Fr. Paul's Homily
This Sunday is dedicated to families. Humorist Robert Orben asks, “Who can ever forget Winston Churchill’s immortal words: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.’ It sounds exactly,” says Orben, “like our family vacation.”
A man with four sons was asked, “If you had it to do all over again, would you still have kids?”
“Yes,” he responded immediately. “Just not these four.”
Families! We love them dearly, but sometimes we also turn gray and worry ourselves silly. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. I know some people might look at this feast and say, “Well, how hard was it! Jesus was the Son of God and Mary was sinless. That only left poor Joseph to mess up!” Actually there is much truth for the Holy Family to teach us. So, let’s talk about family life, especially as it relates to our second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.
Any family will have to face crisis and difficult times. Sometimes those are externally generated, other times internally generated. Even the Holy Family had to face such crisis. Remember, they fled Bethlehem because of a death threat against Jesus. The story in the Gospel today is an example of an internal crisis: Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem to be in his heavenly Father’s house. But Joseph and Mary do not understand and experience tremendous anxiety as they searched for their 12 year old for three days…any parent in this church can feel that anxiety right now! Crisis existed in the Holy Family, as it exists in our families.
Our Colossian reading speaks of how any family can handle the problems that is thrown at them. Although this reading is written for the Christian community, the virtues identified can apply to any family, young or old.
St. Paul starts with the statement, “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…” Notice that St. Paul first identifies their goodness in the Lord: we are chosen by God in Baptism and we are beloved, by God as His children. We are so blessed by God and this blessing is our starting point for understanding family. I experienced many families here for Christmas. Sons and daughters, maybe with a little urging from Mom and Dad, shared the worship of Christmas Mass together. There is great blessing in being a part of a family, but there is also great blessing in sharing in the family of God. When we really sense this connection, then we want to make God proud of us, as we would a parent whom we greatly admire.
St. Paul continues: “Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…” Which of these qualities is most needed in our families? Do we need to be a little kinder to each other, maybe a little gentler. When I was growing up, with my six brothers, “Gentle” would not have been a word used for us!! We were rough with each other, although we always knew the boundaries of how rough we could be!! I am sure my mother would have hoped for us to be a little gentler!
But allow me to focus upon the words, “Bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” As I mentioned, this is written for the Christian community and this implies that members of the community had trouble with each and sometimes hurt each other in words and actions. Thus, there was the need to bear with one another and to forgive. To bear with one another is to realize that members of our family are not always the way we want them to be. Their imperfections rub against our imperfections: they talk too much; they are selfish; they are always late. And their actions activity our imperfections: we want everything perfect; we prefer silence too much; we are always trying to do something for someone else…even when they don’t want it!!
When we “bear with one another” we are acknowledging that they are not perfect and I am not perfect, and because of this, there will always be irritation. One of my sisters recently shared with me that she is developing arthritis in one of her knees. This arthritis is creating irritation and right now, her option is anti-inflammatory medicine and “bear with it”! Every family has a little arthritis! Let us bear with one another!
St. Paul goes on to say, “Over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” So, love is like the umbrella that covers our acts of kindness, gentleness, forgiveness and “Bearing with.” Love in this situation is not an emotion, but a decision to care about the well-being of another. So why be kind? Because I have made a decision to love you. Why bear with? Because I love you. Why forgive? Because I love you. Love is the foundational virtue that underlines all other virtues.
Continuing with St. Paul, he says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another…” So for our families, we need to have the word of God alive as part of daily living. Why? Because we need inspiring words to be filling our homes; we need words of hope and promise and joy being told. Think for a moment, all the messages that your children (and parents) see and hear through video games, T.V., Facebook, Instagram, etc. How many of those carry a message that has God at the center and are hope-filled? All family members, young or old, need the reminder of God’s love and his continued Presence in our troubled world. Let God’s Word dwell richly in your homes.
Finally, St. Paul calls us to be thankful; three times in the final verses he mentions this. He wants us to be thankful and have an attitude of gratitude in our hearts. Remember when we talked about daily prayer two weeks ago and I passed out those prayer directives? One of those involved gratitude: “In the last 24 hours, for what am I thankful?” When we offer our gratitude daily, we will often see much more to be grateful for. The more we look in gratitude, the more we will find!
So, my friends, let’s remember that we are blessed by God in being called his children; let’s make God proud. Let’s treat each other with a little more kindness, compassion and patience. Remember that we are always imperfect which means we will need to “Bear with one another.” And be thankful, each day, every day.