Sir.3:2-6, 12-14; Col.3:12-21; Lk.2:22-40
A little boy greets his father as he returns from work with a question: “Daddy, how much do you make an hour?” The father is surprised and says: “Look, son, not even your mom knows. Don’t bother me now, I’m tired.” “But Daddy, just tell me please! How much do you make an hour?” the boy insists. The father finally gives up and replies: “Twenty dollars.” “Okay, Daddy,” the boy continues, “Could you loan me ten dollars?”
The father yells at him: “So that was the reason you asked how much I earn, right? Now, go to sleep and don’t bother me anymore!” At night the father thinks over what he said and starts feeling guilty. May be my son needed to buy something. Finally, he goes to his son’s room. “Are you asleep, son?” asks the father. “No, Daddy. Why?” replies the boy. “Here’s the money you asked for earlier,” the father said.
“Thanks, Daddy!” replies the boy and receives the money. Then he reaches under his pillow and brings out some more money. “Now I have enough! Now I have twenty dollars!” says the boy to his father, “Daddy, could you sell me one hour of your time?” Today’s gospel has a message for this man and for all of us, and the message is that we need to invest more of our time in our family life.
On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We are here to offer all the members of our own families on the altar for God’s blessing. Today we continue our Christmas celebration with a consideration of the Holy Family. The first reading is a commentary on the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.”
Ben Sirach has many good things to say about living properly according to the Torah. Sirach reminds children of their duty to honor their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the five-fold reward which God promises to those who honor their father and mother. The first reward is “riches,” and the second long life: “Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.”Forgiveness of sins and God’s prompt answer to prayers are the fourth and fifth rewards.
He reminds children that God blesses them if they obey, revere and show compassion to their father. Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, advises us that we should put on love and remain thankful in our relationships with one another. Paul’s advice is part of the “Household code” – the rules for members of the Christian family.
In today’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph present Jesus in Jerusalem’s Temple in fulfillment of their religious tradition. You, parents can remember when your children were infants. You couldn’t wait to show them off to family and friends. You probably had a big celebration on that very special day when you went to your parish church and presented them to the Lord to receive his life in Baptism.
When you first held your children, when you brought the baby home from the hospital, when you survived that first night when your baby would not get to sleep, you probably asked yourself, how will I, how will we, deal with the challenges this new life is going to bring? Perhaps you are still asking yourselves that question. Certainly there is not a parent here who has not wondered:
How can I be the best parent possible? What will happen to my child during his or her life? What sort of person will he or she become? Today the Church bids us to look to the Holy Family. They kept their union with God as the foundation and glue of their lives. This resulted in a tranquility that let them meet each challenge they faced…conquering the surrounding chaos instead of being destroyed by it.
You, parents live in a society that does too much but not enough. Other forces tempt you to do too much. They convince you that if you are going to be good parents you have to have your kids in every activity possible, be a part of every organization you can, be the perfect homemaker, cook, provider, repairer, and referee. They convince you to do too much… but not enough.
For many parents there is not enough time to develop the union with God but that is the heart of your family. You try too hard… but not hard enough. You try to be the perfect parent in every way but sheer exhaustion results in you. You find not much time to spend in prayer. Your prayer time should not be something you throw into your day.
Prayer is a life style, not an emergency exit. It should be the ground upon which you build your day. The sudden and unexplained collapse during the last fifty years of the institution we know of as family is a great mystery. Why, during these times, have so many young people simply begun living together as a family when they really were not? One third of the children born today are born out of wedlock.
The numbers of children who are being shaped and formed without a father and a mother living with them is staggering. Who are their grandparents, and how many sets of grandparents do they have, given the number of stepfathers and stepmothers they have? What sorts of values are being displayed in the lives of the adults with whom children live?
Much is said these days about the troubles within our public school system. While a lot may be wrong in the system, the chief thing that has gone wrong is the absence of genuine families in which the children are being raised. Most of the children are not being raised with mom, dad, and siblings. Schools cannot replace families. Do you know that 60% of the felons in our prisons don’t know who their fathers are?
Yet it was in our family that our character, personality were formed. We became an individual and a person with a distinct character because we lived in a family. For a family makes an individual, and individuals in turn constitute the family. It is in our family homes that we learn a philosophy of life.
It is there, in the family (the so called domestic church), that God is acknowledged, that prayer is learned, and devotion is formed. It is there that our soul is nurtured at the family altar, the family table in which we share a communion of food for the body, the mind and the soul.
There is a story about a solicitor who lived some distance from her elderly, widowed father. Months had passed since she had seen him and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a long list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc.
At the end of the recitation, the father asked, “When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral?” The daughter’s response was immediate,” Dad, I can’t believe you’ve asked that. Of course, I’ll come!” To which the father replied, “Good. Forget the funeral and come now. I need you more now than I will then.” She got the message and began to see him regularly after that!
So in thanking God for the gift of the Christ Child, let us also thank God for our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and the wonderful gift that we have been given, our family. Amen