Pope Leo XIII instituted this feast in 1892, encouraging societies honoring the Holy Family to be established everywhere. He established this feast day to remind families of the sacredness of the family and to provide the laity with a model upon which to structure their own families.
11. Secondly, the mutual duties of husband and wife have been defined, and their several rights accurately established. They are bound, namely, to have such feelings for one another as to cherish always very great mutual love, to be ever faithful to their marriage vow, and to give one another an unfailing and unselfish help. The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife.
The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties. For "the husband is the head of the wife; as Christ is the head of the Church. . . Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things."(18)
12. As regards children, they ought to submit to the parents and obey them, and give them honor for conscience' sake; while, on the other hand, parents are bound to give all care and watchful thought to the education of their offspring and their virtuous bringing up: "Fathers,... bring them up" [that is, your children] "in the discipline and correction of the Lord."(19) From this we see clearly that the duties of husbands and wives are neither few nor light; although to married people who are good these burdens become not only bearable but agreeable, owing to the strength which they gain through the sacrament.
In 1974 Pope Paul VI wrote, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Marialis Cultus (For the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary):
On the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph the Church meditates with profound reverence upon the holy life led in the house at Nazareth by Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, Mary His Mother, and Joseph the just man (cf. Mt. 1:19).
Marriage and family life - one of the paths towards holiness and heaven. I guess the pitfalls are in the little everyday things of laundry, dishes, meals and just getting on each other's nerves. But the benefits and joys of a loving family supersede all of that.
After six children and one grandchild, Mr. Pete and I are pretty good at carrying some of the burdens of marriage and childhood. We could change bed sheets and clean up vomit in the middle of the night like well-programmed, sleep- deprived zombies. In fact, I think we got to the point where we could handle night time bodily function disasters like a boss - but it wasn't always so. It took time and lots and lots of practice.
We are pretty much through the defiant teen stage, at least for now. Our new challenges include graciously letting our adult children leave our nest, letting them know that we miss them terribly, but without guilt tripping them. It's a balancing act for sure and I have had examples in my own life of one mom who did not do such a great job of it, and my own mother who did.
But whatever doesn't kill us will hopefully make us stronger and even perhaps holier!
And now a word to some of the clergy.
When I was a very little girl, about 4 years old or so, my single mother took me and my baby sister to mass while we were on a short vacation. My sister bumped her mouth on the pew in front of her (as babies do sometimes) and let out a holy holler! My mother quickly comforted and distracted her and she was soon quiet. However, the priest came over to her, in his vestments and told mom that he would not start mass until she left. I remember feeling so bad for my mom who was absolutely mortified and started to cry as we left the church. This made a profound impression on me.
Flash forward about 30 years and Mr. Pete and I were reverting back to the Catholic Church and in the midst of homeschooling, I decided that I wanted to take my children (ages 9, 6, 3 and infant) on a pilgrimage to a shrine about an hour from here. There was going to be mass, lunch, a special talk for homeschool moms, and then a blessing and I think a craft.
I was very excited about this and packed everything I needed (diapers, snacks, games, board books, stroller, blankets) for the entire day. Then I loaded my 15 passenger van and drove some distance to this shrine. Mass was beautiful. I think it was the Byzantine or Mennonite rite, but I can't remember any more. I just remember it was very reverent and I felt very moved and peaceful. I was very much looking forward to the special talk to the moms and hoping to come away from it inspired and refreshed.
But it was not to be.
The priest, instead, took it upon himself to scold us for not making our children sit still during the mass, and for too many interruptions going down the aisle with kids that needed to go to the bathroom, or searching diaper bags for binkies or cheerio bags. And then he looked directly at me. or so it felt. As he continued to rant, I gathered up my four little boys, put the baby and the toddler in the double stroller, and walked out with tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat and rage in my heart.
Years have passed and I now have the benefit of age, time and perspective - and I still think the priest was wrong to do this. So please, Fathers, understand that a mom who dares to venture out with a small children (let alone a few small children) to expose them to the beauties of the faith and the liturgy, needs YOUR love and support - and a sense of humor would be nice too!
Mr.Pete and I share a bit about our family life to Pre-Cana couples every year. Seems appropriate to share it here today on this Feast Day.