“Family – The Future of Humanity” – Fr. Bob’s Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

I began my opening remarks by quoting from Pope St Paul II who once said: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family”. A further quote which underlines the importance of family according to Pope John Paul is this: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” Wow!! Did you ever think of family life in those terms, brothers and sisters? I must admit that I never did, until I read what Pope John Paul said and wrote so often about family life. This led me to look back on what the Catholic Church has said and written about the importance of family life in the past. 

So, for instance, the Second Vatican Council described the family as “the domestic church, where much of the life of the church goes on”. In other words, it is in the context of the family that we “first learn who God is and to prayerfully seek his will for us.” So, the family is also a school, a school of love. According to Pope Francis: “The family home should be the place where we learn love and be the place from which we go out into the world, in order to share God’s love and mercy”.  The family should also be the school in which we learn to evangelize, to grow in holiness, and build a culture of life, some of the present buzzwords flying around the language of the Church in these days. Since faith is “caught” before it is “taught”, parents are inescapably teaching their children the importance of the Catholic Christian faith from the first moments that they are born. Children will learn how to value their faith from seeing how parents value it, or don’t value it. Parents can’t just wait till their children go to school so they can be taught “the faith”, as if it becomes the responsibility of teachers only.  Though mothers are often left to take care of the faith development of their children, fathers have an inescapable responsibility for this also, for, as children get older, they are much more influenced by their fathers with regards to going to Mass or not, practicing the sacraments or not, living morally or not. And so, it always warms my heart, and the hearts of all pastors, when we see fathers and husbands attending church with their children and wives. 

How about this for another quote, again from the Second Vatican Council? “The well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community produced by marriage and family”. In other words, healthy families produce healthy societies, and healthy churches. Again, wow! So much responsibility lying on something which so often, especially today, seems so fragile and broken. And yet, and yet, it is in and through the living out of family life, that we learn to deal with our own fragility and brokenness, and with the fragility and brokenness of our world. Pope St John Paul II again: “The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close the hearts and  become selfish”  And so, he goes on, “to maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.”  Ouch, I have to admit that, growing up, I never thought of myself as called to serve my parents and my siblings. How about you, brothers and sisters?

You know, every time I celebrate masses with school children, I teach them that the three most important things they must learn to say, whether at home, at school, or elsewhere are: “Please, Thank You” and “Sorry”. Parents take time to teach that to their children, knowing that it is going to be so important as they go through life. I show the children how often, during the course of Mass, we say those things to God also: please, thank you and sorry. I also add, as they get older, the words “I forgive you”, because it is so very important that the “school” of the family teaches that also, I remember once holding a meeting with parents whose children were preparing to make their first reconciliation , or confession, as we used to call it, and astounding them by saying that they have to learn to say to their children: “I’m sorry, please will you forgive me?” when they do something wrong. It was as if the parents were worried that if they did that, their children would no longer respect them, when in fact, the exact opposite is the case.

Well, I could go on with this little Church catechesis on the family, but that would take hours. The Church, throughout the ages, has taught and continues to teach, some incredible ideals about the importance of marriage and family life. Things I never used to consider, and things, to be honest, that seemed very far away from how my own family behaviour. Perhaps you think that too about your own family, that they are very far away from even approaching these kinds of ideals for how a family should be.  Sometimes, when I am preaching and teaching to a group, such as this, I feel acutely what one priest wrote about his own ministry: “Here comes mediocrity, preaching perfection”. Sometimes I feel such a hypocrite, knowing that what I am preaching with my lips, I am very far from living in reality, by my actions. And it can seem the same thing with regards to how our families live. Here is the church preaching perfection to us, yet our families mostly seem to be living mediocrity with regards to fulfilling these ideals. 

So why keep on preaching this? 

Why keep on celebrating this Feast of the Holy Family, when we look at the example of Joseph, Mary and Jesus and read about what a perfect family unit they were, and realize that our own families do not get anywhere near that summit of perfection? The truth is that we actually don’t know much about the Holy Family and how they lived, day by day. I bet they ran into the same issues as we do at home, and experienced similar problems, since nothing can possibly prepare you for all the things that can happen in normal family life, the fragility and brokenness which have to be overcome by lots of love and forgiveness and trust and prayer. 

So it is important to keep trusting and hoping and believing and trying our best to love within family, remembering those important words: “(1) Please; (2) Thank you; (3) Sorry; (4) I forgive you”. 

Because so much of relationships today forget these elementary things and that is why the world is in the mess it is. But we can change it for the better, as family, as individuals within a family, and therefore, we must try to do so. For the future of humanity passes by way of the family. And let us never forget that brothers and sisters.