As we continue joyfully to celebrate the octave (eight days) of Christmas, we remember today the Holy Family of Nazareth: Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Every Christian family is privileged to be sanctified by the Holy Family, who intercede for them and serve as an example of how to become holy precisely in their familial love.
I wanted to share with you today excerpts from the reflection on the Holy Family written by Pope St. Paul VI who reigned in the 1960s and 1970s. It was written as a reflection on his personal pilgrimage to the town of
Nazareth. (my emphasis added):
The first lesson we learn here is to look, to listen, to meditate and penetrate the meaning – at once so deep and so mysterious – of this very simple, very humble and very beautiful manifestation of the Son of God. …
Here, in this school [of the home of Nazareth], one learns why it is necessary to have a spiritual rule of life, if one wishes to follow the teaching of the Gospel and become a disciple of Christ.
How gladly would I become a child again, and go to school once more in this humble and sublime school of Nazareth: close to Mary, I wish I could make a fresh start at learning the true science of life and the higher wisdom of divine truths.
But I am only a passing pilgrim. I must renounce this desire to pursue in this home my still incomplete education in the understanding of the Gospel. I will not go on my way however without having gathered – hurriedly, it is true, and as if wanting to escape notice – some brief lessons from Nazareth.
First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us, besieged as we are by so many uplifted voices, the general noise and uproar, in our seething and over-sensitized modern life.
May the silence of Nazareth teach us recollection, inwardness, the disposition to listen to good inspirations and the teachings of true masters. May it teach us the need for and the value of preparation, of study, of meditation, of personal inner life, of the prayer which God alone sees in secret.
Next, there is 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. Let us learn from Nazareth that the formation received at home is gentle and irreplaceable. Let us learn the prime importance of the role of the family in the social order.
Finally, there is 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; here I would restore the awareness of the nobility of work; and reaffirm that work cannot be an end in itself, but that its freedom and its excellence derive, over and above its economic worth, from the value of those for whose sake it is undertaken. And here at Nazareth, to conclude, I want to greet all the workers of the world, holding up to them their great pattern, their brother who is God. He is the prophet of all their just causes, Christ our Lord.
I especially want to emphasize Pope Paul’s point that we need to learn silence from the Holy Family. That doesn’t mean that every household should be like a monastery with talking at a minimum all day long. Instead, it might mean that each husband, wife, father, mother, grandfather and grandmother, should learn to spend some quiet moments with the Lord every day as part of the “rule of life” about which the Holy Father speaks: a time set aside, ideally spent in a designated room or prayer space in the home, at the local parish in Eucharistic adoration, or some other reserved quiet space. A time to practice building a spiritual life and relationship with the Lord, speaking to Him from the heart in gratitude for the gift of family, even in times of conflict or difficulty. In this silence, family members should ask the Lord to renew their sense of mission: to please the Lord by making sacrifices for their spouse or children. Parents and grandparents, please don’t be afraid or embarrassed to talk about this with your children and to model it.
But silence can also mean, not an absence of noise, but an absence of “rushing about” – frantically moving from activity to activity, without spending time together as a family just to enjoy each other’s company. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many parents have told me how frantic their time is, especially their weekends: moving from one sporting activity or dance recital to another, with each child going in a different direction from his brothers or sisters. Many families tell me they almost never eat dinner together as a family, except on the very rare occasion of something like a holiday dinner. Because it is so rare they place impossible expectations on the importance of this dinner, in a sense trying to “cram in” the family togetherness that should have been developed gradually throughout the year. There really is no way to build that except consciously to guard your regular family time. Please pray about finding a way to do that.