By Prof. Michael Ogunu
The Holy Family is the name given to the family unit of Jesus: The Divine Son of God Jesus, his mother Mary, and his foster-father Joseph.
The main purpose of the Feast of the Holy Family is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes thus making our homes a domestic church. Each home can become a domestic church by making Christ and his Church the centre of family and individual life. Ways to do this include: reading scripture regularly, praying daily, attending Mass at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, imitating the actions of the Holy Family, and so forth, all done together as a family unit. To live like the Holy Family of Nazareth, Christian families should, in addition to cultivating good habits and performing positive actions, avoid actions and behaviours which are contrary to God’s divine plan for the family. These include abortion, contraception, polygamy, divorce, spousal abuse, child abuse, and co-habitation. Catholic Teaching is that a marriage must be open to children. Anything artificial that prevents this is contrary to divine law, although spacing births for a just reason is permitted and may be licitly accomplished through “natural family planning”.
The Holy Family models for us what family life should exemplify. It is a school of virtue for both parents and children. There we find God, and learn how to connect with God and with others. The family is where love is freely given without self-interest. It is where we learn to love, to pray and to practice the gift of charity. According to Pope John Paul II, “The family, more than any other human reality, is the place in which the person is loved for himself and in which he learns to live the sincere gift of self” (Nov. 27, 2002).
We should ask ourselves if our own families model that of the Holy Family. We need to be open to God’s grace to value the positive and to accept our mistakes — and to be willing to rectify them. Parenting is a very challenging responsibility and at times errors are made despite the best intentions. Recognizing this, children should trust their parents and never forget that parents want only what is best for them.
Which leads us to what may be the most important family virtue — forgiveness. Living so intimately within the family nucleus naturally gives rise to unpleasant situations where someone is apt to be offended. St. Paul knew this when he told us to “bear with and forgive one another”. The health of our family may depend on how quickly we learn to forgive without harbouring feelings of resentment.
No family can thrive and grow without constant work. Even the material details that take time and effort are essential to keeping the family strong. Everyone has to pull together for the good of the family — even to the point of putting ahead of our own needs and ambitions the happiness of other family members, setting aside our own selfish desires.
It is also important to pray as a family, especially the holy rosary. Prayer will help us to intensify our closeness with each other and to learn to forgive. “The family that prays together stays together”, says Fr. Peyton.
St. Paul gives us some advice on family life in Colossians 3:12-21:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (RSV).
The different members of a family should be united. A family ceases to be a family when each person pursues his or her own interests without reference to or concern for the other members of the family.
Fr. John Hardon, a Jesuit priest who died in the odour of sanctity a few years ago observes that love is the bond that unites a family. “Only love can unite different, even disparate people. Only love brings them together, keeps them together and enables them to work together as a family. Where this love is missing or weak, the family as a family falls apart. This is the verdict of history”.
We know what this love means in practice. It means selfless love, self-giving love, self-abandoning love and, in one word, self-sacrificing love, sacrificing personal likes and dislikes for the sake of the common good of the family.
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