Bottom line: The person who honors father and mother will receive great blessings. The Holy Family can help us fulfill that commandment.
God tells us, "honor your father and mother." For some people that command is easy. For others it is very difficult. Still, God does not say "honor your parents - unless you belong to a disfunctional family." Nor does he say, "honor one parent, but not the other." No, he simply tells us to honor our parents.
In today's first reading, Sirach gives some strong motives for honoring one's father and mother. He says that if you honor your father, God will hear your prayers and forgive your sins.* Now that is pretty good, but there's more. Sirach - together many books in the Bible - says that if we honor our parents, God will give us earthly blessings. He will give us something all of us want: "riches" or at least a sufficiency so one will not have to live with crushing debts or fall into poverty and misery. Moreover, to the person who honors his parents, God will grant a long life.
When I was young, I thought if I lived to sixty, that would be a pretty long life. Now that I am sixty-one, I want to live longer. God says that the way to a long life is to honor ones parents - whether they are alive or deceased. I hope that the Masses I offer for my mom and dad not only help them, but also help me. God, after all, has made some pretty strong promises to those who honor their parents.
That desire to honor father and mother is something God has planted deep in each of us.. Every culture evidences the instinct to reverence ancestors, beginning with ones own parents.** That instinct has not disappeared in the twenty-first century. The most popular story of our time takes that urge as its underlying theme. Almost all of our children have read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies about his adventures. For sure, they attract children because they describe an enchanted world where a boy gets back at those who bully him. But on a more fundamental level, the stories receive their dynamism from Harry Potter’s search for his father. He believes that his father is good – and desires to honor him.
God put the desire in our hearts for a reason. It is not too strange when you think about it. That instinct helps create an enduring family - and family is the place where God teaches us love. Love, above all, means embracing those who are different.
We chose our friends, but we find ourselves in a family. Friends come together because of similar interests. What members of a family have in common are each other. Older sister and little brother are practically two distinct species. Like a pony and a kitten, they wouldn't naturally associate with each other. Similarly an elderly father and his grown son occupy very different worlds. It is family which brings the mix together. Love that makes the mix work. The family exists so that different beings might learn love. G.K. Chesterton expressed it this way:
The men and women who, for good reasons and bad, revolt against the family, are, for good reasons and bad, simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable, like mankind. Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind. Grandpapa is foolish, like the world; he is old, like the world.
The most wildly diverse family is the one we celebrate this Sunday. The gap between Jesus and his Mother is greater than the distance between an archangel and a worm. He is God, she is a creature. Likewise, the difference between Mary and her husband is greater than that between any two other human beings. She is sinless, conceived without original sin. Joseph, though certainly among the best of men, was like you and me, a sinner.
Compared to the Holy Family, the diversity within our own families is small. But God wants to weld that diversity into a unity. It requires sacrifice – which is another word for love. I know that it is not easy. When you feel down, discouraged, I ask you to say to yourself, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph.” The devil will flee – and you will again be able to face the great challenge: to love, to become family.
It only makes sense when you think about. Jesus fulfilled all the commandments. He honored his mother and St. Joseph, his guardian. As his disciples, he wants us to honor the Virgen and her spouse. And they will help us to honor our own mother and father.
*Sirach says one should care for one's father "when he is old...even if his mind fail..." Some U.S. citizens imagine that Medicare and Social Security have relieved children of this obligation. If you think that way, you might want to take a closer look at our system. There is no Social Security "lock box." Social Security and Medicare are not insurance programs. What the Baby Boomers have been paying into the program has gone to support the "Greatest Generation." The Social Security program does currently have a "surplus" but it has been loaned to the government, which of course has a debt much greater than the Social Security surplus. The care Baby Boomers receive will ultimately come from the earnings of Generation X - and Y. Even though we have spread things out to a greater population, when all is said and done, we are dependent upon our children for the care we receive in our old age.
**Those who believe that evolution explains everything would probably say that, even though animals don't evidence the same instinct, it has to have some survival value for humans. But one must ask: What is the survival value in caring for people who are beyond their reproductive years? Something more than replicating genes is at work here.
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