26 December 2010

How to be a Holy Family

Feast of the Holy Family
            A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to visit Lansing Catholic High School and talk with the sophomores in Theology class.  Part of the class was spent talking about how I had discerned that the Lord was calling me to be a priest.  The other part of the class was answering prepared questions that they had penned anonymously.  One of the many great questions they asked was why marriage and family isn’t talked about more.  And so, here we are, at the feast of the Holy Family, the day after Christmas, when we get to focus on family life, including marriage.
            Having a holy family, based upon the example of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, is often thought of as impossible.  After all, Jesus is fully God and fully man, Mary was conceived without original sin, and Joseph kept getting these dreams from God to tell him what to do to care for the Blessed Mother and the Christ Child. 
Statues of the Holy Family in Flight to Egypt,
in Bethlehem, the West Bank
            But what made the Holy Family holy?  It was that, in every circumstance, they were obedient to the will of the Lord.  They were always ready to say “yes” to God, even if it meant leaving home and family to go to Egypt, so that Jesus would be protected from King Herod’s murderous decree.
            The life the Holy Family led was not easy!  Following the will of God included challenges, real and monumental challenges. But still, despite the trials and tribulations, they were resolute in saying “yes” to God.
            Things have not gotten any easier for families in the two millennia since Christ walked the earth.  Too many mothers feel forced to kill their unborn child because there is no support from the father of the child or from the mother’s family; marriage as it was created by God, between a man and a woman for life, seems to be under constant attack from the secular culture in the name of a false view of compassion and diversity; too many children do not have enough to eat or drink because of underemployment and unemployment; families, especially in our own State, have had to leave their homes and families in search or a stable job in other States.
            How hard it is to say “yes” to God these days! To choose life in a culture of death; to take seriously the call of every husband and wife, not just to be open to life and have children, but to raise them and form them in the faith, starting with the life of faith lived out at home, but also including trying to make sure that children receive the best education and religious formation possible; to stand up for the indissolubility of the marital bond between a man and a woman.  While many of the challenges are different now then they were in first-century Palestine, striving for holiness as a family, striving to say “yes” to the will of God in all circumstances, is no easier.
            In the midst of these trials, and many others that I have not named, the Church stands behind you!  While we need priests to bring the sacramental life to the People of God, most especially the Eucharist, we also need families to fill the culture with the Gospel; to preach Christ crucified and raised from the dead; to pass on the faith to their children.  From these holy families will come holy priests, and more holy families to continue to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight His paths.
            How does the Church stand behind you?  First and foremost through the Sacraments which give you the grace to be holy families.  It is impossible to be a holy family without the grace, the inner life, the love, of God in you.  And so we stand ready to impart that grace to you through the Sacraments.  We also stand with you to help you through the tough times, whether they are financial or emotional.  Through the work of so many great services that the Church offers, we can help you to choose life, even if no one else wants to support you in that choice; to find a way to provide for your children; to talk problems out and find counseling for the times when families are struggling to simply be civil in dialogue; to give your children the full benefit of a quality academic and religious formation, especially in our Catholic schools, so that they can become, not only good citizens of the City of Man, to quote St. Augustine, but more importantly good citizens of the City of God. 
            I could spend hours talking about all the ways that we as a parish community help each other out to be holy families.  Our St. Vincent de Paul Society works tirelessly, not only to provide clothes, but also to help with utility payments, and other basic necessities, especially after one or two members of the household have lost their jobs and are coming up a little short to keep a roof over their heads. 
            Our students do great work with Alternative Spring Break, and so many members of the permanent community here help them in many ways, to provide basic necessities for the underprivileged members of our nation and in other countries.
            Our Right to Life committee works hard to make sure that new mothers and fathers know that there are people who will support them in bringing their child to term and providing for the needs of the family during pregnancies.
            Our school children provided a vast amount of presents to families that otherwise would have gone without this year, spreading their own blessings out to those who are struggling.  And our pastor, teachers, and family members of the school are very generous in ensuring that, if a child of our parish wants to attend our great school, and receive the quality education and formation which it provides, money will not be the issue that prevents that desire from becoming a reality.
            The Holy Family had challenges in living a holy life, and families today have challenges in living a holy life.  But the basic ingredient in the Holy Family’s life, and in any family’s life that wants to be holy, is saying “yes” to God: in the big things and in the small, seemingly insignificant things.  But remember, you are never alone.  We as a Church: the saints in heaven like Mary and Joseph, and those still struggling here on earth to make it heaven, are behind you 100% so that you can say “yes” to God.