[by Rev. John Christman, SSS]
When we look at the family in contemporary American society, what do we see? A few years ago I did some research on this topic and was surprised by what I discovered. The New York Times reported a surprising statistic. They said that, “After steadily rising for ve decades, the share of children born to unmarried women has crossed a threshold: more than half of births to American women under 30 occur outside marriage.”1 That’s a large percentage. Now they cited numerous reasons for this, some of them cultural some of them financial. But they nevertheless reiterated a truth I think that we are all familiar with when they reported that, “The shift is affecting children’s lives. Researchers have consistently found that children born outside marriage face elevated risks of falling into poverty, failing in school or su ering emotional and behavioral problems.”2 In addition to these statistics I was also surprised by another report as to divorce rates among older Americans. The New York Times again reported that as of 2010, “About a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or had never been married….”3 In this article they showcased the higher divorce rates among this age group and how it was a change from the past. So the family that Pope Leo was so concerned about when he instituted this feast of the Holy Family is greatly struggling in America today.
And so it is important that today we recall the Holy Family. Mary, Joseph and their son Jesus are indeed an inspirational model for us in di cult times. They too struggled with so many of the realities that many families face. They were faced with hardships. They had to ee their home in a time of political persecution. Moreover, they had to face the fear and anxiety of not knowing where their son was after leaving the temple. I’m sure many parents could empathize with those frightening situations. And yet they persevered. They stayed committed to each other. Mary and Joseph were charitable and loving to each other, even when they didn’t understand all that was happening to them. And what was happening to them was extraordinary. So, how did they do it?
Well certainly we know they were filled with great faith and trust in God. And we also can trust that prayer was an important part of their lives. But what else might they have possessed that would have helped sustained their relationship? I think Saint Paul gives us some tremendous advice about Christian relationships in today’s second reading. He recommends to us the following, “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”What a di erence these can make in a relationship! Imagine how you would feel if you received, “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” He also adds something very important to this list, “forgiveness.” He recommends that we, “bear with one another and forgiving one another.”This, as we all know is not easy advice, but we all know what a gift forgiveness can be, and how much we need it at times. Finally he stresses the importance of love, when he says, “And over all these put on love, that is the bond of perfection.”
Now, of course, doing all of this doesn’t guarantee that problems or di culties won’t surface. But embracing and truly trying to live out these values may make those problems much more manageable. And the a ect that living this way can have upon children and society as a whole can’t be underestimated. As the U.S. Bishops have stated, “A committed, permanent, faithful relationship of husband and wife is the root of a family. It strengthens all the members, provides best for the needs of children, and causes the church of the home to be an e ective sign of Christ in the world.” (U.S. Catholic Bishops, Follow the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message to Families4 Let us all then pray for God’s grace, that we too may be that, “e ective sign of Christ in the World,” because the world needs us!
1 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/us/for-women-under-30-most-births-occur- outside-marriage.html?pagewanted=all accessed December 29, 2012.
3 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/us/more-americans-rejecting-marriage-in- 50s-and-beyond.html?pagewanted=all accessed December 29, 2012
4 http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/ accessed December 29, 2012