The family is the environment in which we learn to relate to others, where we are cared for and loved. But it can also be a laboratory for sadness, bruising, and wounding. Moments of grace separate one from the other. Mere humans living together in close proximity in the home, sharing the nitty gritty of life, is full of all kinds of challenges! How many times do we have a misunderstanding and have the sense to apologize? Dealing with people is messy business and hurt happens. It is heroic to operate in the grace of the Holy Spirit to ask forgiveness when we hurt one another. The simple ability to look past our own feelings and see how we impact others – that is life-changing behavior. “I’m sorry that what I did was hurtful to you. Please forgive me”—this is humility, and when we operate at this level within our family, we can change the world. As I see it, the two most important virtues of a holy family are patience and forgiveness. Thank goodness perfection is not required, just steadfastness.
The readings from the Mass for the feast of the Holy Family, which we celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas, are beautiful reminders of how to behave and interact with each other in our families.
“God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
He who honors his father atones for sins; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. He who
honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays he is heard. He who reveres his
father will live a long life; he obeys God who brings comfort to his mother. My son, take care of
your father when he is old; grieve him not long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate
with him; revile him not in the fullness of our strength. For kindness to a father will not be
forgotten, it will serve as a sin offering-it will take lasting root.” Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14
This passage expounds on the fourth commandment because Jesus wanted us to understand the importance of family as the cornerstone of society. In her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, Saint Mother Teresa said, “My prayer for you is that truth will bring prayer in our homes..[and] we will begin to love. And we will love naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, [then the] next door neighbor in the country we live, [then] in the whole world.”
In our progressed world, we think of evangelization and mission in terms of global work, but we cannot achieve spreading the faith if we do not practice in our own families.
Colossians 3:12-21 gives us further practical instruction on how to relate to one another.
“As the chosen of God, then, the holy people whom he loves, you are to be clothed in heartfelt compassion, in generosity and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, put on love, the perfect bond. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together in one body. Always be thankful. Let the Word of Christ in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. And whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through Him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be sharp with them. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, do not irritate your children or they will lose heart.”
What makes the family so extraordinary is all the goodness that can come when we learn to love. We die to self in saying we are sorry for our offenses. We grow in virtue when we focus on the needs of others instead of ourselves. A quote often attributed to G.K. Chesterton states, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” God has set an incredible task before us – to love the people in our family through our actions and our attitude. This is the heart of radical evangelization. And it will change the world!
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