Connecting with the Holy Family through our “holy” families

Fr. Chris Lemieux’s Homily at St. Patrick’s Parish, Markham; the Feast of the Holy Family (December 29, 2013): If you’ve been following the homilies or talks that have been given by Pope Francis, you’ve probably already heard this story he shared; but I think it a good one to share again on the feast of the Holy Family. As a child the pope heard a story of another family.
A grandfather, suffering from Parkinson’s would drop food on the dining room table, and sometimes smear it on his face when he ate. His son considered this absolutely disgusting. And so, one day he bought a small table and set it off to the side of the dining room so the grandfather would eat, make his mess and not disturb the rest of the family.

Sometime later, as the Pope tells it, the son came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. “What are you making?” he asked his son. “A table,” the son replies. “Why?” the father asks. “It’s for you, Dad, when you get old like grandpa, I am going to give you a table.” Ever since that day, the grandpa was given a prominent seat at the dining table and all the help he needed in eating by his son and daughter-in-law.
The Pope admits that reflection upon this story has done him a lot of good in his own life; it has helped him to remember his own priorities. Pope Francis puts it this way: “Grandparents are a treasure; often old age isn’t pretty. There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance. A society or community that does not value, respect and care for its elderly members doesn’t have a future because it has no memory, it’s lost its memory.”

I think this story and the pope’s reflection on it illustrate well what’s expressed in our first reading today; that, the manner in which we treat our parents is the manner in which we too one day hope to be treated by our children. It speaks of the value we must place upon mutual respect and love between children and parents within a family. I think what strikes me, as strikes many people about our Holy Father is just how well he relates to the common person, to you and to me. This ideology, the concept of treating everyone with great dignity is one that the Church has always taught and espoused, but by using common stories; stories that many of us can completely relate to and have maybe even experienced within our families; we are able to deepen our commitment to the relationships which begin in our families.

Surely, it’s not a surprise to anyone that family is essential to our faith. We all need to be reminded of this from time to time and of course I mean myself too. Often times the greatest struggles that we have in our lives come from within our family, the relationships we have with various members of our family.
If we’re not talking with someone, or we feel betrayed by a member of our family, or we have been hurt or abused by a family member – no matter how strong-minded or independent we are – this deeply affects at our core; it affects who we are as people.

As you’ve heard me say before, and I say again; Scripture assures us that even the Holy Family had their problems, and although they might not be the same as our own; they are a model for us by how they stuck together, how they remain committed to each other in good times and bad times and how they gave of themselves totally for each other. They are models of self-giving love that often begins for us as part of a family.
The Church tells us that the domestic church, in other words, the family is a source of our sanctification, and again in other words, they are the instrument or means of how we become holy. This idea means a lot more to me than what it once did. It’s not as simple as mom or grandma teaching us how to pray the Rosary; although that’s a beautiful thing. It’s not simply praying or going to confession with dad, although another very excellent way we can grow in holiness. What’s more than this is how we must start with ourselves; mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister, son, daughter…we must start with ourselves and be generous and committed in the way we give love to others no matter what’s going on in our lives right now. We grow in holiness when we forgive generously – forgiving a family member who has hurt us, even hurt us deeply. My friends, they may not deserve that forgiveness but as Christians if we only forgive those who deserve it; I can assure God’s will for us or the world will never be done. It’s only when we are generous in our forgiveness that we are then able to be generous in love.

It’s not easy, and it’s certainly a challenge – but it’s the challenge of living and being a Christian that draws each and every one of us back here each week; needing to recharge and regenerate our faith; connecting with the Lord our God. The total and unlimited love we receive and know from God will sustain us in this challenge. How do I know? I know it because I lived it. As you’ve heard me say many times before I came from a family with lots of hurt, lots of bitterness, lots of people not talking to each other. I was a product of my environment, and I carried that bitterness, hurt and pain with me into my adult life. Faith in Jesus Christ, His Word, and a faith in the deep love God has for me, this gave me the strength to change my attitude towards my family members. Nothing else could be guaranteed to me; none of us are guaranteed that our family members or anyone else will accept our forgiveness or love – but that’s not why we do it.

I know this challenge can be hard; and for me it has taken a lot of confession, a lot of grace to be forgiven by God to be able to forgive and heal broken relationships. Sometimes we warm the hearts of others and healthy relationships begin and are nurtured within our families. But sometimes our love will be refused and all we can do is pray for them and keep an open mind and heart waiting for them; but my friends, if we wait around for others to forgive or love – nothing is likely to happen, we will not heal ourselves or the relationships we have with others either.

Love should always be at the centre of our relationships and most especially our family. Many parents I know become frustrated because their children distance themselves from their parents at a certain age; usually as teens. This is natural as young people struggle to find and seek their independence, which doesn’t mean they love their parents less, even if they don’t want to get kissed by mom in front of the school as they are being dropped off. At the same time, I strongly encourage young people whom I talk to, express love somehow, in some way to your parents, because parents want to know their children love them. It means so much to them to know this, even if they can’t express it well.

We all have our own idea of what the Holy Family looks like. Various movies portray them in different and interesting ways but there is no one who would convey the Holy Family as a family that didn’t love and express that love with each other. I’m sure Joseph knew Jesus and Mary loved him deeply. I’m sure Mary knew her Son and husband loved her and I’m most definitely sure that Jesus Christ knew His Holy Parents loved Him. My friends, on this Feast of the Holy Family; in honour of Jesus, Mary and Joseph; let’s all consider the relationships we have with others, most especially our family and let us consider how we can strengthen those relationships. If we need to forgive or seek forgiveness let us ask the Lord for strength to do that. If we need to be more expressive with our love in words or deed, let us ask the Lord for courage to do that.

As many of you know, this weekend is my last weekend here at St. Patrick’s as I will be leaving here to begin my work and ministry in the Vocations Office for the archdiocese. I’ve had a year and a half here at St. Pat’s which is really such a short time to spend as part of this community; this family. I will take a lot of love with me from here, and made many good and lasting friendships. This parish and this community will always have a very special place in my heart. Over the last six weeks since announcing my hastened departure, many of you have expressed your heart-warming sentiments to me, and of how much I will be missed here. You have made me feel very loved and welcomed from the very first time I stood at this ambo and altar. It’s a great blessing as a priest to find love from the people we serve, and I have received an abundance of this blessing. I want to thank you. I want to thank you for making this first assignment as a priest such a wonderful and amazing experience. I want to say thank you especially to our young people. Our young people have so much to offer us, our community, our faith community, the world we live in. I don’t see that our young people are lost or losing their faith or that they see God or faith is irrelevant to them; they take their lead from us and how we stay strong in our faith. But on the contrary, the faith is very much alive in our young people and I see that ever so much present in the schools and the parish here. My role in vocations work will allow me to help our young people on a larger scale, committing myself to assisting them to discern what the Lord is calling them to do with their lives. I’d like to offer some advice to our young people, but really every one of us can benefit from hearing this is this:

First of all, believe in God, in this world where many things are uncertain, that God loves you and wants you to love him and others that you are blessed to have in your life; that is certain.

Believe in yourself; seeing your own giftedness and the contribution you can and will make if you believe in yourself is the greatest gift you can or will receive and give in this life. Always fill your life with love, and as I mentioned throughout my homily here today; the way to greater love is through the courage and strength to forgive.

And always be confident that God has a great plan for you; a plan that He will reveal to you in many ways and never be afraid to let others help you; your family, your community of faith; the family you live with and the family you worship with will help you to see that glorious plan.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us give thanks for the gift of family that our faith gives us, modelled on the Holy Family and let us give thanks for the gift we are to each other. And know that God loves you all, and so do I. May God bless you.

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