By Most Reverend Peter A. Libasci
I remember that as a young pupil in elementary school, Sister taught us to call to mind and to repeat, inaudibly, a refrain that had its own cadence, its own rhythm, and its own ability to form a mental image. “Say over and over to yourselves,” Sister would say, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” She didn’t add, “Pray for us” or any other words at all; only, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.”
It seemed, quite really, that no other words were necessary. Instead, a mental picture formed at the mention of the names: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. This was the Holy Family of Nazareth. The image that came to mind was that of a Holy Child, a Blessed Mother, and a most amazing Husband whose care for his family was a comfort to everyone who heard about him. These were real people. Their stories were not soft and easy tales, but were more often the recounting of a family’s joys and sorrows, tragedies and triumphs, challenges to their deep faith and triumphs of personal heroism born of that faith.
The essential relationship of that Holy Family of Nazareth remains as a recurring refrain which brings to mind the primordial, biological, essential relationship of mother, father and child, and remains today as strong an example as it did two thousand years ago.
As Bishop of Manchester, I write to you and to all people of good will on this occasion when our Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Coming, as it always does, so near to Christmas Day, this Feast holds a special place in our Church’s Calendar. The joyful celebration of the Birth of the Infant Jesus mingles almost immediately with a reflection on the seriousness of family life; joy and serious reflection – seeming opposites – which harmonize into a sacred trust to support, sustain and sanctify life.
In the Book of Genesis, we read that in the beginning, Almighty God said, “Let there be light,” and out of chaos, God took seeming opposites and brought them into a harmony (light/darkness; dry land/water; plant/animal; creeping things/flying things; man/woman). God created an environment that would produce life and sustain life. That first dawn of light that demonstrates God’s creativity and life-giving love even now enlightens human beings to recognize God’s eternal design for life.
In our Liturgy of Christian Marriage, we hear that the love of a man and a woman, “is made holy in the sacrament of marriage” and becomes, at its highest level “the mirror of God’s everlasting love.”
The family relationship is a sacred trust. Throughout life, a person may be fortunate enough to love and be loved by many people, but it is from their mothers and fathers (opposites biologically, as well as in aspects of personality) that children gain their first understanding of the meaning of love, respect, trust, responsibility, human contact, growth, change, God and Faith.
What an enormous responsibility that is for any human being: to try to mirror the love and goodness of God!
Pope Paul VI called the family “a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings; in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute.” Blessed Pope John Paul II called the family “the nucleus of society” or, one might say, society in miniature.
Today many marriages end in divorce. Today, many even avoid marriage altogether. The consequences of sadness, disappointment, conflict, and even desperation make us want to call out again, “Let there be light!” We can feel the unintended but very real consequences of the chaos that has our homes so fractured.
Although many children are raised with great love and sacrifice in situations other than the traditional two-parent family, we would be deceiving ourselves if we thought that society has not felt the impact of these developments. Our parishes, schools, government agencies, charitable organizations are reeling under the weight of dealing with the results of the breakdown of family life.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” I do now add to this prayer: help us to rediscover and strengthen the bonds of marriage and family. Human attempts to replace or redefine marriage do not respond adequately to the present situation of isolation, grief, and confusion. The wisdom of many millennia of human experience is not to cast aside truth, but to uphold it if society is to prosper and find peace.
In this regard, I am encouraged that the New Hampshire General Court will have the opportunity in this coming year to vote to restore the traditional understanding of marriage, and I sincerely hope that the General Court will accomplish this important task. And if such will be the case, then we must, as a people dedicated to the common good, “be there” as our young people say, for married couples and their family bond. May the year 2012 be a year in which we recapture the age-old knowledge of the place of marriage and the family as the foundations of society.
On this Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – I give thanks for all of you: the mothers, fathers, and children who serve as a constant reminder to one another – and to the whole world – that God is indeed here among us and saying ever again and ever more lovingly, “Let there be Light!” for “God saw all that He had made and, indeed, it was very good.”
O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
(Roman Missal Collect for the Feast of the Holy Family)
Diocese of Manchester
The Catholic Church in New Hampshire
153 Ash Street, Box 310
Manchester, NH 03105-0310
Fax: (603) 669-0377
© Diocese of Manchester