Centrality of Family Prayer (Lesson from the Holy Family)

This evening, we gather in community, in family, to offer prayer to God. But not only us; this day around the world the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Holy Family is being raised to He who is our Father through He who is our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit. The faithful of the world gather as family to praise and honor He who made us.

We are all different, each of us have our own history, each of us have our own personalities, attributes and thoughts, we are all different; but each of us are together in prayer. We are family not only because we share the same Creator but also because of our love for God and our shared common experience of this dialog, of prayer, with our Father (of which the Mass is the source and summit). Moreover, we have come to this community not by ourselves; someone or some people showed us the way. This is what a family does; those in our family who have come before us teach us, we take their lessons and blend it with what we have experienced then pass it forward to those coming after us. That is how important family is – it perpetuates wisdom – it passes on love.

The seeming dissolving of the definition of family by radical ideological groups is more a result than a cause. When mankind loses the importance of the centrality of faith in our lives then we start to spin away from each other. When God isn’t at the center of our lives the essential gravity to revolve in unison and to move in harmony is lost; families become whatever we want them to be – love and wisdom become lacking and ephemeral. This affects us all, but it affects the children the most who aren’t given the chance to grow a dialog with God as we were. Maybe, in the New Evangelization, the most important use of our time and talents is to witness to the importance of prayer, especially communal prayer; reinvigorating the dialog of family to our Father and each other.

Because I don’t think I can adequately convey this issue I will finish with a powerful paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2011:

The Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family.” [1]

Merry Christmas!

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[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience, ‘Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth’, 28 December 2011.

Hero

When Holy Mother Church celebrates Christmas it takes her 8 days.

The Octave of Christmas, eight days to celebrate one feast because there is too much of importance to celebrate in a 24 hour period. We do that at Easter as well, and we used do it at Pentecost; at Easter we start with Easter Sunday and end with Divine Mercy Sunday.

Christmas is that important. St. Francis of Assisi called it the feast of feasts – His first biographer, brother Thomas of Celano (who knew St. Francis), said that he celebrated Christmas more than any other feast with an indescribable joy…because on that day God became small and sucked milk like all children of men. A little graphic but it brings home the significance of Christmas to St. Francis and hopefully for us as well.

However, during this Octave of Christmas there are many other celebrations:

  • We start with Christ’s birth on the 25th;
  • The 26th is the Feast of St .Steven, first martyr who died for his faith in Christ;
  • The 27th was the Feast of St. John;
  • The 28th, today, is the Feast of the Holy Family but normally, when it doesn’t fall on a Sunday today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents;
  • Tomorrow, the 29th is the Feast of St. Thomas Beckett Bishop and Martyr;
  • Next Thursday the Octave concludes with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

So, I have to ask the question: why does Holy Mother Church, during her celebration of the Nativity of the Lord ‘busy-it-up’ with these other celebrations?  Doesn’t it dilute the importance of the Birth of our Lord?

Dr. Scott Hahn, in his new book about the Nativity of our Lord (titled Joy to the World), started with what at first seems like an unusual topic.

He talks about the Christmas story, and how it has villains and how it has a hero, Christ. But he goes on to say something, that I thought was very profound:

Yes Jesus is at the center of the drama, but he doesn’t behave like a conventional hero. He doesn’t fit the classical model, He is not acting alone. He is not intruding himself to change the course of events.  In fact, he’s hardly acting at all. He’s passive: nursed and placed to sleep in a manger, found on his mother’s lap by the magi, carried away in flight to Egypt. Like any baby, he exercises a powerful attraction – drawing love from those who draw near. Yet he is visible only because other arms are holding him… The Christmas story has an unconventional hero – not a warrior, not a worldly conqueror, not an individual at all, but rather a family…[1]

He goes on to point out that someone had to wrap Christ in swaddling clothes, someone had to place Him in the crib; someone had to take him into exile in Egypt; someone had to provide for him.  Our Father David pointed out that Christ even needed help to follow Jewish law and customs since someone had to bring him to the Temple for his presentation as we just heard proclaimed in the Gospel.

Dr. Hahn continues this section with: ‘The family is the key to Christmas. The family is the key to Christianity… When God came to save us, he made salvation inseparable from family life, manifest in family life.[2]

The Octave of Christmas is all about Christ, therefore it is all about family.

Brothers and sisters, the importance of the family cannot be overstated.  It is where Christ entered our world. In a very important way it is where God grew up and learned about us.  It is where the boy Jesus learned about the faith.  It where the boy Jesus was bathed in love, learned compassion, was taught about society. It is where He was protected, felt safe, learned responsibility.  It is where the boy Jesus came to understand all about His heavenly father, His true father.  Our hero of salvation was brought into and raised up in the world by His heroes – family.

The story of Christmas is not one of a single hero riding in and snatching us out of the jaws of danger and then everything is all right.  The story of Christmas is an ongoing story, one that is best taught by and witnessed to in the circle of the family. This feast of the Holy Family is a very Christmas Holiday; it reinforces not only joy of family but the responsibility of family and each of the members.  It should encourage us to go out from this Mass and witness to what it means to be a Christian family.  We should be inspired to live family life within our beliefs as Mary and Joseph did.  It means radiating neighborly love and compassion, participating in the celebrations of faith, offering our self to each other while being obedient to the will of God – it means living a life of Trinitarian love.

But in addition, it means proclaiming this Gospel message.  Let’s take up the mission of the Holy Family, live our life with Christ in our midst gazing up at us from the crib and looking down at us from the cross.  There is no better way to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of the world than having a family that shines with the example of the Holy Family.

My brothers and sisters don’t allow the prayer we proclaimed at the beginning of Mass to be hollow – live what we just prayed for and what our Lord came for:

O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.[3]

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[1] Scott Hahn, PhD Joy to the World Chapter 1
[2] Ibid
[3] Collect Mass for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

The Whole Family

At a meeting with the Pontifical Council for the Family Pope Francis, once again, spoke strongly about the importance of the family within the greater society.  The Catholic view of family is widely and well known, and because of this; attacked strongly. Groups who are trying to change the ‘make-up’ of the family have accused us of being everything from out of touch and restrictive to homophobic and hateful of freedoms.  To discuss this at a Vesper service would both take too much time and just be plain a waste of time since this group is a strong supporter of the Catholic sensibility of family – we all trust in God who defined what a family should be.

No, I won’t try to reinforce in us that which is already strongly ingrained – praised be to God.  However, what caught my eye and heart in this reflection of the Holy Father was this line: ‘A society that neglects children and marginalizes the elderly severs its roots and darkens its future.’ He goes on to say that caring for these groups is a choice for civilization.  This is a common theme in the first eight months of Pope Francis’ pontificate.

Brothers and sisters what is a choice for civilization starts as a choice within a family.  How do we, catholic families, regard our youngest and oldest?  Do we give the time to play, to teach, to love the children of our family, and by doing so show them their importance in the ongoing building of the family?  Theirs is the future, the strength that will continue this most fundamental building block of society.  Do we embrace and include the elderly of our families in its activity?  Theirs is the past, the memory of what made the family what it is and who we are.  They have the wisdom of a life of lived in loving sacrifice that teaches the rest of us what it means to live a full life of love of God and neighbor while living in the society around them.  Both groups are important for us as families to be living witnesses to the Holy Family’s example.

On this great Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph we do well to desire what the Collect (opening prayer) from today’s Mass prays for:

‘O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.’

Eternal rewards.  Eternity starts right now, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI points out in his book Jesus of Nazareth Volume 1 – echoing the Jewish understanding of eternity. The rewards start now if we live this prayer within our families, the whole family from our most young to our oldest; the whole family from those closest to us in our immediate family to those in our Catholic family and beyond. When we do this, people will notice the love we have within these families; and when they take notice the other alternatives being promoted in society concerning family will shine at them with a cold, glaring, harsh light – and they will turn to the warm glow of our choices.

To you all, those here at this Sunday Vesper Service (and those reading this online); may your Christmas celebrations continue in the warmth of the Holy Family’s loving embrace – Merry Christmas.