Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
And I begin with a true story. Over a century and a half ago, diamond fever spread across the continent of Africa. One man sold his farm and wandered throughout Africa, finding nothing. Meanwhile, on the land that man had sold, the new owner found a strange-looking stone. He placed it on his fireplace mantel as a curio. A visitor noticed this stone. He shouted excitedly, “Do you know this is a diamond? It’s one of the largest I’ve ever seen.” The entire farm was loaded with magnificent diamonds.
The point is this: some people never take the time to notice what they have in their own backyard, so to speak. Some people never notice the “gems” in their own families.
Stop and smell the roses in your own backyard. Cherish the precious gems you have in your family: siblings, spouse and sons/daughters; recognize the gems in your parents. Notice the gems all around you in your neighborhood and in this parish community.
The word of God takes us back to the eleventh century before Jesus, an unstable era in Hebrew history immediately before the establishment of their monarchy. A woman named Hannah prayed for a child. God heard her prayer. She gave birth to Samuel; and the parents gave Samuel for God’s service in the shrine at Shiloh. This child grew up to become a great prophet who played a significant role in ancient Israel’s affairs of state. The word of God invites us to make our own needs known to God as Hannah did.
The letter of John speaks about God’s unconditional love for us. God has gifted us with divine status. We are his children, sons and daughters of God our Father, and our destiny is to be like God, to see God as God is. And we become like God, here and now, by striving to reflect godlike attitudes and behaviors in our relationships with one another.
In the Gospel according to Luke, the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph made a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. There, young Jesus astonished the rabbis with his wisdom.
On their way back from this pilgrimage, Mary and Joseph suddenly realized Jesus was missing. But their anxiety turned into joy when they found him. This close-knit holy family went back home to Nazareth, where Jesus grew in wisdom and age and God’s favor.
For twenty-some years, this family clung together. They fled to Egypt together. They lived in a backwater village and worked together at ordinary tasks. Joseph, tradition says, kept his loved ones in daily bread with the skill of his hands. Mary baked and spun, carried water, and taught Jesus to pray. They lived an utterly simple and natural and human life. They did ordinary things extraordinarily well—that's the secret to holiness. And as in any family, Mary eventually waved goodbye to Jesus as he set off for his life’s mission. She experienced the empty nest!
Theirs was a holy family, and so too is ours—living together, working together, playing and praying together. And what sustained the holy family in Nazareth? And what sustains ours? I would like to suggest three virtues: faithfulness, courage, and prudence.
There’s probably no virtue more important than faithfulness for sustaining family life. Married couples are called to be open to new life and to nourish and educate the children with whom God gifts them. To do this well, parents need to be faithful to each other and to their children. Faithfulness builds trust. Children trust that parents will always be there. We all need to know that someone loves us and will always be there for us, especially when we hit a rough patch in life. And yes, sometimes parents have to show tough love for the good of their children. But the point is we as families need the anchor of faithfulness in our ever-changing world.
Second, families need courage. In William Bennett’s Book of Virtues, we find the stories of David and Goliath, Susan B. Anthony, and Rosa Parks. Courage is about moral character. It defines who we are at the core of our innermost selves. It is an attitude that challenges us, despite our fears, to stand up for what is right and true and good. Many of us would include Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Mother Teresa in our list of courageous people. And we probably would include our parents as examples. We have seen up close the sacrifices they’ve made for us. Commitment requires courage, in good times and bad.
Parental courage reaches a crescendo when children become teenagers. Parents can’t protect them from the many forces in society that can destroy them not only physically but morally. Yes, children grow and age and mature, and eventually parents must let them go. Parenting, sustaining life, more than any other activity, requires courage, always trying to do the right thing even when we’re not sure it’s right. After all, to be human is to live in ambiguity.
And the third virtue for families is prudence. It doesn’t mean caution. Rather prudence is the instinct to seek the right thing to do among our many choices, whereas courage is the instinct to do the right thing despite our fears. Prudence and courage go hand in hand. Parents have to act amid the messiness of everyday life. They are forced to make decisions often without clearly seeing all the possible outcomes. And often decisions are not either/or but both/and. That’s why we sometimes must agree to disagree and move on with our lives. But it’s only by making decisions daily that parents become experienced decision makers. Prudence requires continually reflecting on decisions and learning from them.
Someone wrote: “Twenty years from now, we will be more disappointed by the things we didn’t do than by the ones we did.” Think about it. Don’t regret something good you could have done but didn’t. Life is not a dress rehearsal; it’s the real thing. To the extent that our lives are in our own hands, do good now, not later.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived a life together as a family, a holy family, a life with no regrets. Faithfulness, courage, and prudence anchored that family. May God on this Feast of the Holy Family anchor our own families and community in faithfulness, courage, and prudence.