Feast Day Of The Holy Family: Best Friends Or Bitter Foes
And when he was twelve years old, they going up into Jerusalem, according to the custom of the feast.
And having fulfilled the days, when they returned, the child Jesus remained in Jerusalem; and his parents knew it not.
And thinking that he was in the company, they came a day's journey, and sought him among their kinsfolks and acquaintance.
And not finding him, they returned into Jerusalem, seeking him.
And it came to pass, that, after three days, they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions.
And all that heard him were astonished at his wisdom and his answers.
And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.
And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father's business?
And they understood not the word that he spoke unto them.
And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them. And his mother kept all these words in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men.
The Feast of the Holy Family is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, commemorating their life together in Nazareth and calling us to focus on Catholic family life. The Church presents the Holy Family to us as a model for our own family life. Joseph was the head of the Holy Family and provided for Mary and Jesus with the work of his hands. He was obedient to the angel who told him to take Mary as his wife, what to name the new child and again when told to flee with them to Egypt. He taught Jesus the carpentry trade and what it was to be a man in the society in which they lived.
Mary took care of her family in the home. She would have taught Jesus the Scriptures and prayers of their people when he was very young. It was through her example of managing the home that Jesus would formulate many of the examples he would later use in his teaching. Jesus saw work sanctified through the example of his earthly parents, who did all things well in the ordinary circumstances of daily life.
The greatest “project” or “venture” Joseph and Mary could embark on is carrying for Gods son Jesus. And the greatest “project” or “venture” for a husband and wife today is bringing children into the world and raising them to maturity. All other ventures, whether it be in business or hobby, pale in comparison both to the cost of investment and yield for time and eternity.
I am sure that Jesus never saw Mary and Joseph in disagreement when it came to raising Him. They would have been in complete unity when it came to raising Him as a healthy, growing child. One who would increase in wisdom. Who would have advanced in grace with God and favor with men.
And the outcome of how children turn out can be so drastically different. Young parents look at their Parish scene and wonder how there can be such different results. The outcome doesn’t seem to parallel whether the home was on the conservative or the liberal edge of congregational life but from something different.
In this little homily, I would like to lay out a simple version of the Biblical, Catholic formula for raising children so the end of the husband and wife relationship with their adult child can be defined as “best friends for life.” This includes raising children who stand loyally by their parents in the thick and thin of the aging and dying process of life.
The first stage of life sets the stage for the relationship, and will naturally follow and define the relationship the rest of the way through. Some parents resent having children. Babies interrupt schedules, drain finances, and challenge marriage relationships.
They bring untold worries even before they are born, endless squabbles and conflicts if they have siblings and are demanding in needing attention. Their care is 24/7 for years and years.
It has become acceptable to put off having children “until we are ready for them.” It is the thing to do to “space them” so we are not overwhelmed. All these are subtle ways of saying we look at children as an unwanted necessity. Let us not deceive ourselves into believing this.
When that platform is laid down in the home, then there are untold ways to communicate it all the way through life. “We didn’t really want you...” or “You were an unplanned interruption...” or however it is said becomes a subtle way of saying, “You are a bother to us, and our other goals are more important to us than you are. Because you came, we couldn’t afford that addition on our house, or we had to give up our vacation.”
Parents! From the perspective of a million years, what is the most important treasure in God’s eyes? Why did He even bother to create the world and the human family? Isn’t it because He loves souls and craves eternal fellowship with them? Why not ask God to send you the souls He knows you can raise for Him? Tell Him that you will accept each one with the assurance He is only giving you what He knows will bless Him in eternity.
A couple who truly treasures their children will have countless ways of communicating that attitude. Sure, it is inevitable, but that parents will show some frustration in the demands of parenting; we all are selfish at the core. The difference is in the baseline. For parents to raise best friends for life, they must treasure each child as one of God’s greatest gifts to them; cherish them from the beginning and all the way through.
It isn’t long in an infant’s life until his depraved human nature begins to emerge. It is good for a parent to keep in mind that every child is both created in the image of God (and thus with an ability to connect with God) but also with a very selfish fallen nature. As you understand the importance of this season of personality and character development you will want to arm yourself with an attitude of patience and endurance. You certainly have a challenging task before you. It is not an easy task to discipline a child who talks back or does the opposite of what he is told.
The book of Proverbs outlines characteristics of the miserable people who are fools, scoffers, and scorners. Your child is born with those traits! Even the sweet-natured ones need someone to reach into their lives and train them to hearken to something outside their own will.
Modern philosophy says children need to develop their own potential as they discover themselves. The Bible insists that “wisdom lieth without” and that a child that is left to himself will bring his mother to shame. It is up to you, mother and father, to train your child to accept direction outside his own impulses and thought patterns. Only by using corporal punishment can you train a child to hearken. Consistency is the word. Discipline him whether you feel like you are up to your task or not. Ask God for wisdom and strength to hang in there and be a benevolent dictator in training him to accept your direction.
From an early age, children want to know “why.” It is impossible for you to answer every question. But it is essential that you impart some very basic foundational truths. Some of these are that we know Who created us. Our Creator has a purpose for each one of us. The Bible gives us answers for life. Jesus loves us and wants a relationship with us. We do what we are told.
Some teaching will be done in formal ways. You will want to make time for family worship and regular attendance of Mass. But many vital lessons are communicated through informal sessions of teaching. As your child trails along behind you or rides beside you, his little mind is continually processing thoughts. If you sit daydreaming in your world, processing your problems, or pining over your unfulfilled dreams, you may miss the valuable time to plant seeds of Truth in your child’s mind.
In these days your child is developing his conscience, that inner voice that guides him through his moral choices. You have limited opportunity to acknowledge that moral compass and to set its checkpoints. This foundation will be laid throughout his days when he is a scholar and into his adolescence. He needs to know that you can speak with him about every relevant issue in his life. These conversations do not need to be long impressive speeches, but rather heartfelt truths and experiences that are communicated “by the way.”
As you see your child developing thought patterns and skills, you will do him a great favor in communicating to him that you believe in and respect his ability to make decisions in life. A child yearns to know his parent believes in him. He longs to feel dad’s hand or arm on his shoulder and hear the words, “I believe you know what you are doing; I trust you with this project.”
These words produce partnership from the heart. You may even ask your child advice on how he thinks some project or problem should be addressed. As you listen to his heart, a bond will be created between you. The more you plan together, the more he instinctively wishes to please you.
You will also want to hear his dreams, what he feels his Creator wants from his life. As you lend your resources to his dreams, you become true yoke-fellows. Many a youth could not have entertained the idea of disappointing their parents in breaking trust. Contrast that with youth who never felt their parents ever saw anything but failure in them. These two youth are sent in totally different directions.
Turn loose and turn over. You cannot control your adult children, and you cannot keep forever what was once yours. It is right to begin the loosening process while you can still give advice and counsel. As you relinquish your responsibilities, your business ventures, your properties, you will find yourself fixing your eyes on other eternal realities. Your child needs to see your joy in this stage, and you need to find joy in the journey. Your children or other youth you have mentored become stewards of that over which you once had responsibility. The natural inclination is to fear to turn loose lest you not be needed any longer. If you truly have a servant’s heart, there will always be something for you to do.
It is so tempting to mix these roles into the wrong seasons of life. If you treat your toddlers as best friends and do not rise to the challenge of confronting their will, yes even in controlling them, you will miss the opportunity to shape their wills. If you think you can control your youth, and manhandle them into doing what you want- you will lose their hearts and trust.
It is a tragedy to watch children reject the values and traditions of their parents, not because they have found a better way of life, but because they simply cannot tolerate the enmity they sense in their closest of all relationships.
Above all, let us depend upon the One who creates families. Let us allow the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us in the way. We need His direction in the way, so our adult children are our best friends and not our most bitter foes.