On Christmas Day we celebrated the birth of Jesus the Word of God as a human being. He entered our world as part of a family, so it has become customary to focus on the Holy Family on the Sunday after Christmas.
That there is a crisis in the modern family is hardly news. One positive and constructive way of approaching the crisis is to look at it in light of todays Scripture readings. They treat three topics of great contemporary interest: the responsibility adult children have to care for their aging parents, the responsibility parents have to provide for their young children and the values and virtues that should animate family life today.
One of the Ten Commandments, Honor your father and your mother, is primarily addressed to adults with regard to their own parents. The reading from the book of Sirach is an extended reflection on that commandment and provides good reasons for observing it. It is no secret that Americans today are living longer than ever before, in large part because of new medicines and better medical care. But great scientific advances often bring with them their own problems. Now we find that many middle-aged adults face a double set of often burdensome responsibilities: to both young children and aging parents.
Todays passage from Matthew 2 places before us Joseph as a model of a caring and watchful parent. The Matthean account of Jesus infancy features much fear and suffering as well as some very dangerous traveling. To escape King Herod, the Holy Family flees from Bethlehem to Egypt and eventually returns not to Bethlehem but rather to Nazareth in Galilee. Today hardly a day goes by without a report of adults being arrested for abusing or even killing children. These are dangerous times for children, and being a caring and watchful parent has become increasingly challenging. Joseph and Mary are models for parents of all ages of fidelity and concern for the safety and welfare of their child.
The instruction to wives to be subordinate to their husbands in Colossians 3 captures the attention of most people today. It is not as bad as it may sound and can be explained historically and theologically. It may, however, distract from the whole passage with its list of the values and virtues that should be learned in the context of Christian family life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace and gratitude. These are the family values that parents today should cultivate, exemplify and hand on to the next generation. No legacy is more important to pass on than these family values and virtues lived out in the Lord. (For my comments on the readings for the Solemnity of Mary, Jan. 1, see America, 12/19/06.)
• What aspects of family life are most enriching for you? What aspects are most challenging?
• How do you understand the commandment to honor your father and mother?
• What family values do you try to hand on to the next generation?