08 January 2023

Holy, Not Easy-Living, Families

 Feast of the Holy Family
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  The Book of Job is one of the great books of the Old Testament.  The main message of the book is that one can do everything right and still have bad things happen.  It was the prevailing wisdom that if good things happened, God was blessing you, and if bad things were happening to you, God was punishing you for something you did wrong.  
    I think that we can often fall into that same mindset: if something good happens to me, then I must have done something good, or God is rewarding me.  If something bad happens to me, then I must have done something bad, or God is punishing me.  This can certainly creep in to our understanding of family life.
    It can start with even searching for a good spouse: if I cannot find someone to love, someone with whom to spend my life, then I must be doing something wrong.  If I fall in love and the other person reciprocates, then I must have done something right.  Honestly, sometimes finding the right person takes time, and God can allow you to go through lesser relationships in order to learn more about yourself, or about the qualities that you would want in a spouse.  The key, of course, is to be willing to commit your entire life (better and worse, sickness and health, prosperity and poverty) to a person whom you will help to get to heaven.  And some couples who look perfect together sometimes are just infatuated, which they hopefully find out before the enter into the life-long commitment of marriage.
    It can continue with trying to have children.  Over the past two years, I have become more aware and more sensitive to the realities of miscarriages.  Whether it’s my best friend and his wife, family friends, and/or parishioners, I have come to understand better the deep pain and heartache that come from a miscarriage.  I have spoken with mothers who simply want to have a child, but it doesn’t seem to happen; mothers who love their unborn baby, but whose baby, nevertheless, dies in the womb; mothers who try to avoid all the things that could lead to a miscarriage but who still have to go through that agony.  How easy it can be to ask the question, “Why is God punishing me?  What have I done wrong?”  In the midst of that pain and heartache, we know that God would never kill a child to prove a point, or to get back at a parent.  Why some miscarriages happen or why God would allow it can remain a mystery.  But we know that God walks through that valley of the shadow of death with parents, and never leaves them without His consoling love.  
    Or, it can happen when the children are grown and are making their own decisions.  Despite the best parenting, children can make bad decisions and choices.  It is so easy for parents to take those decisions and choices personally, and presume that the bad choices are because of bad parenting.  But even in the best of circumstances, people can sin and can do things that they shouldn’t.  Look at St. Peter: he was one of our Lord’s closest friends, the leader of the apostolic college, and had great zeal for protecting the Lord.  And he still denied that he even knew the Savior during His Passion.  Would we accuse Christ of skipping over something that He should have taught Peter?  Or not loving Peter enough?  Of course not!  Children, especially adult children, have free will.  We can give them every good thing, and they can still walk away from those good things.  I think especially of the uncountable number of Catholics who have walked away from their Catholic faith, even though their parents did their best to give them a good foundation in the faith.  Or consider an adult child who, while being raised to say no to drugs and underage drinking, makes a choice to try a controlled substance or decides to drive drunk and ends us dying.  Free will is meant for us to say “yes” to Godly things, but it can also be misused to say yes to death and no to the life God offers.  
    So what do we do as families?  Do we give up?  Do we let our lives be governed by fate or the pagan idea of karma?  No.  We give our families the best chance of success by being strong in our faith in Christ.  We hold fast to the Church, trusting that, if we do our best, then hopefully others’ free will can be used for God’s purposes.
    If you’re seeking a spouse, we pray, like Tobiah and Sarah, to find the spouse that God wants for you so that you can come together, not out of lust, but out of doing God’s will.  If you’re seeking a spouse and not having much success, you might recognize that God wants you to grow in your trust of Him and His plan, rather than forcing things with your own plan.  You trust that God will reveal, at the right time, a person who can help you grow in holiness as a married person, if that is God’s plan for your life.
    If you’re married and trying to have children, by all means, use the knowledge of the human body that God has given to doctors and scientists.  But if your attempts at conception are not fruitful, or if you have to mourn the loss of your child who did not survive outside of the womb, know that the love that you have for your child is not wasted.  God is love, and so the love that the child in your womb received was a participation in God, and God will help you, either to conceive a child, or God may call you to adopt and share that love with a child whose parents could not support that child that they conceived.  Don’t give in to the temptation to play God by in vitro fertilization or surrogacy, which are both gravely contrary to God’s plan for human conception, but seek God’s will and God’s plan for sharing the love you have for a child.
    And if, after having children, they wander away from a virtuous life, whether the human virtues or the theological virtues, don’t give up praying for your children.  Don’t blame yourself, either.  Free will allows us to love, but when used poorly it can be very painful.  Still, it is better that we can love than not to be free.  Do your best to draw your children back to a virtuous life if they have strayed, and lead by an example of joyful and loving obedience to the truth.  Use prudence on when to protect adult children and when to let them experience the consequences of their actions.  But love them always, even if that love has to be from afar.  

    As we celebrate the Holy Family, it can be easy to think that if we simply do the right things, life will be easy and without burdens.  But look at the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph: Joseph died before Christ was 30 years old, making Mary a widow; Mary had to allow her son to perform His ministry of preaching, which led to His death on a cross; our Lord did everything right, and yet was rejected by His People, and even abandoned by most of His closest friends.  If the Holy Family had struggles, even though two out of the three of them never sinned, then we, who are sinners, will also have trials and tribulations.  But, like the Holy Family, bring them to our loving Father, who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, world without end.  Amen.