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Readings: 1st- Sir. 3:2-6, 12-14; 2nd- Col. 3:12-21; Gospel- Matt. 2:13-15, 19-23

One message that has resonated in 2020 is the need to return to family life, to rediscover the bond of friendship and fraternity which the family places before us. That is also a great theme in today’s liturgy, placing before us the holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. On Christmas Day, I visited a Nigerian family in Baltimore. This family radiates a type of joy that makes family life attractive, sharing jokes, humor, past stories, food, and drink; in fact, being vulnerable with each other. The guys were visiting their sister in her husband’s house and joined her in the kitchen to prepare food. Everyone wore their apron and did different things at the same time, setting the table, bringing out dishes, getting water, opening wine, and other kinds of stuff. It made the food tasty even before we ate it. One of the men narrated his experience growing up as a very stubborn boy, how he and his younger brother gave their parents a tough time until their late twenties. But he remarked that what brought the positive impact on him was the constant support of their parents who would never give up on them. He said that his mother would always take him and the brother to the priest each time they messed up. And the thought of going to the priest scared them. The priest constantly admonished them on the need to be of good behavior for their future. This man noted that recently, their mother who is in her 80s called him and expressed her joy at the type of man he had become, an exemplary husband and dad. He said to the mom, “I can’t thank you enough for not giving up on me. You made me the better man I am today. Thank you, mom.” Isn’t that huge?

For us at the Family Apostolate, the Feast of the Holy Family is our Feast day because we place a great emphasis on family life modeled after the Holy Family. One of the values of the Family Apostolate reads, “Our focus is to bring the beauty of God to families because the family is critical to a healthy society. We see family as the domestic church where the seed of faith is sown. Reinforcing hope as a way of life, we invite families into a God-centered life and relationship.” My message to everyone is to work hard to promote and sustain their family bond despite the differences. God has a reason for putting each of us in our family.

Paul gives us the key to unlocking the challenges of family life: “Put on as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another… And over all these, put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col. 3:12-13). Paul ends that passage this way, “Wives, submit yourselves 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 embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Col. 3:18-21). Although some aspects of Paul’s message might seem controversial because of its patriarchal outlook, he enjoins every family member to work toward promoting the healthy functioning of family life. Heartfelt compassion is important. Heartfelt compassion involves seeking the good of the other person with total commitment. As such, family members are able to identify each other’s needs and importantly, are willing to forgive. Compassion and humility produce an authentic family life.

The Holy Family sets an example of loving in a sacrificial way. Joseph is present as husband and father. He takes care of the family as its head here on earth. Recently, the Pope announced that the year 2021 be dedicated to Saint Joseph. Pope Francis identified St. Joseph as a beloved, tender, obedient father in the Holy Family as he captures him, “Saint Joseph concretely expressed his fatherhood by making an offering of himself in love, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.” Joseph sets a great example to men in our time, “in our world where psychological, verbal and physical violence towards women is so evident.” The pope states, “In practice, through St. Joseph, it is as if God were to repeat to us: “Do not be afraid!” because faith gives meaning to every event, however happy or sad, and makes us aware that God can make flowers spring up from the stony ground" (Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde “With a Father’s Heart”)Joseph is the kind-hearted, humble, gentle, and patient man who provides paternal protection for the holy family.

As wife and mother, Mary is present for her husband and the child Jesus. Mary is present right from the time of the annunciation through the presentation in the temple with Simeon’s declaration of impending suffering for her, through the loss of the boy Jesus at the Passover; she follows her son till the crucifixion on the Cross. Jesus is present as both son and savior, the infant King born in the manger. He brings God’s presence into the family as “the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5).

It is important that family members show a willingness to make sacrifices for one another, especially in marriage. I came across this research some time ago which studied the correlation between being married persons and living long. That research stated that married men lived longer than men who didn’t marry. At the end of the research someone commented, is it just that married men live longer or that marriage rather makes life seem longer?” We have to learn that marriage and family life can be beautiful if like Joseph and Mary, couples showed great patience and compassion to each other. But it requires hard work. Patience is like the marble upon which other virtues rest. Every family requires patience to thrive, as Saint Paul says, “put on love” as “the bond of perfection.”

Let us turn to the Holy Family for strength and grace to care for one another, to cherish our family, and to be thankful for our family. Let us learn to support, accommodate, empathize, and forgive. Let us learn to show kindness and compassion. At different stages in family life, there is always a challenge. It is by patience that those challenges are overcome because they are part of the journey. Parents must be there for their children especially as they grow up while children, in turn, take care of their parents, respect them and accommodate their shortcomings, especially at their old age. St. Paul’s words remain pertinent here, “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love never judges. Love is not boastful.” Love is the beauty and strength of family life because it brings God to the center of our relationships. Do not give up on your family!

May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph bless our families.

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