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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | The strength of a family is the practice of faith

Fittingly, the final Sunday of the year is devoted to family values, which hopefully reflects the grace-filled wisdom practiced over the past year. Christian virtues start in family living. That is where parents demonstrate how to integrate the word of God with daily living, model this behavior and teach these values to their children.

This can't happen in society unless parents from the very beginning decide how they wish to live and relate together as a family. I once met a family that was exceptionally relational, parents with each other and with their children, children with each other and with their parents.

I quickly noticed that there was no TV in sight. When I mentioned this, the mother smiled and said, "After we were married six months, I told my husband 'either it (the TV) goes or I go.'" The husband quickly followed up, "That is when I made the smartest decision of my life."

Their children did not learn from TV how to be clever and cuttingly funny in putting each other down. TV too often models the values of an unredeemed secularized world. The prevalence of these secularized values in various media can make it difficult to raise families focused on living out the values modeled by the Holy Family.

One way to counteract this is for parents to not only bring their children to church every Sunday, but also live and teach the values they themselves have absorbed through a strong sacramental and prayer life. Their children are formed in an environment where the values of Christ are lived and absorbed, producing a family where the members enjoy being together and sharing fun together.

Having said that, let us take a look at what the Scriptures for the feast of the Holy Family have to offer families. In the first reading, Sirach reflects on the role of children and parents. This is wisdom literature, reflecting values developed by those who have for many years based their behavior on the revealed word of God.

Human fatherhood reflects the fatherhood of God. A loving Father has created us and given us parents. We should respect these parents as being co-creators with the Father. Children are to honor their parents and to respect their authority as coming from God Himself. Whoever honors his or her parents, honors God Himself. The one who honors his or her parents atones for his or her sins. Even when the minds of parents fail, children are to treat them kindly and with love. Children should always remember how they were treated kindly and taken care of before they could care for themselves.

In the second reading from Colossians, we move from wisdom to divine revelation. St. Paul relates the virtues that really foster Christian living: "Put on as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. ..."

These virtues come from the repeated practice of allowing God's word to speak to our actions and then asking God's forgiveness when we have failed to live up to His word. Of all of these virtues, the most difficult one is often forgiveness. If we have a grievance against another, "As the Lord has forgiven you, so much you also do."

Forgiveness becomes easier when we remember how much the Lord has forgiven us. In addition, praying for the person who has hurt us is the fastest way to heal the relationship. It protects us from Satan's invisible but very destructive entrance into the relationship.

St. Paul continues: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." When the hearts of children are prayerfully engaged in the mysteries of the Rosary, peace takes over and a silent joy enters the family. Having a joyful family where individuals relate well is never luck but always grace.

In the Gospel, Mary and Joseph follow all the prescriptions of the Jewish law. In doing so, they meet in the temple two very holy people, Simeon and Anna, both led by the Holy Spirit. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Simeon reveals to Mary that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart and that this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel. Anna, a woman of prayer and fasting, spoke of this child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Israel.

In all of this, we witness Mary and Joseph, steeped in prayer, unshaken by the prophecy of Simeon. They are keen observers of all that is said and done. They know not the details of their future with this child, but they do know that they will stand there and embrace an unknown future as it unfolds before them.

The strength of any family is the strength of the parents, and the strength of the parents is the practice of their faith. Blessed are those parents who trust in the Lord, as did Mary and Joseph. 

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