In this beautiful homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year B, Father Hanly shows us how the family is the arena in which we learn how to be Christians.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21
Gospel: Luke 2:22-40 or 2:22, 39-40
(Beginning missing) a certain latitude to make mistakes. You’re allowed to, maybe what you’re really allowed to do is to learn a little deeper what it means to be a member of a family.
And if you learn how to become a member of your own family, then you’ll know what it means to become a member of a family such as the church. (inaudible) the same kind of honesty.
Speak the truth in love, as Paul said, “Speak the truth in love.” If you can’t speak the truth in love, don’t bother speaking at all, because it may be hurtful and sharp. If you do not love the person, of course, there’s no way you can ease the pain of giving them perhaps the truth that must be learned and must be taught.
Anyhow, you can go on on this subject all day, but the main thing about families is this: that this is the arena in which we learn how to be Christians. Aside from learning not to play with matches, and not to have bad manners at the table, and not to hit your little sister or beat up your big brother, you’re learning how to be patient, how to be understanding, how to be kind, how to be compassionate.
And for some strange reason, we’re much, much more tolerant of our own brothers and sisters than we are of people outside. Because we know them a little bit better, and because we’ve seen them cry, and we’ve seen them weak, and we’ve seen them frustrated, and we’ve seen them with all the pain and sorrow and loneliness that they will find one way or another through life.
And that is when a family begins to really become a family. It’s not perfect. It’s very imperfect. But it is a place (inaudible) is best done.
And so we should be very careful with each other in a family. And we should be very, very cautious about judging, because, as you know, families are places where very strong judgments are made and very often unfair ones. Especially sometimes when parents expect their children to live up to the high ideals and a level of achievement that they themselves can’t even obtain. And this can be a difficulty.
And also the teenagers. Teenagers are half way up the ladder of life. They’re trying to learn what it means to be an individual. And trying to overcome that kind of solace they felt when they were just little kids and everything (inaudible) children.
Patience for them, but also there must be patience, and very patient, for the old. Now I’m going to end this little essay, because it could go on forever, on old people, since I, very recently, have become of the status of an authority on what it is to be old. I think I would like to end with the old people.
Someday, all of you are going to be old. So you should learn that very early. If your mother’s old grandma, grandpa are really giving you a hard time, what you should say to yourself is, “Someday there will be me. And I hope I have a grandchild who cares and forgives and understands. “
There are great strengths in being old. You actually don’t have to do all those terrible jobs you had to do when you were young. Nobody expects you to do large amounts of things. They also don’t expect you to know anything. Apparently, as you get older, people think that you really haven’t learnt too much, because maybe you don’t fit into the present scheme of things.
But here’s my favourite old folks’ story.
Samuel Bernstein was a very good friend of the family. His whole family … His son became a rabbi and he was just a Brooklyn Jew. And he used to sell chestnuts on the street. And that’s how he managed to support his family.
He told me one time, we were talking about old people, and he looked at me and he says, “I’m going to tell you a very ancient Jewish story about old people and you’re never to forget it,” because I was only about thirteen or fourteen at the time. And I never did. And here’s how the story goes.
Maurice Cantor and his wife were very well to do people. And they had a little son who was a very nice little boy, six or seven years old. There was an old grandpa who lived with them, too. That was okay, because you should take care of the old grandpa as well. And everybody knows that to be a good Jew you take care of old people.
Anyhow, the trouble with Grandpa was, as he got older, he got a little shaky. And very often the food, instead of going into his mouth, would roll down his bib, because they had to put on a bib like the babies have. And Maurice said to his wife that this was not perhaps the best way to treat Grandpa. Because he used to have a way of funny conversations and he had all the bad habits of somebody who’s trying to wonder where he is right now sometimes.
Anyhow, they had a great plan: over the garage where they parked their cars, they fixed up on top of the garage a very nice little place just for Grandpa so he could watch television up there, and be at home up there, but most of all he could eat up there, because whenever they had guests they couldn’t have Grandpa, so they would hide him in the kitchen.
So they put him up there and the little boy, every supper, every evening meal, they would fill this little wooden salad bowl with Grandpa’s supper and they would say to the little boy, “Why don’t you go and bring this to Grandpa.”
And so he’d go up. And he loved to go up to Grandpa, because Grandpa had all these great stories and he was really fun to listen to. And so the boy and Grandpa would be up there for supper time. And then, when Grandpa finished his meal, the little boy would come down.
Well, this was a daily operation, and the little boy loved it, and it seemed to solve all the problems.
So one day it was Mr Maurice’s birthday and all his very important and rich friends were going to come and celebrate his birthday. So they asked Grandpa to go up to his room. And the little boy came down just in time for the guests.
Oh, it was a great party. Everybody was dressed to the nines and feeling very flashy and intelligent and witty and drinking rare wine.
And then they opened the birthday presents. And they were lavish birthday presents, beautiful birthday presents.
And everybody was feeling good until the little boy, he said, “Here’s my present, Daddy.” And his father says, “You don’t have to give me anything, you’re my son.” And he said, “No, I’ve been waiting, I want to give you this.”
Well, he opens the package and in it is a little wooden bowl.
The father said, “Where did you get this, child?” And he said, “I made it myself.” He was so proud of his little bowl. And he said, “Well, what is it for?” And the boy said, “It’s for when you get old and my son is going to bring your supper.”
And he meant it with great kindness.
Yes, why is it good?
Because the little boy felt like this was a wonderful thing to give to a father. The difference was he loved his grandfather and he loved his father and he thought his own son would have the same feeling.
But, of course, his father felt terribly ashamed in front of all the guests, because the purpose was not to love the old man, the purpose was maybe to get rid of somebody that wasn’t good enough anymore.
That story, go home and think about it.
Jesus says, “To learn how to love is to learn how to be kindly, accepting, loving and caring, but most of all it is to make people feel that they are loved and cherished by God. Not by (inaudible), but by the way we treat them.”
Another story tells us when Jesus knelt down at the Last Supper to show his respect and love. And he chose to be with them. He was on his knees and he washed their feet and he dried their feet.
And he wasn’t playing a game.
What he was saying was: “This is your great value, when you learn one thing, when you learn how to love the way God loves, when you learn to love as I have loved you.
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This homily was delivered on 28th December 2008.
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