Harmony in the Family
Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family
by Dom Brian Gerard KELLY
Readings: Sir 3: 2-6; 10-14
Col 3: 12-21
We have celebrated the birth of Jesus, Saviour of the world, born as a humble and vulnerable child in our midst. We continue to marvel at this great mystery, the incarnation of God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. This Son, born of the Virgin Mary, is in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s infinity dwindled to infancy”. This Holy Child is the source of all love, for God is Love. He is the Prince of Peace and Unity and it is only in His Peace and His love can we hope to share in the perfect harmony spoken to us today by St Paul. Our focus today, the Feast of the Holy Family, is on the harmony that all families are called to exhibit as a model of unity in imitation of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. Harmony is a key concept for us to reflect upon today.
Relationships of love
There are four relationships within a family that St Paul draws our attention to: husband to wife, wife to husband, children to parents and parents to children. And it is only when all four work together in love that the perfect harmony he speaks of is attained. Husbands are given a primary place by St Paul in the order of authority: “wives be subject to your husbands.” A very difficult and controversial statement indeed for today, but it should always be remembered what Our Lord said about His own authority and how he scolded His apostles for seeking the first place: Whoever would be great among you must be your servant … even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Likewise the husband’s authority is one in which he must be willing to lay down his life for his wife and his children – a very high ideal and challenge indeed. No less is the challenge St Paul presents to wives who are to subject themselves to their husbands. But this must be done out of love, not out of fear, and can really only be fulfilled provided the husband is truly loving with his wife and not harsh or domineering over her. She is called to be an example of that Love that Jesus has for His Father, to bear witness to this Love. Jesus came not to do His own will but the will of His Father. Obedience to His Father’s will was always His objective in everything He did. These two relationships can only work in peace together when both husband and wife put on love above all else which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And if St Paul is making the husband first in the order of authority, then he is also making the wife first in the order of love. Children must love and honour their parents, following the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Parents in turn should be careful not to provoke them. In order to preserve a harmony in these relationships families ought to take time to pray together each day, especially the Rosary. In the words of Fr Patrick Peyton, the ‘Rosary Priest’, “The family that prayers together, stays together”. Parents ought to seek practical ways to foster unity in the family, including of course by recreating together. Listening to one another is an important key. I know of a family, husband and wife with 10 children, who each week would gather together to listen to one another: each would take it turn to say how their week had been, what had gone well for them, what had not gone so well for them. As with any form of art or skill, the art of family loving takes time, effort and patience, always with a willingness to forgive one another.
Mary: the Mother at the heart of the family
Being first in the order of love is essentially what we see in the case of Mary today. Up to now, in all our Christmas liturgies, we have shared in the great supernatural joy at the coming of our Saviour, the newborn babe in Bethlehem. We have rejoiced with Mary in God our Saviour who fills the hungry with good things. We have shared in the joy of Elizabeth whose own son in her womb leapt for joy in the presence of the Christ Child in the womb of Mary. Along with the Shepherds we have heard the angels announce news of a great joy and glorified God with them. We have pondered in our hearts, with Mary, the mysteries of this Good News. Along with Simeon and Anna we now see the Light of the World, the Salvation of God in our midst. And now for the first time we learn that, in fact, this Holy Infant is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel and a sign that is spoken against. Our Prince of Peace will cause division. Only by laying down his life can the age-old harmony and unity of Paradise begin to be restored. And this He will do, in the Power of the Holy Sprit, Who is the Fire of God’s Love. In the words of the poem “The Burning Babe” by another Jesuit poet, St Robert Southwell, the Christ Child says:
“For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt them into a bath,
To wash them in my blood.”
But we also notice here that Simeon does not explicitly point directly to the Passion of Jesus. Rather, he does this implicitly through the Mother of Jesus. Turning to Mary, he prophesies: “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also, that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” She will certainly undergo her greatest sufferings at the passion and death of her Son, standing beneath His Cross, more in union with His Passion than anybody else. But her heart cannot have been altogether dismayed at Simeon’s prophecy. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Repeatedly the disciples during Jesus’ ministry failed to understand that the Son of Man had to suffer and die and be raised on the third day. We read of no such misunderstandings in Mary who surely would have heard this from Jesus Himself and certainly from the disciples. Her thoughts were only to “do whatever He tells you”. And this she would have learned from her insights and understandings of her Son by allowing the sword of the Word of God to pierce though her heart, daily. All fathers perhaps can be mindful of the following – something St Joseph would have known only too well: How often do we see that in families, especially ones that are praying and pondering the Word of God together, that it is especially the heart of the mother wherein the Wisdom of Love especially resides. Recognizing and being open for this allows peace and harmony to unite the family.