Holy Family Sunday
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Ilchester
Dec. 29, 2019
Example of My Parents
Next month, my family will mark some important milestones. On January 12th, my Mom will celebrate her 100th birthday. On January 18th, my parents will celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary.
Sometime last spring, Mom said to me, “You know, Bill, I thought your Dad and me were married 73 years
but it turns out it’s only been 72 years.”
“You’re practically newlyweds!” said I, their glib son.
Mom and Dad would be embarrassed to hear me say this, but every year when the Feast of the Holy Family rolls around, I feel as though my parents wrote my homily for me – not with pen and paper – but with a lifetime of love and caring.
Even now, though, I can hear Mom and Dad saying, “Stop canonizing us!” – so, please not a word of this to my parents!
And it is not my intention to idealize the family into which I was born. Like all families, we had plenty of struggles, heartaches, and running arguments about money and my Dad’s driving.
My parents also had to deal with three unruly boys, myself included. Mom and Dad worked hard to support us – Mom was a homemaker, and Dad worked for the telephone company.
Our home wasn’t large or lavish but was always comfortable and clean and there was plenty of good food on the table. My parents were handy with power tools and so did their own renovations. Whatever genes I inherited from my parents, I did not inherit the power tool gene!
Like many Catholic families back in the 1950s and early 60s, our family went to Confession every Saturday and to Mass every Sunday.
Mom and Dad were active parishioners at their parish – as it turns out – Our Lady of Perpetual Help, not in Ilchester, but in New Albany, Indiana.
They sent me to the parish school and made sure that I did my homework every night, and especially that I memorized the questions and answers from the Baltimore Catechism.
(Little did I imagine that someday I would live in the very house where the Baltimore Catechism was invented!)
Sometime in the 1950s, we began to pray the Rosary as a family, every day, a practice my parents continued throughout their marriage. This has been the source of much strength and many blessings.
By my reckoning, Mom and Dad had more than their share of crosses, not only the ones I foisted upon them by getting into trouble now and again, but also in caring for my older brother who had special needs.
They did so at a time when there was less understanding of his condition and fewer resources to help them deal with it.
As Dad’s job grew more demanding, it seemed as though my brother’s needs also became more demanding.
More than a few times my parents’ hearts were pieced with the sword of sorrow, and frustrated as they sometimes were, their love never lapsed.
Mom and Dad did the best they could to provide my brother with good care, and indeed loved and cared for my brother until he died.
In an age when people find long-term commitment difficult, I think of them. When they were married way back in 1947, little did they know what their wedding vows would mean in practical terms: “to love one another in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.”
In their advanced years, their love for one another remains as young as ever. After I finished celebrating Mass for their 70th wedding anniversary, Dad turned to Mom and asked, “Margaret, do think this thing is going to work?”
Not missing a beat, Mom replied, “Well, Frank, let’s try it a few more years!”
These days, Mom and Dad live in an assisted living facility. Mom still looks out for Dad’s needs and last summer when Mom became ill, Dad’s love and concern for his bride of more than 72 years was very evident.
The Holy Family
I don’t know if Mom and Dad ever consecrated our home to the Holy Family, but I do know that they have great devotion to the Holy Family.
Looking backing I can see that, with God’s grace, they tried to live the virtues of the Holy Family, the virtues we celebrate at Mass today, and the virtues we seek to strengthen in all of our families and homes.
As a takeaway from this Feast of the Holy Family, let me suggest three of the strengths, the virtues, of the family into which Jesus, our Savior, was born.
First, the family should be a place of faith and prayer, so much so that, in the Church’s teaching, the family is called “the domestic church.”
Imagine the prayerfulness of the home at Nazareth where Jesus was taught to pray the Psalms and to know the Law and the Prophets.
Indeed, parents are the first teachers of their children in faith and prayer. The home should be a place of love and security and peace, where parents and their children pray together, learn the faith together, and grow in knowledge and love of God, and indeed develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
Even when children attend an excellent Catholic school like OLPH or a fine religious formation program such as you have here, the faith still needs to be reinforced at home, by the parents.
And, it’s still a really great practice to pray a family Rosary every day … perhaps the best fifteen minutes you’ll spend together.
The centerpiece of family life should be Sunday Mass when the family is joined together around the Table of the Lord.
Please know that I do recognize how challenging it can be to get it all together on Sunday morning for an on-time arrival, especially when one or more family members is less than enthusiastic!
But as Pope Francis has commented, the parish itself should be ‘a family of families’ – a place where spouses and parents and children find the spiritual help and strength they need to live the beautiful but demanding vocation of marriage and family, and to do so as a path toward the everlasting joy in heaven.
Second, family is a place where young people learn life’s most fundamental lessons, just as Jesus human character was formed by Mary and Joseph.
These days it’s important for us to remember that not everything can be learned by staring into an electronic screen, be it big or small.
Some things can only be learned in an atmosphere of love and trust … lessons such as generosity to those in need; honesty, justice, and fair play; courage and perseverance in the face of problems and difficulties, and illness;
the ability to talk problems over with others and to find solutions; forgiveness when we’ve been wronged and humility when we’ve wronged others; the value of friendship; silence; and self-mastery and control of one’s appetites; gratitude to God for the gifts and talents he has bestowed; appreciation for the gifts and talents of others.
In a word, the family is where character and virtues are formed in the young. Think of how many social problems are averted by strong and loving families.
A third and final quality that I’ll mention is the value of hard work and cooperation, with which Mary, Joseph, and their Son, Jesus, were certainly well-acquainted.
Growing up in my home, household chores were a team sport and every one was expected to participate. The home is where the work habits of a lifetime are often forged, and where young people begin to learn to develop the talents God has given them and where they learn how to work together with others.
It’s not that such lessons aren’t sometimes resisted – they are – but what a gift to grow up in a home where one learns to work hard, to do the best one can in accomplishing every task and project, and to work cooperatively with others – even if it’s with your brothers and sisters!
Prayer, faith formation, character formation, and hard work – all done with love – these are some of the lessons you and I can learn from the Holy Family.
I pray that, throughout 2020 and beyond, the Lord will bless your families and keep them always in his love.