While all the Christmas decorations are still cheering us with warmth and bright color, Holy Mother Church celebrates the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. “The family,” wrote St. John Paul, “is a necessary good for peoples, an indispensable foundation for society… it is a unique good for children.” But the family has been in decline for the last 40 years in our country. Children suffer most from infidelity and divorce, but no society can survive long without stable, loving families. More than half of children living in urban areas have no father at home, and in some areas of our nation only one in ten black children ever see their father at home. 75% of American children entering adulthood without the “necessary goods” only a family can provide is a ticking time bomb for the common good and public safety. What to do? Well, as Fr. Patrick Peyton said, and Mother Teresa loved to repeat, “the family that prays together stays together.” We must pray. We must pray together at Sunday Mass, and we must pray quietly in solitude before the Blessed Sacrament, begging God’s help.
“Son, How could you do this to us?”
But let’s take a closer look at the Holy Family. The Gospel on Holy Family Sunday does not portray Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as free of conflict. Rather, we see the one occasion on which Mary expressed what seems like frustration with her Son. He had just become a teen-ager (in those days a twelve-year old boy was already an adolescent). Jesus’ parents had lost him for three days, but it is clear that the boy was not lost; he intentionally separated himself from his parents, knowing the anguish it would cause them. Mary reprimands Jesus: “Son, what have you done to us? Behold your father and I have been searching for you in sorrow.” We should take courage in the fact that even the Holy Family suffered misunderstandings and confusion. Tragically, people often give up when they reach an impasse with a spouse or children. Mary did not panic. She took a deep breath, she closed her mouth, and she accepted what she could not understand (“she kept all these things in her heart”). The boy Jesus, for his part, submitted himself to his parents’ authority, even though he was not bound to do so. None of them insisted on their “rights” to control the situation. They submitted themselves to each other in patient and loving reverence. It is these acts of humility that brought joy and health to the Holy Family.
But most of our families are not healthy. As I mentioned, scarcely one in ten African American children in some parts of urban America know their fathers, and those same children are six times more likely to see their family members murdered than white children. By some statistics, Blacks commit homicides at ten times the rate of whites. Could it be related to the fact that in some areas only one in ten Black children know their fathers? A Latino woman told me on a plane a few years ago that everyone in her family—herself, her second husband, her children, and even one of her grandchildren, have been divorced and in therapy. The scope of devastation when the family breaks down is incalculable.
We can pray for better health
What to do? One thing is to attend church, together. A 2013 article in the NYTimes stated: “Religious attendance boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life. The reason for this is not entirely clear.” The reasons God is good for us may not be clear to the New York Times, but it’s clear to most of us. Many of you have told me with tears how few of your children practice the faith any longer, even after 12 years of Catholic schooling. How to save the American family, and America, if our children won’t even come to church? Well, we can pray for them, and pray for them before the Blessed Sacrament. I’ve known quite a few couples who faced crises in their marriages that would almost certainly end in divorce. One or both simply spent many hours before the Blessed Sacrament, and miraculously they saved their families. Three priests told me in my first week of seminary, when I was 26 years old, that if I didn’t do a holy hour every day, I wouldn’t survive as a priest. Half of the men I was ordained with have left the priesthood, but these were not the priests who did the daily holy hour. What can we do to rebuild the family? Come to the Holy Family, to the Blessed Sacrament. Let us pray.