Today’s reflection is for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.
From the Book of Sirach, in the Old Testament, to the Letter to the Colossians, in the New, in the Gospel where we see the example of the Holy Family, and in the Catechism, where we see the people of God and the Holy Roman Catholic Church entirely invested in forming, supporting, and exhorting men, women, and children to be Holy Families – for no other purpose than for the salvation of souls.
I sometimes hear that the Church has no business telling me how to raise my children. You know, I started wrestling at Chatom when I was in 4th grade, wrestled through high school, and wrestled in college too. I wasn’t one of the great wrestlers in the state, but I was a good wrestler. I worked hard. I never missed a practice, ate very little, and ran a lot. Wrestling is an incredibly demanding sport that requires discipline of mind and body.
Some of my best coaches always held a parent meeting at the beginning of the year, explaining to parents how they could support their young wrestlers. Coaches talked about the importance of getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, getting a run in in the evening, and doing pushups before going to bed. I even had someone else’s dad tell me to do 100 push ups every night. Parents were attentive, they took notes, and they thanked the coaches for all the support they gave to young wrestlers, and to their parents, that might give the boys an edge at being a champion, and getting the gold. Incredible.
I say incredible because many of the same parents who would eagerly change their family’s eating habits, exercise, and sleep routine to give their child a competitive edge in wrestling, or soccer, or cheer, or softball, who would eagerly and appreciatively accept the advice or direction from coaches, who would send their kids to camps, at great expense, pay for travel, tournament fees, uniform and gear costs, would then scoff at the thought of being told they should etch out family time for prayer, for catechism, for a family retreat. They would accept advice from coaches, but scorn direction from ministers of the church and wouldn’t give a second thought to increasing their tithe, and for some, even to attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Incredible…and sad.
The family is charged with the formation of the soul, and to the degree that it is formed, it will spend eternity with God, or eternity apart from God, if that formation is neglected. We are people who believe in heaven and hell, and eternal consequences. We are people who believe that belonging to a community of faith, of fellow believers will help us in our role of raising our children to know and love God. At baptisms, parents and godparents, and the whole community give their “yes” to raising this child to know God and to call him Father. And so, in this church there is help, and there is honesty, and truth, and accountability, and help.
The family has an amazing responsibility. St. John Vianney, known for his fiery spirit said, “Depart, accursed fathers and mothers! Depart into the hell where the wrath of God awaits you, you and the good deeds you have done, while all the time you have let your children run wild. Depart into hell; they will not be long in joining you there.” And so today I want to give thanks.
Thank God for the Church who provides resources, admonition, guidance and support! For Holy Scriptures that families reflect upon and in which a family hears God speak to them in the depths of their being. For the Saints of the church whose lives teach us about priorities and sacrifice. And for the Catechism and the bishops and theologians who brought 2000 years of reflection together in one amazing book. For monks, nuns and priests who seek nothing more in this life than to serve God and his people! For CCD teachers and confirmation leaders. But most of all I give thanks to God for Holy Families.
It is within Holy Families that all of this ink, these texts, and these sacrificial lives find meaning and value. Salvation isn’t magic, it is the promise of God for those who believe. It was only after the Holy Family, “ had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord,” that they returned to Galilee. And it was there, in that family, bound to the Law of the Lord, that the child Jesus, “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary loved Jesus, taught him, and taught him to love.
And so let me start with “thank you” to parents. Thank you for being here, outside, in the cold because Mass matters that much. And thank you to those who are not out here in the cold, but are at home watching this with their family. Thank you for all the catechists who volunteer their time to form themselves and our children in the faith of the Church. Thank you for bringing your child to receive the grace of God in the Sacraments. Thank you for praying with your children. For loving them, and showing mercy toward them.
Pope Francis has dedicated 2021 as the year of St. Joseph. In a new Apostolic Letter entitled Patris corde (“With a Father’s Heart”), Pope Francis describes Saint Joseph as a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows.
The Letter marks the 150th anniversary of Blessed Pope Pius IX’s declaration of St Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. At the conclusion of Pope Francis’ Letter, he adds another prayer to St Joseph, which he encourages all of us to pray together. I encourage you to pray this prayer nightly with or for your family:
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To you God entrusted his only Son; in you Mary placed her trust; with you Christ became man. Blessed Joseph, to us too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life. Obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.
Vatican News source’s article about the Year to St. Joseph can be found by clicking the following link: St. Francis Proclaims a Year to St. Joseph