The seventh day of Christmas December 31st — the Feast of the Holy Family
(and the sixth day of Kwanzaa.)
I met a young couple at a welcome station in the mountains of Virginia a few year ago. I saw Joseph and Mary and Jesus in them. May there be a touch of holiness ~ of wholeness ~ in their lives and in our families. I pray for them and all young families ~ indeed all families on this traditional day in the Christmas season when we reflect on the hidden, ordinary life of Joseph, and Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. They are a model of simplicity for us.
But for many of us, our family life can be very dysfunctional. I think of those families today, Lord. Children (some of them friends of mine) who grew up with alcoholic parents and were in favor one moment and cast aside the next, had little normalcy, little stability.
Be with all families that struggle, Lord. Be with us who are imperfect, weak and selfish and perhaps capable of little love because we may not have received it ourselves as children.
We’re trying, Lord. Strengthen our capacity to love, to be present to our own children and our spouse. Help us realize, Lord, that our most important role is not to have a successful career but to love our children and our spouse. To be a community of love in which to call forth the gifts, the love, the moral courage and strength of our children for the next generation.
Last year, Pope Francis wrote an important document that arose from the two Synods of Bishops dedicated to discussing the issue of family life. It was entitled Amoris Laetitia ~ The Joy of Love.
Here are a few quotes or quips of Pope Francis himself from the document. You’ll note his often down home folksy style.
Every family should be an icon of the family of Nazareth.
The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
When we have been offended or let down, forgiveness is possible and desirable, but no one can say it is easy.
The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy experienced by the Church.
Just as a good wine begins to ‘breathe’ with time, so too the daily experience of fidelity gives married life richness and ‘body’.
Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope.
I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way.
We have to realize that all of us are a complex mixture of light and shadows. The other person is much more than the sum of the little things that annoy me.
In family life, we need to cultivate that strength of love, which can help us fight every evil threatening it. Love does not yield to resentment, scorn for others or the desire to hurt or to gain some advantage. The Christian ideal, especially in families, is a love that never gives up.
Marital joy can be experienced even amid sorrow; it involves accepting that marriage is an inevitable mixture of enjoyment and struggles, tensions and repose, pain and relief, satisfactions and longings, annoyances and pleasures, but always on the path of friendship, which inspires married couples to care for one another.
Dialogue is essential for experiencing, expressing and fostering love in marriage and family life.
Take time, quality time. This means being ready to listen patiently and attentively to everything the other person wants to say. It requires the self-discipline of not speaking until the time is right.
And so, on this Feast of the Holy Family may we as I honor you, Jesus and Mary and Joseph. I honor that young couple whose name I never knew because I saw in them an image of God in their simple, ordinary love. Lord, keep us all in your loving care.
And now before you go, here’s a hymn to Mary that tells us about Nazareth. Click here.
And here are the Mass readings for this feast. Click here.
(Below, I’ve included some information from America magazine that describes some of the important points of this document if you’re interested that goes beyond the spiritual interests of this blog. I do suggest you look it over.)
From America magazine on Amoris Laetitia
1. The church needs to understand families and individuals in all their complexity. The church needs to meet people where they are. So pastors are to “avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of various situations.” People should not be “pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications leaving no room for personal and pastoral discernment” . In other words, one size does not fit all. People are encouraged to live by the Gospel, but should also be welcomed into a church that appreciates their particular struggles and treats them with mercy
2. The role of conscience is paramount in moral decision-making. “Individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the church’s practice in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage” The church has been “called to form consciences, not to replace them” (37). Yes, it is true, the Pope says, that a conscience needs to be formed by church teaching. But conscience does more than to judge what does or does not agree with church teaching. Conscience can also recognize with “a certain moral security” what God is asking. Pastors, therefore, need to help people not simply follow rules, but to practice “discernment,” a word that implies prayerful decision-making.
3. Divorced and remarried Catholics need to be more fully integrated into the church. How? By looking at the specifics of their situation, by remembering “mitigating factors,” by counseling them in the “internal forum,” (that is, in private conversations between the priest and person or couple), and by respecting that the final decision about the degree of participation in the church is left to a person’s conscience. (The reception of Communion is not spelled out here, but that is a traditional aspect of “participation” in church life.) Divorced and remarried couples should be made to feel part of the church. “They are not excommunicated and should not be treated as such, since they remain part” of the church.
4. We should no longer talk about people “living in sin.” In a sentence that reflects a new approach, the pope says clearly, “It can no longer simply be said that all those living in any ‘irregular situation’ are living in a state of mortal sin.” Other people in “irregular situations,” or non-traditional families, like single mothers, need to be offered “understanding, comfort and acceptance.” When it comes to these people, indeed everyone, the church need to stop applying moral laws, as if they were, in the pope’s vivid phrase, “stones to throw at a person’s life”
~ excerpted and simplified from America magazine “Top Ten Takeaways from Amoris Laetitia by James Martin, S.J. April 5. 2016