As we begin coming off of the holidays, many/most of us have had the comfort of the presence of family—either they coming here, or we going there. But, once together, where “here” or “there” may be becomes secondary to the joys, thrills, and even at times aggravations, of their presence itself. This is family.
The weekend after Christmas we Catholics celebrate as the feast of the Holy Family, the “wholiest” family of all—that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph are considered the highest of saints for many reasons (no, we don’t worship saints, as is often mistakenly believed by some non-Catholics) … not the least of which is their apparent sanctity in being chosen to be the mother and foster father of Jesus.
The father of the family has a model in St. Joseph, who patiently and humbly worked at his carpenter’s bench to provide, protect and lead his family. To his neighbors Joseph was just a carpenter—a simple workman—of seemingly no special importance, but his sanctity comes from his fidelity to God and dutiful service to his family. Likewise, you fathers may not make headlines, but you teach and lead your children towards Heaven…to be good and virtuous, or not. We Christians believe that it is a very serious obligation to which we will be called to account in the hereafter.
For wives and mothers, we believe Mary is an unexcelled example … the faithful, diligent, thoughtful, nurturing, loving wife and mother … struggling in partnership with her husband and in the nurturing of her child. A mother inevitably worries for her family until her last breath … and Catholic mothers turn to Mary’s example for courage and inspiration, ever seeking strength to traverse the hard, self-sacrificing road of motherhood.
In mutual partnership with their father, a mother has that great task to perform for God; the eternal salvation of her family in her hands perhaps most of all. Her greatest joy in Heaven—after the beatific vision of God—will be (we pray) to be surrounded by their family … which, aided by God’s grace, she will help lead there.
Finally … children: your duty in the family is to love, honor and respect your parents … obeying them ‘til you reach adulthood … but even then, always respectful and kind. Our model as offspring is none other than Jesus Himself who, though God, subjected Himself to Joseph and Mary and obeyed them in all love and humility (Luke 2:51) … ensuring their welfare and support even if we ourselves cannot be there (John 19:27).
Young ones: Showing honor and obedience to parents—and to ALL your elders—unfailingly brings honor to yourself; likewise, to dishonor parents and elders dishonors and disgraces yourself. A child who dishonors his parents is ungrateful and viscerally repugnant, and we need remember: “Do not glorify yourself by dishonoring your father, for your father’s dishonor is no glory to you. For a man’s glory comes from honoring his father, and it is a disgrace for children not to respect their mother.” (Sirach 3:10-11) Because, as scripture tells us: “With all your heart honor your father, and do not forget the birth pangs of your mother. Remember that through your parents you were born; and what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (Sirach 7:27-28)
We ALL need remember that parents love their children more than anyone else does except God Himself, and so respect that fact, as well as their many more years of life’ experience, remembering scripture: “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons…whoever honors his father atones for sins…When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother.” (Sirach 3:4)
Finally … especially young siblings: you might not believe it now, but you will become one another’s best friends and faithful support all of your lives. Be concerned, therefore, with the good of one another, remembering the Psalm: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) Nothing pleases parents as much. So, as St. Paul writes: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…forgiving each other…And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Colossians 3:12-14).
Sadly for me, I’ll must depart my own beloved Los Alamos family soon … the many friends and new family I’ve made here—most especially (though certainly not exclusively) those in my parish. The Archbishop has asked me to work in Albuquerque at the chancery, which is the Archdiocesan headquarters, a.k.a., “the head shed”, “the puzzle palace”, and a plethora of other names (printable and otherwise). The LA Post editor has asked that I continue these columns if possible, and I hope to do so depending on yet-to-be-ascertained workload, and, of course, any reader interest. Writing this column has been fun, thought-provoking and at times, even agonizing (especially 7/30/17, and most especially 10/15/17), but it certainly has been rewarding for myself, at least. Many thanks to those who have been so gracious with your comments.
Like the military, the lot of priests is one of greetings and farewells; however, bonds formed in one’s ministry go much deeper even than blood, for they are those of the spirit. As I pack my bags yet again for my next duty in a couple of weeks, I am rather heartrendingly reminded of Jesus’ own words: “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.’” (Mark 3:33-35)