Month of the Holy Family
February is the month dedicated to the Holy Family, which is quite apt for those of us who celebrate Chinese New Year, which usually falls within this month too. The Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations are focused on family reunions, visiting relatives and cherishing your loved ones, displaying the virtue of filial piety.
Just like Catholics with our Octaves and liturgical seasons drawing out celebrations beyond a single day, the Chinese spend fifteen days feasting for the New Year. Each day has its own significance and rituals which bind families closer together. For example, on the eleventh day, fathers traditionally invite their sons-in-law to dinner. On the twelfth day, married daughters return to their childhood homes to visit their parents.
Since the 17th century, Catholics have devoted this month to celebrating the Holy Family, because the month began on February 2 with the Holy Family travelling together for the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22). This feast, traditionally known as Candlemas, marks the end of the forty days of Christmastide in the old liturgical calendar. Until a few years ago, the Vatican kept their enormous Christmas tree up in St Peter’s Square until this day.
After the Presentation of the Lord, every year the Holy Family went back to Jerusalem to mark the Passover (Luke 2:41). When Jesus was twelve years old, Joseph and Mary went home after the ceremonies and only realised that their son was missing after three days of journeying. Travelling in the busy caravan with many families, they had not realised they had lost God!
Wrapped up in our busy lives, engrossed with study and play, we can also lose sight of God. Like Joseph and Mary, we should then hasten back to God’s house to find Him.
It is said that “family” stands for: Father And Mother, I Love You.
As Catholics, we have been given the commandment: “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
Sometimes, it can be very difficult to honour your parents, particularly when they annoy or frustrate you. Scripture reminds parents: “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and “Do not provoke your children, so they will not become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). At the same time, children are exhorted: “Obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” (Colossians 3:20)
It can be challenging to obey your parents especially if they suffer from a mental illness or trauma making them act irrationally at times, or if they simply do not understand your perspective because of the generation gap. They grew up in a different time and went through their own life experiences. Even loving parents will upset their children at one point or another, as we each have different goals and preferences.
Jesus said to Joseph and Mary when they found Him: “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 1:49)
However, even though the Child Jesus was God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, He submitted Himself to the authority of Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51). Thus in His human nature, He “advanced in wisdom, and age, and grace with God and men” (Luke 2:52). We can learn the virtues of humility and obedience from Jesus.
One way to honour your parents when they are frustrating you, is to distinguish the action from the person. You can still love and honour your parents, even if you respectfully disagree with them. Furthermore, as they have far more life experience than you, they can see pitfalls which you cannot, and it is usually wise to obey them.
The Domestic Church
Our parents receive their authority from God and are conduits of His love and grace to us, just as St Joseph was “the one chosen shadow of God upon earth”, as Father Faber calls him in his hymn to the saint.
God could have chosen to come to Earth as a full-grown man, but instead He became a little child, brought up in an ordinary family. Thus, He became truly as one of us. The family is the basic unit of society, the domestic church in which we learn how to love and serve God and others. It is meant to be a mirror of the Holy Trinity, a communion of love.
We can pray today for the Holy Family to intercede for us to the Blessed Trinity, that our families may be as loving and united as theirs, always putting God first in our lives, allowing Him to sanctify every aspect of our days, every interaction in our relationships.
Pope St John Paul II said: “From contemplation of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the Church draws the values to hold up to the women and men of all times and all cultures… At the school of Nazareth every family learns to be a workshop of love, unity and openness to life.”