A few years ago, I delivered a talk at a Catholic elementary school run by nuns. The talk was for the parents of the students. At the beginning of the talk, I asked the parents, “Without mentioning names, indicate by a raise of hand if you know any priest or nun you feel should not have been ordained or professed because of their behaviors?” Almost everyone in the hall had a hand up. I asked, “Without mentioning names, could you share one thing about the priest or the nun that makes you feel they are in the wrong vocation?” You can only imagine how active the hall became as the parents generously named all that was wrong with priests and nuns. After that lively session of naming the “sins” of priests and nuns, I then asked the parents, “Can you confidently search among your sons and present one of them who is free of all you have said about the priest?” I added, “Would any of your daughters replace the nun you talked about and be free of all the faults you mentioned?” You could hear a pin drop.
Having turned the searchlight on their families, I then explained that priests are not made in the seminary; nuns are not made in the postulancy, novitiate, or convents. Priests and nuns are made from the family. It is the raw material you present to the formators that they work within the seminary and other formation houses. If your child cannot replace that priest or that nun, it means you have a lot of work to do as a parent. Political leaders, future parents/spouses, etc., come from family. The world is what the family is.
As we approach the end of 2023, the Church celebrates the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and gives us the opportunity to reflect on the role of the family in our individual development and the well-being of the larger society. When God became a human being, he came into this world in the context of a particular family. In various areas, we can see the impact of Jesus’ family on his public ministry. For example, at the Annunciation, Mary submitted herself to the will of God when she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” Jesus must have learned that from Mary, for when he taught his followers how to pray, he added, “You will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.” Also, when he was in the garden at Gethsemane, when it became very difficult for him to accept the suffering, he said, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.” He then added, “[Father,] not my will, but your will be done.”
Similarly, when Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant and he had no hand in the pregnancy, he was convinced that Mary had sinned. However, he did not want to disgrace Mary; he wanted to respectfully divorce Mary in private before the angel intervened and gave him the true picture. During his public ministry, when some people brought to Jesus a woman they claimed they caught in adultery, Jesus did not condone the sin. However, he still loved and respected the sinner. It is safe to say that Joseph influenced Jesus in terms of how to respect women and love even the one who might be guilty. Charity begins at home.
It is very easy to sit back, condemn, and be frustrated at the various forms of evil in the world. But if we all get back home to our families to quench the little fires brewing in our families, they will not escalate to the larger society. If every family is fixed, the world would be a better place.
As parents, I would like to ask you. As fathers, think of your daughters based on how you bring them up; if you were to start life all over, would you like to have a girl like them as your wife? As a mother, look at your sons; they will likely become husbands if they have not yet become. If you were to start life all over, would you sincerely wish such a husband for yourself? If not, you need to get back home to do a better job. Amid the rat race, let us find time as a family to put down our cell phones, switch off the television, and listen to one another. Parents, tell your children how you met. Tell them about your upbringing, and listen to your children. Please get to know their struggles, worries, expectations, and joys. Let us compete in kindness, in forgiveness, and love. Above all, let us make Jesus a permanent and central member of our families through family prayers, family bible studies, and active participation in our parishes as families. May our families be like that of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph until we come to our heavenly inheritance through Christ our Lord. Amen.