So who here likes wedding movies? Not me. But I do know that often in the wedding movie the bride chucks the bouquet to be caught by the next one to be married. A couple of days ago I saw the bride to something with her bouquet I have never seen before. Now when two Catholics get married, near the end they often kneel at the altar of the Virgin Mary to place their marriage under her protection, and the bride places her bouquet at the Virgin’s feet. This time I saw something even more beautiful. They did not go to the Marian altar. They went to the crib, where not only Mary, but also St Joseph and the child Jesus was. Because – of course you would: having, in their vows, just become a new family, they go to the Holy Family.
What this couple teaches us is what today’s Feast is all about. God, the prime-mover in the liturgy, tells us that families are extremely important. But in today’s Collect God teaches us three other things:
- O God, who were pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family: in other words, there is such thing as a model family. It is the Holy Family, the way St Joseph, the Blessed Virgin, and Jesus lived their family life.
- Graciously grant that we may imitate them in practising the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity: our very Christianity requires of us to constantly strive to imitate them in how we live our family life.
- and so, in the joy of your house, delight one day in eternal rewards: family life has a point and goal. Interestingly, the point of family life is not children. Or Grandchildren. Or that family comes first. Of course not – because none of these things are capable of satisfying our desire for happiness. Rather the point and goal of family life is to make us holy like and with God forever.
So how do we imitate the Holy Family? Our First Reading points out that one key element is to recognise that children are a gift. This means married couples are called to be generous in their openness to children. This is what the mum in the First Reading, Hanna, teaches us in her desire: Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son, and called him Samuel ‘since’ she said ‘I asked the Lord for him.’ But if children are truly a gift that means that we have no right to have a child. Of course this must be so: because True Love never makes a person something I can demand or get – rather, just as I have no right to be married, but must wait to receive a person who is given to me, so with children I remain open to receive and respect the mystery of a person I may or may not be given. Again, this is what Hanna teaches us: This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him.
The first reading and psalm also teach us another secret of family life: Let your child follow their own vocation. Your child is not you: so they will be different to you. So let them be different. This means, for example, that you don’t plan out your child’s career for them. Certainly as parents, we are called to educate them: but this means to help them discover who they are and what they are best made to do – be it in the sciences, or the arts, or building things, or sport – or serving God as a priest or consecrated. For the sole point of this education is to lay the groundwork for their own freedom to blossom as the unique person they are.