The following text is taken from Fr. Michael McGourty's homily, as delivered on the Feast of the Holy Family.
Every year, on the first Sunday following Christmas, the Church celebrates the beautiful feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The purpose of this beautiful feast is to remind each and every one of us that the most important place where we are to encounter God's love for us is within the family. Like all of us, Jesus was born into a human family so that we might all be reminded that it is first and foremost within the family that we are to make Christ's love present to our brothers and sisters and where we are to encounter the love and acceptance that we all desire and long to know. This beautiful feast is to remind all of us that every family—mine and yours—is a sacred place where God's love is to be encountered.
There are some who might hear this beautiful message about the family and believe that it does not apply to their family because theirs is not like other families. No family is like other families. Each family is unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses. Jesus' own family is made up of a woman who had a child by a virgin birth and that child's guardian, St. Joseph. Today families are made up of married, divorced, remarried, widowed and single parents. Some families have no children, other families have many children and some even have children from different marriages and parents. This is not what makes a family sacred. What makes the family sacred is that it is the place in which those who live together within a particular family are to love and nurture one another so that God may be born there and made present to the different members within it.
Ultimately, families are to be a place where the members receive love and nurturing. The family is to be the place where each member is safe and respected. Even though Jesus' own family had nothing, he was safe because of the loving care of his family. As we celebrate this beautiful feast and share time with our own families over Christmas, perhaps each of us can examine our relationship with our own family to determine how well we are loving and caring for one another.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says a number of very powerful things about the family and its importance in the life of each Christian. It says at number 1655: "Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family of Joseph and Mary, the Church is nothing other than 'the family of God.' From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those who had become believers 'together with all their households'." The family is the "domestic Church" where each person ought to know and encounter their value as God's beloved children. I once heard a wonderful homily that spoke of the four sayings that ought to be spoken in every healthy family with great regularity. These expressions are: 1) "I love you;" 2) "thank you;" 3) "I am sorry;" and 4) "I forgive you." As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, I would like to say a few words about each of these expressions and ask you to reflect upon whether or not they are playing a significant enough role in the life of your family.
1. "I love you."
Each human being is made in the image and likeness of God. God is love. The most basic need of every person is to be loved and to know that they are accepted for who they are. God loves each of us uniquely. If we do not find love in our families, we will go looking for it somewhere else. The family is the domestic Church where God invites us to encounter and show His love. It is so important that we tell our family members that we love them and that we do it frequently. This is one of the basic reasons that God gave us the ability to speak; that we might use our words to speak and build people up in love and charity. The expression of this love in the family is necessary for happy and healthy development and the maintenance of healthy relationships.
2. "Thank you!"
A basic virtue of our Christian faith is gratitude. We are called to be grateful for all that God has done for us. We should be grateful for all that God has done for us in and through our families. We all gain life through our families. Much of who we are as people comes about as a result of our families. Resentments can build up when people do not say thank you and take other people and the things they do for granted. It is such a basic human virtue to show gratitude. Sometimes I think just saying "thank you" to people can change the whole way in which relationships exist.
3. "I am sorry."
People get hurt in family life. Whenever people live together there are expectations and hopes that are not met, and sometimes cannot be met. We are all weak and fail at times. We need to be able to say "I am sorry" and "I was wrong, please forgive me." It is often the failure to recognize that we have done wrong or hurt someone that causes the greatest pain and sorrow in family relationships. So much pain can be avoided by a simple "I am sorry." Even in the holy family, there were times that Mary and Joseph did not understand what Jesus was up to— we see this as He stays back to preach in the temple at the age of 12. The ability to say we are sorry when we have hurt another person allows relationships to grow, strengthen and remain healthy and positive.
4. "I forgive you."
Throughout the scriptures Jesus makes it clear that if we cannot forgive, we will not be forgiven. We pray this every time that we pray the "Our Father," asking that Jesus forgive us as we forgive others. In this prayer, we actually ask that God will give us the same forgiveness that we have extended to others. So many families are torn apart by the unwillingness of members to forgive another family member. Forgiveness is not something we do for others. It is something that we do for ourselves. When we forgive someone we do not allow their actions to continue to have power over us. So often we can have our days ruined by the anger we feel against someone and they do not even know we are thinking about them. When we forgive someone, we are no longer allowing them to have power over us. God invites us to forgive so that we can know His peace in our lives. The Lord cannot dwell in a heart that is filled with hatred and anger. Healthy family life depends upon our ability to forgive those who have hurt us so that we can continue to love and grow within the family.
This Christmas is a tremendous time to tell our family members how much we love them and to strive to improve our relationships with them. Perhaps we could all look at these four expressions and ask which of them we need to say more often. This weekend is a good time as we prepare to begin a new year to express these sentiments to those we may have failed to share them with over this past year. I pray that we may all cherish our families and strive to make them places where God's love is made present and experienced. May Christ always be present in each of our families!
In some ways, the parish family of St. Peter's in Toronto has become my second family. I want to thank everyone for the many cards and gifts which I have received over this beautiful Christmas season. I wish I could thank each person individually. Thank you very much.
At this time of the year so many people contribute so generously to all of our many different celebrations. I would like to thank them on behalf of all of us. The parish musicians, the coordinators of the children's pageant, our young people, the lectors, Eucharistic ministers, ushers, counters and the many people who look after our church, have all given so much of their time to make our parish community such a beautiful place to celebrate Christmas. All those who donated money for the purchase of flowers and those who decorated the church and the many people who donated gifts and time to the Winter Welcome Table outreach are also to be thanked for making Christmas more enjoyable for so many in our community.
To the many who give so much to our parish each year, I wish to say THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!! All that you do does so much to make our parish a family of faith. I consider myself so fortunate to be in this beautiful family of faith.
Let us pray that God will continue to bless our family of faith and each of our families this Christmas and throughout 2019.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Fr. Michael McGourty is the Pastor of St. Peter's Parish in Toronto.