December 26, 2023 at 4:24 p.m.

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

The foundations of family that are shared in our Scriptures are unchanging wisdom.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By Sister Linda Neil, CSJ | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

The Feast of the Holy Family is a celebration of the most essential part of human life and society — the family. The Church, in many documents and in the catechism, has a great deal of wisdom to share concerning healthy family life. All of this takes insight from the Scriptures so it’s no wonder that we have many choices of readings for this Sunday. 

“Those who honor their father atone for sins, and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure.” — Sirach 3:3-4

In the first reading from Sirach, perennial wisdom is set out concerning what makes a family work well. Honor and respect are especially valued in Eastern culture. Honor and reverence are the bedrock of family relationships. This consideration is for a lifetime — even when parents age. Respect is often difficult in our culture which is so focused on the rights of the individual and not the common good. Sometimes the marks of respect — speaking civilly, obeying family rules, following through with daily chores and other responsibilities — are neglected and then the quality of life erodes. Respect is mutual; both parents and children must exercise it. Sirach reminds us that the blessings of life are based on respect and reverence.

St. Paul lays out the qualities of our life in Christ that are so vital in the family — compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness. All these virtues are essential to cultivate at home. Parents and guardians are the first teachers. The family is the school for practicing and encouraging virtue. Love binds all of these together. Love creates a home. Love is not based solely on feelings, although these are important. Love is founded on the determination to do the very best for the other. Love is always available to family members. It never expires! From love flows gratitude. Loving-kindness creates an atmosphere of gratitude. Gratitude for the daily gifts of family life is vital. Being thankful is shown in many ways; children need to learn to acknowledge what is given to them and done for them. Food on the table, a clean home, clothing, education and church are not to be taken for granted. Parents also have to thank children for helping around the house, cooperating with siblings and doing their best in school. Slipping into attitudes of entitlement can poison family relationships. Grateful hearts, words and actions can infuse all our dealings with joy. 

Many people find the last paragraph of this reading problematic and many times the reading ends with verse 17: “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands” sounds like a throwback to an old era. But in Roman times it was the norm. St. Paul balances this with the Christian perspective for husbands to love their wives and not to cause them bitterness. Children are admonished to obey their parents; parents are advised not to provoke and discourage their children. This kind of balance creates love and a sense of justice in a family.

In the Gospel, the holy family goes up to Jerusalem to perform the purification rite and to present the child to the Lord. They performed all the prescriptions of the law as we can assume they did on the Sabbath and other feast days. This is a powerful reminder that family life must be built on the bedrock of faith. Handing on the traditions of our faith, teaching prayers and attending Mass are key elements in healthy, all-around family living. This is very challenging in our time when so many competing forces descend on the family, tearing at family time and priorities. It takes discussion, listening, focusing and prayer to hold to the center of our lives — Jesus.

These days, families come in all shapes and sizes; family life is very diverse. But the foundations of family that are shared in our Scriptures this Sunday are unchanging wisdom and vital to creating a happy, holy family!


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