Friday, December 25, 2015

Pray, Keep Faith and Be Joyful

Solemnity of the Holy Family 2015

The Sunday which follows Christmas is always dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is powerful reminder that Jesus was born into our human condition, a condition that necessitates a fundamental foundation, a family. As Christians, the humanity of the Son of God is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds us to Christ, and through Christ to God. Today, we see how Christ is bound to us through a human family.

The importance of the Holy Family’s example of faith and love is essential for families. As St John Paul II said, the Holy Family is “the prototype and example for all Christian families.” The family of Nazareth, according to Pope Francis, was not unlike most families: “with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.” Our Holy Father is renowned for his favourite leitmotifs of joy and mercy. But often too little attention has been given by the secular mainstream media to another favourite theme, a theme that has been quite apparent in the convoking of the Extraordinary Assembly of Bishops last year and this year’s Ordinary Synod on the Family, and the Pope’s weekly catecheses.

In the first year of His pontificate, which coincided with the Year of Faith, Pope Francis delivered a catechesis that provided three simple tips on how to make family holy. It would be good to revisit these points today.

First, the family prays. The first reading taken from the Wisdom literature of the Book of Sirach sets out the basic dynamics of a family, with a special focus on children revering parents. What is interesting about this passage is not just a lesson of filial piety but also one of prayer. The one who listens, obeys, and respects his parents will have his prayer heard. Just like the Holy Family of Nazareth, every family must be a school of prayer. Prayer is not taught in a classroom setting. Neither is it handed down through lengthy and complicated theological discourses. We learn to pray from those around us. And the first and primary teachers are our parents. When parents do not pray, children follow suit. When parents gather together to pray, not just for special occasions, but on a regular basis, children also begin to learn the value, the art and the beauty of prayer. The best gift that we can give to our children and to each other within the family is prayer. Tuition, expensive toys, holiday excursions all make cheap substitutes for this invaluable gift. It would be the pole and anchor for the family that keeps it afloat even in the stormiest of weathers and most challenging of crises.

Secondly, the Holy Father exhorts families to “keep faith.” Keeping faith doesn’t mean keeping it to ourselves and keeping it private. We live a society where faith is often kept secret in the private sphere for fear of offending anyone. Just like politics and other divisive topics, religion is often not on the table for discussion. But Pope Francis said that “Christian families are missionary families … They are missionary in everyday life, in their doing everyday things, as they bring to everything the salt and leaven of faith.” Catechesis can only take place in the context of evangelisation. The New Evangelisation which the last few Popes have been emphasising speaks of this need to re-evangelise our own members. Faith can no longer be taken for granted. We live in a culture and society of unbelief. We experience a market place of ideas, values, ideologies and other religious teachings. The family can no longer remain aloof and uncommitted in this area of evangelising. If the members fail to evangelise to each other, we would soon fall victim to counter-evangelisation from other factions and groups.

And finally, the Pope raises one of his favourite leitmotifs, as he insist that a family must experience joy. Though simple in comprehension, this last secret of a holy family may be the most challenging. Most of us know so well the pain and hurts we experience in families. This is understandable as the persons who are dearest to us and most important to us are often the ones who can inflict the most severe hurts.  But, the Pope is insisting that joy is not an impossibility. True joy comes from transformation that must take place if families are to survive and even proclaim the good news of salvation. True joy is never the denial of pain, disorder or even sin. To do so would be to relate in a superficial way. The Holy Father tells us that “True joy comes from a profound harmony between persons, something which we all feel in our hearts and which makes us experience the beauty of togetherness, of mutual support along life’s journey.”

But the greatest secret is this – joy can never be humanly engineered or manufactured. It is the gift of God. Cut off from God, human love does not remain human for long. The Pope tells us that “the basis of this feeling of deep joy is the presence of God, the presence of God in the family and his love, which is welcoming, merciful, and respectful towards all.  And above all, a love which is patient: patience is a virtue of God and he teaches us how to cultivate it in family life, how to be patient, and lovingly so, with each other. To be patient among ourselves. A patient love.  God alone knows how to create harmony from differences.  But if God’s love is lacking, the family loses its harmony, self-centredness prevails and joy fades.  But the family which experiences the joy of faith communicates it naturally.  That family is the salt of the earth and the light of the world, it is the leaven of society as a whole.”

On the eve of this year’s Synod on the Family, Pope Francis presided over a candlelight vigil for the synod, calling on the Synod Fathers to listen to families, including the Holy Family, over the course of their deliberations. “The family is a place of discernment, where we learn to recognise God’s plan for our lives and to embrace it with trust. It is a place of gratuitousness, of discreet fraternal presence and solidarity, a place where we learn to step out of ourselves and accept others, to forgive and to be forgiven.” Looking out onto the darkened square filled with candlelight, the Pope reflected on the symbolism of the candle in the dark, in reference to the difficulties we face throughout our lives. “What good is it to light a little candle in the darkness? Isn’t there a better way to dispel the darkness? Can the darkness even be overcome? When life proves difficult and demanding, we can be tempted to step back, turn away and withdraw, perhaps even in the name of prudence and realism, and thus flee the responsibility of doing our part as best we can.”

But then the Holy Father issued this timely reminder that “every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world.” He prayed that for every family, “the Gospel is always 'good news' which enables us to start over.”  In order to this, we must always keep our “gaze fixed on Jesus, the definitive Word of the Father and the criterion by which everything is to be measured.”

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