This Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family. The readings can be found here. This is an interesting Feast in that it falls between Christmas and Epiphany. In some ways it seems like an odd placement between these two great events during the Christmas Season. On the other hand it definitely highlights the role of the family as part of God’s plan. On a personal level, it brings home the responsibilities of being a husband and father. I am blessed to have a wonderful wife and two delightful growing boys. It causes me to reflect on the ways that I have been (and not been) a role model of loving and serving my family.
This week’s reflection comes from the Irish Jesuits at Living Space. It is very poignant on the need for parents to be Christ-like role models of love, compassion and commitment. You can find the entire reflection here but set forth below is an excerpt:
And what is true of Jesus is true of all of us. A happy, nurturing family environment is so important. One gets the impression that in many parts of the world and especially in the so-called “developed” world, family life is in deep trouble. Anyone who has regular contact with young people will be aware of how disillusioned many of them are with the family situation and, in particular, in their relations with their parents.
The problem is that many parents expect respect and obedience from their children without actually behaving in a way which deserves it. Parents cannot set double standards by which they feel entitled to do what their children are forbidden from doing. Parents can hardly earn respect if they are constantly fighting with each other, if they are too busy making money to spend time with their children, if they think they can buy off their children with money but have neither the ability nor the willingness to listen to what they have to say.
One father had the experience (not at all unknown) that, as soon as he walked into the room, his son would walk out. When a friend encouraged trying to understand the son rather than insisting the son do what he was told, the father replied, “I already understand him. What he needs is to learn respect for his parents and to show appreciation for all we’re trying to do for him.” The friend suggested another approach: “If you want your son really to open up, you must work on the assumption that you don’t understand him and perhaps never fully will but that you want to and will try.” The father did try, he did listen unconditionally and both father and son learnt much they had not been aware of before.
Ultimately, a Christian family’s agenda has to be set in the light of the Gospel’s vision of life. In these days, too much of it is being set by a highly pressurised society and sometimes by clinging irrationally to out-dated cultural traditions. Perhaps only the Church as a whole and not individual families can deal with this problem not only for its own members but for society as a whole.
There is no question that the quality of any society depends on the quality of its family life. Society exists for the family but the family also exists for society and, unless these two interdependent relationships are recognized, the vision of God’s Kingdom will be thwarted.