We gather once again as the Family of God to hear His word from the Bible which is really a love letter from our Heavenly Father that he has written us to encourage us and remind us that we are His children. When I was in the seminary, my father would write me from time to time to encourage me to persevere and he would end with the letters J.M.J., something that his mom, my grandmother, had taught him as a traditional way to end a letter. Even though I was in the seminary I wasn’t very knowledgeable about family and Catholic tradition. Well, I finally asked my dad and he told me that the letters J.M.J. were the initials for the names Jesus, Mary, Joseph. So now I sometimes use these initials at the end of my letters. I am grateful to be enriched by this family tradition.

Today we celebrate the Feast Day of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. God has created the human family and the miracle of keeping alive the human race by the relationship of a man and woman coming together in love and sharing the gift of children. Jesus shows how good and important this plan of God through the family by choosing himself to be born into a family, with a true mother and an earthly father. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were a true family and had all the normal experiences of family life: They ate together, worked together, prayed together, had fun, laughed, cried together, and supported one another in daily life. Mary looked to her husband Joseph for love and protection. Joseph treated his wife as an equal and served her needs. Jesus honored his father and mother and was obedient to his parents as all children should be. He cleaned his room, did his chores, and followed the house rules. Together they all played their role in the family life.

The Holy Family is our model. They were not guided by selfish motives. Joseph who was busy with the business could have easily let Mary do all the work in the house but he loved her and sought to ease her burden by supporting her as much as possible. Mary could have easily nagged Joseph for all his imperfections because we know Mary was conceived without original sin and so was perfect. Rather, she was patient and always supportive of her husband’s role as head of the household, even when things went wrong. And Jesus could have said, “Well I’m God and I don’t have to clean my room, work in the shop or do my homework.” Yet instead he was humble and did not go around acting like he was better than everyone else but did everything with love and showed everyone respect.

Yes, the Holy Family is a great model that we need more than ever. Families today are so easily divided that we need to have the example of the Holy Family, their simplicity of life, their faithfulness to God through all difficulties, their love and support for one another in all circumstances. To all the dads, the example of St. Joseph will help you become better husband and fathers. The Virgin Mary will help all mothers be better moms and wives. And Jesus will help children be better children and all of us to be better human beings, more faithful children who are obedient to God. No doubt, children are more rebellious these days because of the break down of the family. They don’t respect authority. They don’t know the virtue of obedience. That is why good and faithful parents should teach their children about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph every day, to help them learn the virtues of what St. Paul spoke of: “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another,” (Col. 3:12 2nd Rdg) as Christ forgives us. Kids need to be taught to be thankful for all they have, to keep a peaceful heart when they can’t have what they want, and above all to put on love.

Sometimes the loving thing to do as parents is to admonish your children when they get out of line. Parents don’t do this simply to prove authority, but to loving protect children from the consequences of bad actions, even when it hurts their feelings sometimes. The goal is to teach them what St. Paul tells his spiritual children in the Second Reading: “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17) As your pastor, I see all of you as my spiritual children who I want to grow in the Lord through the preaching of the Word, teaching the faith, feeding you with the Body and Blood of Jesus, and serving your families. I want you all to be holy families! And that is why you call me “father,” not as some title like a “doctor” or “judge.” It isn’t just a show of respect but a recognition that as members of this parish you are part of the family of God. Sure, as with any family there are certain basic obligations that we follow but we find joy in doing them because we do it as a family. I want to praise all of you who have been faithful to Jesus this Christmas, coming together as the family of God to celebrate the Mass of the Birth of our Lord and Savior. We had beautiful Masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and I thank all who supported them through decorating the sanctuary or serving in other ways. I was very inspired! I am sure many who weren’t here had the opportunity to go to Mass with family in other parishes.

I also want to admonish those who missed mass without a serious reason. I say this not for some show of authority on my part, I certainly don’t enjoy saying it. But I say it out of love because I take my role as spiritual father very seriously, like St. Joseph in the Gospel. If he did not follow the Lord’s command and protect his family, they would have been placed in grave danger and maybe even killed by Herod. Today our Church remember that awful event of the Holy Innocents whom died by the hands of Herod, who was supposed to be the fatherly protector of his people. Those who neglect their faith put themselves in danger of spiritual death. And so it is my duty to look out for your spiritual good and to remind everyone of their promise to the Lord, to follow his commands. But I also want to encourage you in the Lord that the sacrifice of your time is worth it. God will reward you with a gift of his grace at Mass. What a great gift and privilege we have to gather each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation as a family to celebrate our faith. We shouldn’t just go because we are obligated but because we love the Lord and we want to thank him and praise him and receive the great gift of his love. The next Holy Day of Obligation is this January 1st when we celebrate the Mother of God, Mary, who is our spiritual mother. We’ll do it as a family.

Again, the Holy Family is our model. They went through some tough times together: Having to leave their hometown for the Census. Not being able to find a room in Bethlehem. Jesus being born in cattle stall. Then having their life threatened and having to flee to Egypt. But through all these trials they actually grew closer together. I know all you face many trials in your own family life. Know that as you remain faithful to God and one another, you will actually grow in holiness, happiness, and peace. This is my prayer for all of us. And as your spiritual father I pray for you all the time, everyday! Lately, I have been praying a novena that we may grow more holy here at St. Bernadette. It is a prayer to the Holy Family and perhaps you can use it with your own family:

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, be with me in my last hour. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with you. Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy. Blessed be St. Joseph, her most chaste spouse. Amen.

St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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