Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help (27 December 2014)
It seems apt during this weekend, after a month of reflection about the coming of the Lord and after the very beautiful readings these past days on the birth of Jesus to reflect about the family and what that means to us.. We saw the annunciation, the visitation and the events that relate with the birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus. The common thread that links all these events is the family and given that we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family this weekend, this reflection is quite timely too.
Families are important. They are they first things we come into when we enter this world and are usually last thing we see before we leave it. The many readings that we’ve encountered about families in the Gospels allows us to think about what makes good families and to think about how the Holy Family can be a good model for our own families. And on during this prayer where we contemplate out Blessed Mother, to consider how she provides a model of one who keeps the family together.
Now comes the bad news. We often hear in the news and other media that families are in peril, especially in modern times. We hear complaints from youths of parents being inattentive, unable (or unwilling) to cope with career and family; we hear parallel complaints of children not listening, getting too worldly or engrossed in things electronic and also ignoring their elders. We hear of family units disintegrating, falling apart; we hear of people saying that the institution of families are becoming less relevant. Are families obsolete? I disagree and in the light of Christmas, I feel we’re called to do something.
The Holy Family was not a family with no problems. They had their share of troubles from the get go: pregnancy before marriage, difficulties leading up to childbirth, poverty (shown by their ‘poor’ offering of two doves at Jesus’ presentation), their having to flee from persecution after persecution. This gives us hope. If they were able to maintain their family in spite of all the problems, why can’t we do the same?
We see our Blessed Mother being quite calm and reflective through all the difficulties. It was her contemplative attitude, I feel, that helped hold the family together. What struck me was how she ‘listened and pondered’ things in her heart at all the milestones of her life. This showed how she was open to the workings of God, paying attention to how God might be working through the things and people around and then reflecting on how these could affect us and our relationship with God.
Listening and pondering. Those sound like possible keys to a healthy family as well. Listening – Mary always listened first. To the angels, shepherds, magi, St Joseph, prophets, even her own son at temple and at Cana. She was rarely the first to speak but always the first to listen. Doesn’t that help to lead to understanding? How many conflicts could be avoided if we just listened? Parents often say children are disrespectful but do they listen (truly listen) to what their children say? Children say parents don’t understand them and that there’s a generation gap but do they truly listen to what their parents have to say? We need to communicate well as families and perhaps the first step is to listen and listen well.
Pondering, reflecting – Mary always pondered about what occurred around her. After listening, we need to take things in slowly, to reflect on them. We need to allow the words and actions of ourselves and those around us to sink in so that we can grasp their significance. Mary pondered things ‘deep in her heart’ – a sign that she was able to see God working in all things around her. We need to try to do the same – to ponder and try to see how our own family and friends’ words and actions bring us to God. And to consider how we can do the same, recognising that we can help to bring others to God as as we have been.
What are the fruits of this listening and pondering? We see the ability of Mary to help hold the family together despite all the hardships, to hold herself together through the darkest hours of her son’s passion. Unity of self that leads to the unity of those around. We too can aspire to this as we look to her to guide us through our own difficulties, to give light on how we can build good families for the good of our own society.
I end with a prayer from the daily Office for the Holy Family:
God our Father, in the Holy Family of Nazareth you have given us the true model of a Christian home. Grant that by following Jesus, Mary and Joseph in their love for each other and in the example of their family life, we may come to your home of peace and joy.