Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. Fortunately, most of us value the gift of family. We 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 worked 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 comin’ home, Dad?” The son would repeatedly ask, only to receive the reply, “I don’t know when, 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; meetings; 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, 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 I shall only say, on the part of family and friends, there must be compassion, understanding and healing.
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.
It was at the end of the 80s when many New York hospitals were caring for orphan babies with HIV. Nobody knew what to do with so many children. The idea was floated to ask people to foster care them. In many ways, this seemed impossible because who would want to care for an AIDS baby? Some people didn’t even know how AIDS was spread. However, some stepped forward and often took more than one child into their care. I was often asked to baptize some of these babies. Some churches would not allow me to use their baptismal font for a child with AIDS, therefore I baptized them at home.
We soon realized that the children in foster care were living twice as long as those in the hospital care. At a meeting of the foster care team at a major New York hospital, the head doctor, looking at the statistics, noted the longevity of the foster care children compared to those in hospital. Both groups of children received the same medications, and the nurses did their best to care for these children, but the task was overwhelming: there were so many. A young social worker, having just graduated from school, looked up at the doctor and said, “Don’t you realize, Doctor, the children in foster care have been held; played with; read to. They are 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 whatever grievances you have on one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. And, overall these virtues put love. Make that phone call, take that visit now. Remember the song, The Cat’s in the Cradle: we will get together then. “Then” may never come. Do it now!