Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
His Grace Archbishop Petar Rajic
Sir 3:2-7.12-14; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15.19-23
This Sunday between Christmas and the New Year is dedicated to the feast of the Holy Family. It is only fitting that we honour the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, at this time of year when we celebrate the birth of the most important member – Christ the Lord.
God in his infinite wisdom chose to become human like us and to be born into a family as a child. The eternal Lord and God, Creator of the Universe, came into the world as a finite human being, and became a dependent child, who needed the care and protection of his mother Mary and her husband Joseph.
On this special occasion, we recall the significance and importance of the family in the life of the Church. The Church always considers the family the ‘domestic Church’, that is, the basic community of faith, hope and love, in which father and mother dedicate their lives to loving one another till death do them part and in which spouses have the obligation of raising their children in the faith.
Everyone who is a parent realizes how difficult it is to be a parent these days. As the saying goes: ‘it is so easy to become a parent, but so difficult to be a parent’. There are great demands and pressures placed upon the shoulders of parents, and not everyone can easily cope with the difficulties. Even the best parents can come across problems with their children, both younger and older.
The traditional family unit today is also challenged, since we have a wide range of new family relationships developing throughout the world. Many more women are working today than at any time in the past. Some are forced to work due to financial reasons, others due to the fact that they are single mothers. More children in the world are growing up today in single-parent families, due to increases in separation and divorce of couples. An ever increasing number of children are growing up today without the care of their parents, resulting in some becoming more attached to their nannies than to their own mothers and fathers.
Abnormalities are also slowly spreading such as homosexual partners attempting to adopt children and forming a family or heterosexual couples who decide not to marry at all yet opt to have children without first making a permanent commitment to each other. Along with this, fewer young people are getting married today. Many prefer to stay single as long as they can. Others are reluctant to get married possibly due to the obligations of marriage or a certain fear of ending up separated and/or divorced. Some are unwilling to accept the necessary sacrifices that married life demands of them and they decide to stay home with their parents.
Along with these problems, there are also many families who suffer in the world. Too many families have been displaced due to war. Others have been separated by force or due to economic reasons. Even Christ knew the life of a poor refugee, since Mary and Joseph had to flee in order to avoid the massacre of the new born male children which King Herod ordered upon Jewish babies.
Despite all the difficulties present, the traditional family will always remain at the centre of the Church’s attention. Healthy families guarantee the well-being and future of all societies and so it is our duty to do our best to develop our families into the best communities they can be.
Holy Scripture gives us some practical advice on how to do this. In the first reading we heard the wisdom of Sirach, who basically repeats the 4th commandment of God of honouring thy father and mother. “Respect your father in deed as well as word, so that blessing may come on you from him”. “He who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.” The Lord promises rewards to those who respect their parents. This not only means to love and respect our parents when we are children but to do the same when our parents become older. Loving older parents means seeing to their needs, having time and patience for them, sending them a message or make a phone call every so often if we are far away, and visiting them as much as we can if they are nearby, while comforting and helping them when they are sick.
St. Paul in the second reading asks us to “Put on mercy, goodness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other”. Paul gives us five wonderful words for good relations within families, between parents and children, which are also valid for all our interpersonal relations with people.
Paul asks us to ‘put on mercy’ and he ends his sentence by inviting us to ‘bear with one another and forgive each other’. What this means is that mercy should be put over our entire being as we would wear a coat over our bodies. Mercy or forgiveness are so important in our daily lives. We can often get on each others’ nerves, have our tense moments, explode and say or do things to each other which we really do not intend. Yet we demonstrate our true greatness as human beings and as believers in God when we forgive each other our faults and sins. Parents can often get angry with their children. They may have to scold them at times to teach them a lesson. Though their methods may seem strange and unfair to their children, the parent’s actions are certainly always motivated by a deep love for their child. Children too, can get impatient with their parents. They may place unrealistic demands upon their parents without any concern for the parent’s possibilities, feelings and needs. What is most important then is to maintain a dialogue of love, which can be interpreted by the word mercy. When we are merciful to one another, we can be sure that we are on the right track. Christ said “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. If we want our faults to be forgiven by God, then we too have to practice mercy towards others in our lives.
‘Goodness’ is St. Paul’s second word in this passage. Goodness can be interpreted as a disposition of the soul. When we are clothed in goodness we are naturally concerned for the well-being of others. Goodness is aimed towards others and not ourselves, which demonstrates selflessness instead of selfishness. The problem we have today in some families is that we take each other for granted. We don’t even think enough about the feelings of our parents, children or brothers and sisters, and sometimes we just don’t care. Ironically, we can be more sensitive to the needs of guests that visit us than we are of those of our family members. Goodness is always welcome and well received by all, and we can all offer it to one another.
The next word of advice is humility. Here’s a virtue that has almost been lost in society. There exists a certain mentality today that we are all competing with one another and that our life philosophy should be ‘every man or woman must look out for him/herself’. Humility doesn’t seem to be all that popular anymore. Some look down upon it, yet humility is mentioned in so many places in the Bible as the primary virtue that brings us close to God. Indeed the Lord scatters the proud but exalts the lowly. Humility includes a desire to serve one another, to search for ways to help others, willingly, with affection and a sense of joy.
St. Paul continues with the words ‘gentleness and patience’. We have too many rough and rude people in the world. Television today glorifies arrogance and promotes immediate gratification. Meanwhile, the Lord wants us to be gentle to one another, to be patient as good parents are gentle and patient with their children. Gentleness and patience require an effort on our part, a desire to bear with one another, especially when things do not go the way we want them to. Gentleness and patience can guarantee peace and harmony within our families and our world.
All of this can be summed up with the word ‘love’. If love is maintained within us and our families, it shall then produce all these virtues mentioned previously and help develop us and our world into what we should be.
As we get older, we realize the importance of the family and how we can all experience a true sense of belonging within the family unit. May we all make the effort to improve our relations with our parents, children and with our relatives, indeed because God, chose to be part of a family and thereby showed how much he values and blesses the family community.
By heeding the advice of the Lord and strengthening our bond of love with him and those who are dearest to us, in deed as well as word, we can rest assured that blessings will come on us from him.