Holy Family Sirach 3:2–7, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Matthew 2:13–15, 19–23
I never hugged my dad! We should express our love for one another in both words and deeds.
Some time ago Reader’s Digest carried a “family quiz?” It contained twelve questions addressed to parents. I would like to read three of the twelve questions to you. The first question read:
If, on a TV show, a teenage boy kissed both parents good night, would your children consider this normal?
How would we answer that question?
And here’s the second question:
If you and your spouse were both reading in one room, would your children come sit in that room, too?
And, finally, here’s the third question:
Have your children ever told you that they want to have a family just like yours when they get married? The thing that strikes us immediately about those three questions is that they involve the whole family at the most basic level of family life: the love level. Let’s take a closer look at this level.
One of Bob Hope’s favorite jokes concerned his love for Bing Crosby. Hope said:
There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Crosby, and there’s nothing Crosby wouldn’t do for me. But that’s the trouble. We spend our lives doing nothing for each other.
Hope’s point is a good one. We tend to take each other’s love for granted.
When we stop to think about it, it’s surprising how rarely we express our love for one another in a verbal or visible way.
For example, when was the last time you told a family member, in a conversation or a letter, that you loved him or her.
Failure to express our love, verbally or visibly, especially to young people, can have disastrous effects. More than anybody else, young people need to know that they are loved. They need to see it; they need to feel it. In his book My Father,My Son, Dr. Lee Salk describes a moving interview with Mark Chapman, the convicted slayer of Beatle John Lennon. At one point in the interview, Chapman says:
I don’t think I ever hugged my father. He never told me he loved me. . . I needed emotional love and support. I never got that.
Chapman’s description of how he would treat a son if he had one is especially tragic, because he will probably never get out of prison and have a family of his own. He says:
I would hug my son and kiss him. . . and just let him know. . . he could trust me and come to me. . . and [I would] tell him that I loved him.
Dr. Salk ends his book with this advice to fathers and sons. It applies equally well to mothers and daughters.
Don’t be afraid of your emotions, of telling your father or your son that you love him and that you care. Don’t be afraid to hug and kiss him. Don’t wait until the death bed to realize what you’ve missed.
Some time ago Ann Landers received a letter from a mother asking her at what age a father and son should stop kissing and saying “I love you” to each other.
Ann Landers gave the mother a one-word answer: “Never!”
Shortly afterward Ann Landers received another letter from a father. He said her response to the mother’s letter moved him to tears. He explained why:
A few weeks ago I kissed my son for the first time and told him I loved him. Unfortunately, he did not know it because he was dead. He had shot himself.
The father continued:
The greatest regret of my life is that I kept my son at arm’s length. I believed it was unmanly for males to show affection for one another. . . . I will never recover from my ignorance and stupidity.
What is true of fathers and sons is also true of fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, and children of the same family.
It’s hardly conceivable that Jesus, who cried at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, never embraced his mother and said, Mom, I love you.
And it’s hardly conceivable that Jesus, who told how the father and son embraced in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, never hugged Joseph and said, Dad, I love you.
Today’s Scripture readings for the Feast of the Holy Family pose a terribly important question: How well are we fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters contributing to the love level of our own family life?
Recall the way the family quiz posed this question:
“If, on a TV show, a teenaged boy kissed both parents good night, would your children consider this normal?”
If our answer to that question is no, then today’s Scripture readings may contain an important message for us. Let’s close with a prayerful reflection on love from John’s First Letter. Please pray along with me in silence: See how much the Father has loved us! His love is so great that we are called God’s children and so, in fact, we are. . . .
My children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action, 1 John 3:1, 18
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Series II Holy Family Sirach 3:2–7, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Matthew 2:13–15, 19–23
Do a little bit more! A key to living out our vocation in a family setting is each day to do a little more than we thought we could.
There’s a city in Germany called Weinsberg. Overlooking the city is a high hill. On the very top of the hill stands an ancient fortress. The townspeople of Weinsberg tell an interesting legend about that fortress and that hill.
It seems that back in the 15th century in the days of chivalry and honor an enemy encircled that hill and sealed off all the townspeople inside the fortress.
The enemy commander then sent word up to the fortress, saying that he would allow the women and children to leave and go free before he launched his devastating attack.
After further negotiations, the enemy commander also agreed on his chivalrous word of honor to let each woman take to freedom with her the most valuable possession she owned, provided she could carry it.
You can imagine the enemy army’s consternation and surprise when, a few minutes later, the women marched out of the fortress, each one carrying her husband on her back. Ilike that legend, not just because of its creative twist, but also because of its eternal truth.
The most valuable possession a wife has is her husband. And the most valuable possession a husband has is his wife.
In other words, the most valuable possession that a husband and wife have is each other. To the extent that they treasure each other, they will also treasure their children. And to that extent, too, their children will treasure them.
But being a good father, a good mother, or a good child is not something that just happens. It’s something that we have to work at. That’s what syndicated columnist Sydney Harris had in mind when he said that having children doesn’t make a woman a mother any more than having a piano makes her a musician.
And it’s what Pope John XXIII had in mind when he said of fathers: “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a father.”
That’s a little tricky, so let’s repeat it:
It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a father.
And that brings us to the feast of the Holy Family, which we celebrate today. In many ways, it is one of the most important feasts of the year.
It’s certainly one of the most practical feasts, because it touches at the heart of daily life. It touches at the heart of God’s will for 95 percent of the people in this world.
For God’s will for most adults today is not some esoteric calling.
It’s not, primarily, doing something dangerous or difficult. It’s not, primarily, volunteering to work in a social program. It’s not, primarily, serving as a lector or a eucharistic minister for the parish family.
Primarily, it’s being a good father, a good mother, a good son, or a good daughter. This is the primary calling for the vast majority of us in this church.
And if we fail this calling, we have failed our primary calling. And that’s what makes today’s feast so terribly important.
This feast brings us back to the basics of Christian life. It brings us back to the heart of where true holiness lies. It lies in imitating the Holy Family, in being the kind of father Joseph was, in being the kind of mother Mary was, in being the kind of son or daughter that Jesus was.
When I think of what advice the Holy Family might give us if we asked them for one simple tip on how to be a better person, I think of the December 22, 1987, edition of USA Today.
On the front page was a full-color photo of Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Johnson. It was Lady Bird’s 75th birthday, and she was shown at her ranch in Texas holding a bouquet of yellow swamp flowers.
The article stated that she is still considered to be the model for modern first ladies in the White House.
When the interviewing reporter asked her if she had any words of advice to give to people on her 75th birthday, Lady Bird said, “Yes.”
Then she added, “Each day do a little bit more than you think you can.”
I like that advice. I think it might well be the kind of advice that the Holy Family would give us if we asked them for one simple suggestion on how to become a better person.
They would say:
Each day do a little bit more than you think you can.
Each day love a little bit more than you think you can.
Each day forgive a little bit more than you think you can. Each day reach out to someone who is hurting a little bit more than you think you can.
Each day sacrifice for others a little bit more than you think you can.
Each day encourage one another a little bit more than you think you can.
If each one of us in this church made this our New Year’s resolution for the year ahead, it would be one of the greatest gifts we could give one another.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord, help us realize that the most valuable treasure we have is one another.
Help us understand that being a mother, a father, a son, or a daughter is not easy. We have to work at it.
Help us make just one simple resolution for the year ahead: to do, each day, a little bit more than we think we can.
If we do this, then, when this life ends, we will approach your throne in heaven a little bit closer than we thought we could. M. L.
Series III Holy Family Sirach 3:2–7, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Matthew 2:13–15, 19–23
Holiness Modeling the Holy Family. An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary to be your wife. She will have a son, and you will name him Jesus.” Matthew 2:20 Dr. Jonas Salk won fame for developing a polio vaccine in 1953. His brother, Dr. Lee Salk, won fame as an outstanding psychologist.
He wrote a popular book called My Father,My Son. It was a collection of interviews exploring the relationship between fathers and sons. It began by describing a touching scene. Let me read it exactly as he wrote it:
One blustery winter afternoon . . . my father waited with me in Penn Station for the train that would take me away to the army center where I would begin my World War II military service.
He looked at me with tears clouding his eyes, hugged me tightly, kissed me on the cheek, and told me good-bye in a choked voice.
Then, wanting to give me something that was his, he took off his watch and gave it to me.
As I walked toward the train, I looked at my father, who was waving gently and sadly to his seventeen-year-old son, and suddenly I noticed that several people were watching us with bemusement. Apparently, the kind of warmth and intimacy shown the father and the son was something foreign to them.
That touching scene previews the message of Dr. Salk’s book. It is an urgent message aimed at fathers and sons everywhere. Dr. Salk sums it up this way:
Don’t be afraid of your emotions, of telling your father or your son that you love him and that you care. Don’t be afraid to hug or kiss him. Don’t wait until the deathbed to realize what you’ve missed.
What is true of fathers and sons is also true of fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons.
And this brings us to the feast of the Holy Family that we celebrate today:
Someone said, “It is hardly conceivable that Jesus who cried at the tomb of Lazarus never embraced his father and said, ‘I love you.’ ”
“And it is hardly conceivable that Jesus, who told how the father and son hugged each other in the parable of the Prodigal Son, never hugged his father and said, “I love you.’ ”
Today the Scripture readings invite all of us in this church mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons to inventory how we are contributing to the love level in our own family.
From a practical point of view, the feast of the Holy Family is one of the most important of the year.
This is because it touches at the heart of daily life. It touches at the heart of God’s will for every person born into this world.
God’s will is not primarily some strange or unusual calling.
It is not primarily doing something dangerous or difficult.
It is not primarily volunteering to work long hours in a social program.
It is not primarily serving as a lector or eucharistic minister for the parish family.
On the contrary, God’s will for us is primarily to be a good parent, a good spouse, a good son, or a good daughter.
And this is what makes today’s feast so terribly important.
It brings us back to the basics of Christian life. It brings us back to the heart of where true holiness lies.
It lies not in long hours of prayer. It lies not in doing severe penances. It lies not in depriving ourselves of sleep, food, or reasonable entertainment.
Rather, it lies in imitating the Holy Family. It lies in taking Joseph as our model, if we are a father; Mary as our model, if we are a mother; and Jesus as our model, if we are a young person. Aretreat master once told fathers, “Joseph is a perfect model for you.” One father challenged him, saying,
Joseph is not a perfect model for me. His situation is totally different from mine. He was a saint; his wife was sinless; and his child was the Son of God. I’m no saint; my wife is not sinless; and my child isn’t the Son of God.”
The retreat master thought a minute and then said to the man, May I ask you three personal questions?
Was your wife with child before you married her, and you didn’t know who the father was?
Did your young son ever leave home for several days and you didn’t know where he was?
Did you ever have to get up in the middle of night and take your family to another country because someone wanted to kill your child?
All of these things happened to Joseph.
The retreat master’s point is this. We tend to forget that all saints Mary and Joseph included had their own personal crises. And these demanded of them every ounce of faith and trust they could muster.
If we think the lives of saints were without trials and hardships, then we don’t have the slightest idea of what a saint’s life was like. Let us sum up the spirit of today’s feast with a prayer. Please pray along with me in silence:
Lord Jesus, help us to realize that the most valuable treasure that you intend us to have is our family.
Help us to understand that being a good family member whether it be father, mother, or child is not easy. We have to work at it.
And so, each day, help us to love a little bit more than we think we can; help us to do a little more than we consider enough. help us to forgive a little more than we think possible.
Lord Jesus, if we do this, then, when this life is ended, we will approach your throne in heaven a little bit closer than we ever dreamed we could.