Family is especially important to all of us! In the past, when travelling was not readily available and easy, families spent a lot of time together. We played together, went to church together, socialised together, ate together. Nowadays, it is quite difficult to eat together, spend time together, let alone pray together.
Cambodian people are remarkably close to their family and, for many, their parents have a big say in who they can marry and who they cannot. Their biggest feast day each year is Khmer New Year and their family.
Fr Richard Leonard SJ, an Australian Jesuit, once shared a reflection on his family. He wrote:
I once read the works of Jesuit Fr John Powell. In one of his books he wrote, ‘We should never leave this world not having the people that we love know that we love them.’ I do not come from a particularly demonstrative family. We do not make regular declarations of our love accompanied by long hugs. So, I took John Powell’s line as a personal challenge. At the time, my sister was working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and my brother was working in another city, so I wrote them both letters and told them I loved them.
I never heard a word back. That left my mother.
I stayed in one Saturday night and, with my heart pumping and my tummy churning, I approached my mother after dinner while she was watching the news on the TV.
‘Mum, I have something very important to tell you.’ My mother, not taking her eyes from the TV screen, casually said, ‘Oh yes what’s that?’
‘Mum’, I responded, ‘I’ve never told you this before and I need to say it tonight.’ As she slowly turned off the TV and faced me, I could tell there were now two hearts pumping and two tummies churning in that room!
I plucked up all my courage and came straight out with it. ‘Mum, I just want to tell you that I love you.’
And such was her relief that my mother replied, ‘I hope so!’ and quickly turned the TV back on. There were no hugs and kisses, no violins playing or statements about how long Mum had been waiting to hear one of us talk of our love for her.
As I walked back to my room, I thought I would never take John Powell’s advice again!
My brother and sister wrote to my mother asking her what was wrong with me. They all concluded it was a phase I was going through. I hope it is a phase I never get over!
The Feast of the Holy Family we celebrated on 27 December 2020 is about faithful love that looks after the most important people in our lives. We all know that fights and bitterness can wreck families for generations. If the feast means anything it is not about romanticising how difficult family life can be these days. It is about naming that forgiveness, compassion and kindness are the blocks upon which Christian family life is built. Without these virtues, family life crumbles. The best way to honour this feast is to do something about the faithful love it celebrates.
I have often been with people on their deathbeds when they speak about things they have left undone and would have liked to have achieved in their lives. No one ever says that they wish they had spent more time at work. No one says they wish they had made more money. But many people say that they wish they had told those that they love, that they loved them.
We shouldn’t assume that our families know about our love for them if we haven’t said it. If we show it, we should be able to say it. So, write a letter, make a call or go and see them, but let’s pluck up our courage and tell our families that we love them. It’s too late once we’re dead. And the best news is that when we profess our love to our families, we’ll see that this celebration is in fact a moveable feast.
In our family we have a tradition that every Sunday we all get together at mum and dad’s place for dinner. No matter how busy we are, we make Sunday our priority to have a meal together with our parents. Despite me being overseas for 12 years, my siblings have continued this tradition until today. Their kids get on very well with each other and they are much closer together.
When we are facing difficulties and challenges it is our family who remains “through thick and thin” by our side.
We have recently celebrated the “HOLY FAMILY” – Joseph, Mary and Jesus. They also have their own challenges and difficulties. When Jesus was 12 years old, Joseph and Mary returned to their hometown while Jesus remained in the Temple in Jerusalem. They found him three days later and they were quite upset when they saw him again. “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
They go through life with challenges also, however they were quite patient with one another.
We can learn from the Holy Family, that is, how to become a good family despite our flaws and challenges. At the heart and soul of the Holy Family is mutual love and respect, love for God first and then love for each other. This love fosters peace, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, harmony, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as St Paul says in the second reading.
The central meaning of the Feast of the Holy Family is to present the Holy Family as a model for all Christian families. Our family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. Hence, we thank God for the Holy Family and we try to imitate it as best as we can in our own family life. St John Chrysostom urged all Christians to make each home a “family church” and, in doing so, we sanctify the family unit. The best way is by making Christ the centre of our family life.
Finally, there is a saying: “A family that prays together stays together!”
Fr Quyen Vu SJ
Incoming Provincial of the Society of Jesus in Australia
Homily for Feast of the Holy Family, 27 December 2020 at St Ignatius’ Church
Richmond Catholic Parish, Victoria, Australia