on the back of a donkey over bumpy, dusty roads, so she can have her baby in a stable full of animals. Stuffed lambs may be soft and cute; real sheep are dirty and smelly. Quickly after the birth they have to pick up and flee for their lives seeking asylum in a foreign land where they have no friends or family to support them. A few years after their return to their homeland, the now adolescent son goes missing for several days, and there ensues a conversation characterized by a bit of emotion. Joseph is a saint, Mary is without sin, Jesus is God incarnate, yet there are still challenges, difficulties, tense moments, and opportunities for misunderstanding. Welcome to real family life.
All things created by God are good, with human beings and human life very good according to Genesis Chapter 1. Yet in assuming a human body, the Divine Word elevated its dignity, sanctifying it, and ennobling it. In accepting baptism from his cousin John, Jesus sanctifies water and, in baptism, makes it an instrument of his sanctifying power. In entering into family life, Jesus does the same. The family, up til now naturally good, becomes an instrument of sanctification and growth in holiness.
As a teen, I assumed that a serious pursuit of holiness meant opting out of marriage and family to enter a convent, monastery or seminary. Holiness was about lots of quiet prayer and apostolic work. The noisy, everyday life of family was a distraction to all this. The role of married folks was to merely get to Mass on Sunday, obey the Ten Commandments, and get into heaven.
The feast of the Holy Family shows how far off-base I was. It reminds us, as Vatican II teaches, that all human beings are called to the heights of holiness. That all states in life, including student, teenager, and parent, offer abundant opportunities to grow in faith, hope, and love. That the nitty gritty of family life, if approached right, can be a road to profound personal transformation and communion with God.
Think about it. The creator of the universe spent most of his human life as a craftsman, working with dad in the family business and ultimately taking it over. Mary, the holiest and greatest of all creatures, spent most of her time changing diapers, cooking, and cleaning. The secret to holiness is not to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love and gratitude (Col 3:15-17).
The word seminary means “seedbed.” It is a greenhouse where, in a sheltered environment, vocations can sprout and develop so they can be ready not only to survive in the real world, but to bear fruit there. The family is the original seminary. There is sown the call to share in both Christ’s holiness and his mission. Ironically, tending to these seedlings causes the parent/gardeners to grow as well. So family, in God’s plan, is a community where everyone grows and becomes more fruitful.
The bottom line is this—we don’t become holy despite the busy-ness of family life, but in and through it.
Pope Saint John Paul II famously wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “The future of the world and of the Church passes through the family” (FC 75). For most of us, family life is the ordinary means of our sanctification—the way we live our everyday lives at home with our spouses, children, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren make up the stepping-stones toward heaven.
So, in other words, the first lesson for living from the Holy Family is: salvation.
As Dr. Scott Hahn puts it, “Salvation arrives by way of the family—the Holy Family.” Each of us can look to the Holy Family as an example for faithful living within the context of family life. How we respond to our call to live out the Gospel in our own homes, to grow in holiness in some small way as an individual, as a couple, and as a family every day, emulating the Holy Family, impacts the joy and meaning with which we paint our days. This spiritual leadership of our families—becoming the spiritual heads and hearts God made us to be, modeled after the great examples we have in Joseph and Mary—is what we were created for.
Bishop James Conley wrote in the foreword to my book, Head & Heart, “We are created for family life. To be created in God’s image is to be made for family life—the sharing of fruitful love.”
Another lesson for living the Holy Family teaches us is: love.
The most important characteristic that we as leaders of our families can exhibit is a desire to fulfill our vocation to love. St. Joseph, and in particular, Our Blessed Mother and Jesus, were expert lovers. Our vocation as men and women, as husbands and wives, as fathers and mothers, and as spiritual leaders of our families is to love—to love God with one’s whole heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love one’s family with intention and purpose, seeing in each of them a reflection of God. This is what strong spiritual leaders do. They love.
The Holy Family demonstrates this model for love and spiritual leadership in a uniquely beautiful way. This Advent, we should all be encouraged to take these lessons for living from the characters of the nativity, and other characteristics of strong spiritual leadership, and practically—step by step—make our homes places where holiness can flourish, not only this Advent and Christmas season, but all year round.
Courtesy of The Integrated Catholic Life; http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/
Be loyal to your family…
December 26, 2015 5:56 pm
Fr Martin Loftus SDB shares a scripture reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family (27th Dec 2015) which concludes with a family blessing. (courtesy icatholic.ie www.icatholic.ie)