Pope St. John Paul II once said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.” As we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph this Sunday – only a few days after Christmas – we are reminded that all Christian families are called to be holy – to be places where Jesus is found and loved. For us, the family is the most important relationship that we will embrace here on earth.
The Church has always taught that the family is the “domestic church,” meaning that the home is the Church in miniature. The Church is the sacrament of God’s love. She is a communion of faith and life. She is a mother and teacher. She is at the service of the whole human family as it goes forward towards its ultimate destiny. In the same way the family is a community of life and love. It educates and leads its members to their full human maturity and it serves the good of all along the road of life. The family is the "first and vital cell of society". In its own way it is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church. The future of the world and of the Church, therefore, passes through the family.
Therefore, we can also say that as the family goes, so goes the Church. If we want our Church to be holy, we must make our families holy – not simply “adequate” or “good enough.” If we want our Church to show Christ to the world, we must make the family a place where Christ is encountered first. If we want the Church to transform our world, then we must make our families agents of change in our neighborhoods and communities. This is the vital role of the family in our culture.
And it is in danger.
Too often in America, young people grow up without good examples from their parents. Families are broken by addictions, by greed, by infidelity, by selfishness. Some have said that this is simply an evolution of what it means to be a family; however, none of these “new models” show forth the love that is essential to the relationships that allow families to bond and grow. Without that love, we cannot hope to be holy; and without holiness in the family, we cannot hope to change the world.
Other threats also affect many who are near and dear to us. Government policies are separating families of immigrants and creating a situation in which children are left without nurturing parents. These are also broken families – families at risk, as they flee danger in their own countries – just like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Again, if we want to help to build a holy society, we need to be advocates for all families, not only those who “qualify” for our concern and charity.
As the family goes, so goes the nation.
Our Scriptures give us a guide to creating holy families. It starts with the unconditional love of husbands and wives – love that is rooted in and modeled on Christ’s love. This sacrificial love will be the firmest of foundations upon which a holy family is built. Children, likewise, must esteem and respect their parents – they should never try to run the home and get their way. This would create a family afraid of one another – and translate into a world of instability and chaos. Mutual love and respect is the hallmark of a holy family. Even Jesus grew in wisdom and grace and “was obedient to” his parents.
We can make our homes domestic churches by making them places of respect and love, but also by making them places of true prayer. It is a beautiful thing for families to have a small altar in their home – with an image or statue of Mary, Jesus, Joseph or some other revered saint – where they gather regularly to pray and share their faith. Families, I encourage you, come to church together; make your shared presence here a priority in your week. Yes, kids will complain and challenge you on it – that’s their job! – however, your job as the parent is to model a life of faith that puts Jesus first. That is never easy, and I tell you parents now: I have nothing but respect for you in your tremendous job of making disciples out of your children and families! As a parish, we pledge our assistance to you however we can.
This weekend, as we celebrate the Holy Family, may our families rediscover their call to holiness. May our families be holy and happy; because as the family goes, so goes the church, and so goes the whole world!
May God bless you and all your families!