“…they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:39-40)
Sometimes lost in the immense shadows of St. John Paul II and St. John the XXIII is the remarkable pope that served between them: Blessed Paul VI. Pope Paul continued the trajectory of the Second Vatican Council, wrote extensively on the New Evangelization, and 50 years ago became the first pope to visit the Holy Land. I used this following text two years ago in my homily for the feast of the Holy Family, but in light of the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I think it is worth revisiting. At Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, Blessed Paul VI gave this beautiful teaching on the mystery of the life of the Holy Family that is even quoted in our Catechism:
The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus - the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us. . . A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character... A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the "Carpenter's Son", in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work. (CC 533)
We must learn from the school of Nazareth and learn from the holiness exhibited by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph who through their holiness sanctify all families. Family is supposed to be about communion, about seeking God first above all things, about helping your spouse and your children achieve salvation, and being living witnesses of Christ’s love to the entire world. This is why Pope Francis this morning called on every family to be like the Holy Family and to center their lives on Jesus. The beauty of family comes from having Jesus at the center, but if Jesus is removed from the center….we simply crumble when trouble arises, and what family doesn’t encounter trouble? Mary and Joseph did when they had to flee Herod and take Jesus into exile and then again when they lost Jesus in the temple. No matter what storms arise, Jesus was always the focus, always the center.
Unfortunately, all too often Jesus is not the center of family life. Children pick up on this. It always amazes me how much children do pick up from their parents’ religious practices or lack there of. A lot of parents make the excuse, and a poor one at that, that they don’t bring their kids to Mass because they cause to much fuss, because of the looks on people’s faces when their child cries, and because it is a chore. Listen, I was as rambunctious as they came when my parents took me to Mass, and I was the oldest of three small children. Every week my parents brought the three of us to church, NO CRY ROOMS!, and I would talk, move around, and cause headaches for my poor mother, but hey, no big deal, I just ended becoming a priest. When I was a child, I picked up on the fact that when we walked into a church, we were entering the house of God and that I had to be quiet lest I get an elbow from my mother or father. I picked up on how to do simple things from observing my parents like the sign of the cross, wanting to recite the Creed entirely without help just to impress them, and eventually by the time I turned 5 asking why I couldn’t receive Communion. The holy witness of parents is so important to children. I see it when I sit up in that chair and gaze out at young families and see how the children behave. Those parents are living the school of Nazareth in their homes and cementing those lessons by making time for Mass each week by bringing their little ones to church.
The example from parents obviously goes beyond the hour a week we spend in Mass. In everything we do, our children need to see holy mothers and fathers like Mary and Joseph. Our families must be modeled after the Holy Family because the world so desperately needs it. Our children need a mother and a father just like Jesus needed Mary and Joseph. Yes, I know that what I just said is extraordinarily politically incorrect, but I am not a politician, I am a priest. And I know that there are heroic single mothers and fathers out there that through no fault of their own, or through poor choices, are doing amazing things in raising their children. The Church walks with you and I walk with you because my oldest nephew is the child of single parents. It doesn’t make him any more or any less extraordinary than what he already is because as Pope Francis told parents of large families this morning: “each of your children was wanted by God.”
But make no mistake, marriage, the sacrament of HOLY Matrimony, is the key. We need young couples to embrace this sacrament as the vocation that it is in order to build up holy families. Yet so many young people don’t even bother to get married. They start living together for economic reasons or reasons of convenience or because marriage “is just a piece of paper.” When they do decide to get married, I sometimes wonder: “what is changing?” Yet, ever the optimist, I always pray that the grace of the sacrament does change them and propel them down the path to holiness. However marriage remains a stumbling block to so many, the “M” word, and to those young people, Pope Francis offered this challenge last year:
Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion. Is it out of fashion? In a culture of relativism and the ephemeral, many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘for ever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. I have confidence in you and I pray for you. Have the courage ‘to swim against the tide’. And also have the courage to be happy. (7/29/2013 at World Youth Day in Rio)
The Church wants all her children to be happy, but she is saddened when families are broken because they did not keep Christ as the center of their lives or because they opted for convenience and what they thought would make them happy when true joy only is found in Christ. And to this equation of the family, our Holy Father pointed out twice this morning the importance of grandparents who pass on wisdom to their children who are now parents and to their grandchildren. We must cherish every second we spend with grandparents. Trust me, mine are in heaven.
So we return to the school of Nazareth to gather the tools and learn the lessons we need to be holy families. We learn that Jesus must be the center. We learn the importance of mothers and fathers. We learn that the love of mommy and daddy is so important especially when it is blessed and consecrated by the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. We learn that we must pray as a family, play as a family, and shut the world out sometimes. Remember that the first thing that Blessed Paul VI pointed out was the need for silence. So often our kids are so transfixed by video games, computers, phones and other modern contraptions that they don’t know how to sit down quietly to do something as simple as having dinner with the family. And there it is. The family is nurtured not only at this table where we receive the Eucharist, but it is nurtured and strengthened when we gather to eat at our dining room tables as a family at home. Learn the lessons of Nazareth. Dare to be holy. Dare to be missionaries be making your family holy.