Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. Fortunately, most of us value the gift of family, treasure it, and understand its importance for both society and church. We live in a fast-paced world. Some with more than one job in order to make ends meet. It is so easy to get lost in our day to day living. And when that happens, we may neglect the family while we work to provide for them. Some of us can remember a song by Harry Chapin, recorded many years ago.
It was called “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” It was a ballad about the relationship between a father and son. The father spent his time and energies making a successful living. The son kept asking for his attention, to be able to share his father’s life. “When you coming home, Dad?” The son would repeatedly ask. Only to receive the reply, “I don’t know when, but we will get together then.” As the boy grew up and the father grew wiser, he began to pose the same questions, “When you coming home son?” Only to receive the sadly predictable reply, “I don’t know, Dad, but we will get together then.”
A friend of mine has a daughter who is a lawyer. She lives a considerable distance from him. Months had passed since he had seen her. He is not a well man, and every day is precious. So he called to ask when she might visit. The daughter detailed a list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him. Her court schedule, meeting, new clients, research etc.
At the end of the recitation, the father asked, “When I die do you intend to come to my funeral?” The daughter’s response was immediate. “Dad, I cannot believe you would ask that of course I will come!” To which the father replied, “Good! Forget the funeral and come now. I need you more now than I will then.” St. Paul gives us a blueprint for family life. He knows that life is not easy, particularly in families. Sometimes we are too close to the people we love to avoid crossed swords and hurt feelings.
That is why St. Paul tells us that forgiveness is the bond that keeps people together through tough times. He is saying that if people treat each other well at home, the chances are they will treat neighbors and strangers the same way.
One cannot speak about family without acknowledging the real fact of divorce. Perhaps this is too large a subject to mention in a Sunday homily. So let me say, on the part of family and friends, there must be compassion, understanding and healing.
And single-parent families are family. The message of Christmas is that we are given a Savior who appeared not with trumpets and clouds but who was born into a family. Families are holy communities. And we are called in one way or another to create holy families. Because this, quite literally, is where the Gospel of Christ begins. Prior to starting my DNFTH (Do Not Fear To Hope) HIV/AIDS Ministry, I was on a committee that was charged with helping children who were born with HIV. Back in those days there was very little known about HIV, how it was contracted or whether or not it was contagious. Which meant that no one wanted these “throw away babies.” The committee came up with the idea that we could start a foster care system for them.
Years later when I checked back on those foster care cases, I noticed a drastic difference. Those who were cared for by a foster family lived longer than those who were left in group homes/orphanages because they had been held, played with, read to and been part of a family.
As we enter a new year, take Paul’s words as a blueprint for family life: clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bear with one another, forgive as the Lord has forgiven you and over all these virtues put on love and make that call, make that visit…now. Remember the song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle…..we will get together then…” “Then” may never come. Do it now!