Family is the training ground for love, holiness
Some of you have heard me tell of my past experiences as a priest ethicist serving as a consultant in the field of health care. One of my responsibilities was to assist people in preparing their durable powers of attorney for health care especially regarding the Catholic tradition of ordinary and extraordinary means of treatment.
In giving my presentation, someone would inevitably make the statement, “Father, I just do not want to spend my elderly years as a burden to my children.” I would respond, “I understand, but it is too late. You already are a burden to your children and have been so for their entire lives, and they to you.”
As the prophet Sirach says, “My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins — a house raised in justice to you (Sir 3:12-14).”
When it comes to our responsibilities and relationships within our families, we frequently make the mistaken presumption that we are not to burden each other as members of the same family. The upcoming Feast of the Holy Family clarifies that the redemption of humanity by Christ begins with the redemption of family life through the acceptance of God’s will by Mary and Joseph and the selfless and burdensome love that they offered to each other and to Jesus throughout their lives.
In Luke’s Gospel, we hear how Joseph and Mary, observing the ritual laws, brought Jesus to the temple to present Him to God. At the temple, they encountered two elderly individuals whose great faith lets them see the baby Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to save His people.
The righteous and devout Simeon was led by the Spirit to the temple where he recognized Jesus as the source of salvation for all peoples. He also foresaw the controversy Jesus would bring, and the sufferings He and those who believe in Him would face; “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce — so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” This prophecy by Simeon that the sword would pierce the heart of the Blessed Mother manifests that it was part of God’s plan that Mary and Joseph would share in the suffering of Jesus out of their love for Him and their fidelity to God. Part of that suffering would include the rejection of Jesus by many of His own extended family in His hometown of Nazareth who refused to believe in Him. It shows that the burdens involved with marriage and family life are not only part of human nature but that they are vehicles for God’s grace and the redemption of sin.
It is important at Christmas that we also celebrate the Holy Family as an example and intercessor for each of our families, since those to whom we have been given and who have welcomed us into their lives bring us strength and grace. We must not be naïve about families; families can be the source of great joy, but they also can be the source of great suffering and tragedy. The deepest loves and the deepest hurts are those associated with family. We are made by God to be part of a community, like it or not. There is no such a thing as a self-made or autonomous person; we are who we are only as part of a family and a community. Therefore, the Church teaches that it is the family and not the individual that is the fundamental cell of society.