Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family – the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Traditionally, Catholic Christians use this day to remember their own families and how they can be strengthened.
For our purposes today, a family is defined as any group of people that define themselves as a family. Some families are created by marriage. Some people create families by adding children to one or more adults. Some people define their family as people they love and surround themselves with. An example of the last instance would be men and women in religious communities who see their colleagues as “brothers” or “sisters,” – family.
Today, there are many doomsayers that fear “the family” is collapsing and disappearing. Like Chicken Little who believed the sky was falling when he felt an acorn hit his head, these people believe the family is doomed.
My advice is don’t believe the doomsayers. Not only is the family not disappearing, it is expanding. Today there are more types of family constellations than at any time in history.
Though this is very good news, being in a good family member is serious business. It is especially serious for parents who are responsible for raising children, for that is one of the most difficult, complex, exhausting, and fulfilling of all vocations.
In this homily, I’ll list some Biblical principles we can glean from today’s selection from the Book of Sirach. First, however, let’s look at the following story that shows just how very serious parenting is.
Jesuit Father Mark Link tells a story based one written by author, O. Henry.
There was once a young girl whose mother had just died. She had no brothers or sisters. All day long, the little girl would wait for her father to come home from work and sit on his lap and cuddle up to him. The little girl was emotionally starved and desperate for affection.
Unfortunately, every night when her father came home, he followed the same routine. He would prepare supper, eat with his daughter, wash dishes, and then plop into his favorite chair until bedtime.
Whenever his daughter came to sit on his lap, the father would say, “Honey, can’t you see daddy is too tired? He worked hard all day. Why don’t you go outside and play?”
The little girl would do just that – go outside and play in the street, trying to amuse herself as best she could.
As the girl grew older, the inevitable happened. She began to accept expressions of affection from anyone and everyone who offered them. Finally, instead of playing in the street, she began living in the street as a prostitute.
One day, the young woman died from an overdose and went to heaven. When she approached the pearly gates of heaven, St. Peter saw her coming and said to Jesus, “She’s a bad one, Lord. She has been a prostitute and died from a drug overdose. She definitely should not be allowed in heaven.”
Jesus, however, disagreed. He said to Peter, “Let her into heaven. But when her father’s time of judgment comes, hold him responsible for what became of her life.”
The moral of this story is that God demands much of those who are responsible for others. Often, such people make the mistake of leading others astray. Some do this by doing something to them. More frequently, however, some people lead others astray by not doing something for them – as we see in the father’s failure to nurture his daughter’s spirit. As we hear in sacred Scripture, God will hold us accountable for how we treated the “least in the kingdom of God,” and the “least” includes children and others who are so vulnerable.
Today’s selection from the Book of Sirach, instead of focusing on how to be a good parent, gives some tips on what God expects of children toward their parents. Here are just three.
First, God sets a father over his children. At the same time, the father confirms that the mother also has authority over her children. This passage specifically says the mother has authority over her sons, for in those days, women were not to have any teaching authority over men.
Second, the child who honors his or her parents is blessed. God hears the prayers of such a child, and the child stores up riches in heaven. Whoever honors his or her parents will have a long life and be a blessing to both mother and father.
And third, the good child cares for his or her parents in their old age, especially if the parent’s mind fails. Thus, a child is responsible for honoring his or her parents all the days of the parents’ lives. When such a child cares for his or her aged parents, God will forgive the child’s sins.
Note that in this passage, God does not say we should only care for our parents if they were nice to us. God gave no exceptions to our duties to our parents.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be good to reflect on our own families. Who do we consider “family?” How does our family help us grow and flourish? How can our family be strengthened?
And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of the Holy Family, 2017.
Story source: Mark Link, S.J., “Daddy’s Too Tired,” in Brian Cavanaugh (Ed.), Sower’s
Seeds of Encouragement: Fifth Planting, New York: Paulist Press, 1998, pp. 81-82.