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Father Michael

Pastor's Letter 20191229 - 29 December 2019 - Feast of the Holy Family

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29 December 2019

A Message from Father † Michael

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Feast of the Holy Family

Today’s Theme:

“Family Life”

Scripture Note

Today’s Readings are replete with references to the “family,” beginning with a brief commentary on the fourth commandment: “Honor thy father and mother” (Sirach 3:2-14.) By extension, this has import to the obligations a society has for the well-being of all its members, and in particular, as a directive for focus on the welfare of older citizens’ need for comfort and dignity.

Paul focuses on “community” and the Christian household (Colossians 3:12-21.) Herein, fraternal love is the hallmark, which begins at home. In this context, parents are seen to be the examples that will be followed by their children as adults.

Meanwhile Matthew sees Jesus as reliving the history of His people. Our Gospel story today is colored by the story of Moses in Egypt (Matthew 2:13- 23.) Just as he had to be rescued from Pharaoh, Jesus had to be rescued from Herod. The story also contains echoes of the Exodus. Even though the evangelist’s intentions are theological, he does characterize the plight of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as homeless refugees.

The Role of the Family

A tree planted in an exposed place is very vulnerable, at the mercy of every wind. If it survives at all, it will likely be stunted—a poor specimen of its species. To achieve its potential, it must be planted in a sheltered environment, and most beneficially, and properly spaced among other trees. They will form a community, in which resources can be shared, and protection afforded.

Like trees, it is not good for people to be alone, either. Our wholeness, our mental health and our need for “ties” to love and friendship with other human beings is essential for our wellbeing. Human nature thrives in community. Deficient by ourselves, other people enable us to develop more completely. This is evident in results observed among children who have been sheltered from others lacking many social skills and the facility for cooperative learning. It is one of the dangers faced in today’s thriving “homeschool” movement. Other examples include the experiences of “parochial” school students who faced difficulties when integrated into a “secular” school environment. While they may possess superior intellectual development, some of these children were also inadequately prepared.

In the arena of social interaction, a loving family unit shines. A forest of healthy trees is a good image of the family—exemplifying closeness and space. Closeness allows for intimacy, warmth and collegial support, while space ensures individuals are not stifled, and are allowed to grow to full expression. The challenge faced by families is to consistently maintain balance.

Healthy family relationships equip us to interact with others, something of vital importance in the world. Without the ability to form close relationships, we are handicapped, like a single tree, at the mercy of “cold winds” of anguish and loneliness. We learn how to bond with others in the little community of the family, to make room for others in our lives. We learn to share, cooperate and be responsible to and for one another. Paul highlights virtues of kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forgiveness and above all, love, as qualities necessary for building communities in today’s Second Reading. Lacking some or all of these can lead to serious psychological frustrations, and destroy harmony.

Our modern world puts inordinate pressure on today’s families. It isn’t that we no longer value them, but we many times lack the discipline, commitment, fidelity and self-sacrifice that make them work. Our Scriptural example of life of the Holy Family, albeit sparse in detail, shows us a loving community, in which Jesus was allowed to

grow “in wisdom age and in grace, with God and men”(Luke 2:52.)

In our family community we have our place: with bonds, identity and roots. And it is not necessarily a bad thing if a family shares hardships. Hardship can be a grace. Studies have given credence to the strength that comes from difficult times in a family. Struggles often breed sturdiness in people that bear witness to the grace that comes from weathering difficulties in “togetherness.” The dilemmas observed in the lives of children of one- parent and no-parent homes stand in stark contrast to other families that have stayed united to face problems in the face of crippling distress. Trees that grow on hard ground have firmer roots and are better equipped to meet the inevitable storms.

Parents and Children

We have learned that at Nazareth, Jesus grew quietly, in the shadows. We make presumptions about His early years, as we have only the history of Jewish life of His time to guide us. We suppose he learned a trade—carpentry, from Joseph. We envision Him attending Hebrew school with other children of his small town, learning Hebrew, along with the requisite prayers in the Synagogue, and the Torah. During those years we imagine Him growing, maturing and “ripening.” The Holy Family serves as a model for all families, and we can cull many lessons from both the few extant Scripture accounts, and idealized scenarios of simple, peasant life in and around Galilee in the first century A.D. Jesus’ family life gave Him a basis for His relationships that He would form as an adult. No doubt, He also learned acceptable parameters of human behavior from Mary and Joseph. (But since He was God incarnate, a Man without sin, we don’t conceive of any instance where He required behavioral correction!)

The last Scripture story of the Holy Family is a journey to Jerusalem taken by the Holy Family, wherein a 12-year-old Jesus was found studying and lecturing to the elders of the Temple (Luke 2:41- 52.) Upon being chastised by His mother, Mary, for distressing them by his absence, He shows obligate deference and obediently returns to Nazareth with them.

The extension of child rearing that we must also consider is the particular relevance for our times when the elderly are pushed to the margins of society. In our strength it is easy to forget those who are weak and perhaps a little senile. There is a saying: “One mother can take care of ten children, but ten children can’t take care of one mother.” Under God, we owe everything to our parents. The author of Sirach asserts that kindness to parents is especially pleasing to God Who accepts it as atonement for one’s sins.  Here again the Holy Family serves as a model. As Jesus was dying on the cross He thought of His mother, and entrusted her to the care of his disciple(John 19:26.) (According to tradition, Joseph had already died.)

Caring for one’s own kin is no easy task. No circumstances present greater difficulties than in nursing one’s own. No one is more demanding; nevertheless, our first and holiest duty is kindness towards our ageing parents. God is served when we give the thirsty a “cup of water” in His name (Matthew 25:35.)

Reflection

If Children live...
With criticism, they learn to condemn;

With hostility, they learn to fight;

With ridicule, they learn to be shy;

With shame, they learn to be guilty;

With tolerance, they learn to be patient;

With encouragement, they learn to have confidence;

With praise, they learn to appreciate;

With fairness, they learn about justice;

With security, they learn to trust;

With approval, they learn self-respect;

With acceptance and friendship,

They learn to find love and God in the world.

(Anonymous)

May God Richly Bless You!

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” – Psalm 127:3-5

Kneeling at the Manger.docx

Kneeling at the Manger.mp3

Edited by Father Michael

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