Jan 2, 2019
I don’t know how many of you have heard the story of the Irish mother who went to confession. She went into the confessional and knelt down and said, “Oh, bless me Father for I have sinned ‘tis been t’ree weeks since me last confession.” “Oh, Father ‘tis me family they are driving me half mad they are. ‘Tis the children Father. We hav’ six of them. Now take that Mary. She always has her face in a book she does. Says she wants to become a writer. Well wasn’t she sitting in the kitchen corner reading the other afternoon. I only asked her to watch the pot of water I had on the stove while I went across the back ally to talk with Mrs. O’Toole? I come back in and the water is most all boiled off. Ruined me best pot she would have Father.
Ah, and me Kathleen, oh Lord bless her Father, I think she is going to be a nun. Whenever we go to do something she says, “We have to say a prayer first.” She’d hav’ me praying half the day away she would and I’d get nothing done.
Ah, and the boys. They’ll be the death of me they will! Now that Paddy! I tell you Father he’ll end up in jail he will. Didn’t Gardai O’Connor bring him in by the nap of the neck just the other day? Told me he caught ‘im and some other lads stealing apples from Mr. Livingston’s orchard. I don’t know what I’m going to do with ’im Father. And now that Danny, oh he is such a dreamer Father. I called him to supper t’ree times the other night. On the third time didn’t I look out to find him in the back-garden laying on his back peering up at the stars he was. Oh, what a dreamer he is Father.
And me husband Father? Do you think he is any help? Noo! Comes home every night and plops himself down in ‘is chair. He says he is tired after a long day of work. I don’t know what he thinks I’ve been doing all day? Taking tea and cucumber sandwiches with the Queen I suppose.
The woman finally stopped to take a breath and the priest saw his chance. So, he said, “Now, now my dear woman you must try to pattern your family life after the ‘oly Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The woman snorted and said, “Them, them and their one!
In many ways we can be like the Irish mother. We can look at the Holy Family and believe they don’t really have much to offer us in the way of guidance for family life today. After all that family was made up of two flawless characters and one near flawless Dad. Yes, we can observe the popular vision of the Holy Family and begin to believe that their lives must have been filled with tranquility and without the pressures and problems faced by modern day family life. We can believe that they have nothing to offer as a model today.
It is sometimes hard to believe but bringing up children and nurturing family life has never been easy in any time or in any culture. The family life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was holy but it was not without its challenges. Like in our own families there was stress, complications and fears with which to deal. It is the Holy Family’s example of how to be grounded in mutual respect, love, forbearance, and total obedience to God’s will in the face of the challenges of life that offers us a model today.
Family life is an emotionally charged topic for all of us. It evokes strong feeling for everyone. We all have very concrete beliefs about family. For some of us the topic of family arouses emotions of joy and some of our greatest memories. The word family reminds us of a sense of security and a group of people with whom we share love and affection.
For other it is the source of wounds, deep hurts and frustrations. The holiday season can force us to look at the condition of our families. It fosters our desires to bring healing and hope to them or a desire to learn from our blemished past as we begin to establish new families of our own.
The scripture readings for this and the next several weeks are a great source of insight for us as we try to learn how to order family life after the pattern modeled for us by the Holy Family. In these final weeks of the Christmas Season and as we begin the season of Ordinary Time the readings give us a little peek into how the scriptures can help us to happier family life.
For the next few weeks I’ll be preaching a series of homilies called, “Secrets of Every Happy Family.” It’s true as the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Every happy family is happy in the same way. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s true there are tried and true practices that help make a happy family. Many of them are mentioned in scripture as we have heard in today’s readings. Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking with you about several of the characteristics that make for a happy family. There are many ways to help make family life happy but I’ll touch on just a few of the most important.
Since family life is so central to every human being whether they come from a larger or a small family this would be a good message series for everyone to hear. So, I encourage you to make sure you come each of the next few weeks to get some insights on how you can make family life happier and more satisfying for everyone. If you know someone who is struggling with their family life invite them to come and hear the series too.
The first principle to identify as an ingredient for happy family life is to appreciate that all families are flawed. They all have some degree of tension and dysfunction. No family is perfect and happy families recognize that family life is often messy. They know that there is a significant gap between the real and the ideal family. Happy families know that their lives together can get messy at times and they face it with honesty and forthrightness.
Even families in the Bible had messy histories. Adam and Eve had fratricide occur in their family when Cain killed his brother Abel. Noah’s family was the victim of alcoholism. Abraham’s family life was injured by adultery when he had sexual relations with his wife’s slave Hagar. King David’s family was wounded by incest. Every family has its shadow side. There are no perfect families because families are collections of less than perfect people who are prone to sin.
That is sometimes difficult for us to believe because when we encounter other people’s families it can seem like the grass is always greener on the other side. As children we visited the families of our friends and neighbors and they always seemed cooler than our own. Their siblings seemed to get along without fighting and bickering. Their parents weren’t so irritating and more loving. It might have also appeared to be the case with the families of our college roommates. When you first met your in-laws it also seemed to be the case. Once we got to know them though we learned that even they were dysfunctional at times.
When we believe that our family needs to be flawless and perfect at all times, we begin to become frustrated, annoyed and even heartbroken. We begin to start keeping count of every little hurt and slight. Family life begins to become a burden and source of anger.
Paul in his letter to the Colossians today reminds us that we need to accept the messiness of family life. When there is hurt or tension in our families, we need to practice heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. He says that if we have a grievance against another we need to be forbearing and forgiving to the other as God forgives us. That doesn’t mean that happy families just gloss over their imperfections. No, happy families are willing to confront their squabbles and problems with honesty. They take the necessary measures to deal with their problems in a forthright and honest manner so they can be resolved with love.
Mutual respect is the second quality of happy families. Happy families realize that respect is everyone’s job. Children, parents, grandparents everyone realizes that they are responsible for treating all members of the family with the dignity they deserve.
Sirach in today’s first reading points out it’s centrality to happy family life. In that reading he states that the person who practices respect is protected from sin and has their prayers heard. They will enjoy the fullness of life. That respect also shows appreciation for God’s authority. If we live our life showing respect for others, we will show our love for God.
That is how the Holy Family lived a happy family life. One of the themes of Luke’s gospel is to show that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were at all times faithful to their religious obligations. In today’s gospel we heard how they traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover to fulfill the law and show their love and respect for God. They recognized that the practice of respect begins with being faithful to God’s ultimate authority over the family.
Paul’s Letter to the Colossians also stresses the importance of mutual respect in our family relationships. Respect for one’s spouse is at the foundation of family life. It begins with husbands. Paul enjoins husbands to love your wives and avoid any bitterness towards them. Husbands you need to have zero tolerance for disrespectful behavior towards your wife. It is inevitable that there will be disagreements between husbands and wives at times but those disagreements can not lead to harsh and hurtful words or worst of all any physical violence.
Wives you must also strive to show respect towards your husbands. This means you must avoid putting them down. Putting them down to their face, to family members or to any of your friends can’t happen. Disparaging remarks are the most hurtful and damaging of all to family unity. At times we will seek advice about our spousal and family relationships from trusted friends or professionals. That is necessary but in those conversations we must strive to avoid over emphasis on our husbands’ faults or tear them down out of our anger.
Respect for the elder members of our families is also central to making for a happy family. Sirach places special emphasis in today’s reading on respect for elderly even when their minds fail. The way we treat the elderly in our family speaks very loudly to our children. They are watching closely and learn so much about sharing respect for even the burdensome by the way we respect our elders.
Happy families also are characterized by the recognition that as a family they are part of a larger picture. They realize that healthy family life supports the strength of our wider society. No family functions in isolation but rather is part of a wider picture of our whole culture. Happy families recognize that they are a building block for all of society. They understand they don’t only exist for themselves. When they flourish and are strong then our whole culture is strong.
Paul stressed that to the Colossians when he wrote his letter encouraging them to strive to live in harmony. The Colossians example of love would influence their neighbors and cause the Church to grow. It was something that the Holy Family recognized when they returned to Nazareth after finding Jesus in the Temple. They recognized that as they worked together to help Jesus advance in wisdom, and age and favor before God and man they were having the greatest of impacts on the world for ages to come.
The happy family’s recognition that life can be messy at times but that with mutual respect and the realization that families are important for the health of all of society they can flourish. It is important to remember this as a Church family too. Recent years have seen upheaval in our Church. But if we remember that even Church life will be messy at times. Even our Church family has imperfect members and leaders who fall into sin. If we will have the courage to confront and not coverup its dysfunction it will become a model for the greater society. If we are faithful to the practice of mutual respect for all members of our Church regardless of their rank or position, we will be God’s instruments of love in our world. If we recognize that we are part of a bigger picture that is in the hands of God we will allow God to guide our Church family to be the transformative force for our world that Jesus was incarnate to bring to our world.
The Eucharist we are about to share is the real presence of Jesus Christ with us always to help us be the holy families God created us to be. Today accept God’s grace into your hearts so that you will be open to its power to transform your family and all God’s family into the loving and respectful Kingdom of God.