As we move into the year 2021, we do so with a great deal of hope. The year 2020 will be long remembered for the coronavirus crisis and the many effects which it had in the world and in our personal lives. We realize that the crisis is not over by any means, but with the availability of vaccines as well as continued measures of safety, we eagerly look forward to the resolution of the crisis in the current new year. Pope Francis stated in his January 1 message for the 54th World Day of Peace, “The year 2020 was marked by the massive Covid-19 health crisis, which became a global phenomenon cutting across boundaries, aggravating deeply interrelated crises like those of climate, food, the economy and migration, and causing a great deal of suffering and hardship.” One of the greatest sufferings during the year was the isolation from others and, in a particular way, from our families which we experienced. As we look to the future, we realize even more the centrality of the family who are made in the image and likeness of God and of the importance of strengthening family life as given to us by Him.
The Pope has given us many opportunities to concentrate upon the family during the year 2021. He has dedicated the period from December 8, 2020 through December 8, 2021 as the Year of St Joseph. Certainly, as we look to St. Joseph, we are reminded of the centrality that he possessed in the lives of Jesus and Mary, both as a husband and foster father. As Pope Francis expressed in his Apostolic Letter opening the Year of St. Joseph, With a Father’s Love, “The greatness of St. Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of St. John Chrysostom, ‘at the service of the entire plan of salvation.’” St. Joseph certainly is an essential element of the life of the Holy Family.
On January 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Pope Francis gave a public audience in which he referred to a particular Nativity scene where Jesus is not lying in the crib but being held in the arms of Mary. The Pope reflected, “We see that Jesus is not in the crib, and they told me that the Madonna said: ‘Won’t you let me hold this Son of mine a bit in my arms?’ ‘this is what the Madonna does with us: she wants to hold us in her arms to protect us as she protected and loved her Son.” I personally was moved by one Nativity scene in which Joseph is holding Christ in his arms with Mary looking lovingly at her divine Son. The tender and embracing love of Mary and Joseph with Jesus is as essential to their relationship with Him as is that same love for children in the life of any family. God became one of us and in doing so pointed to the centrality of family life and of tender love as the center of it.
In his Angelus message on the Solemnity of the Holy Family, on the Sunday after Christmas this year, Pope Francis expressed that, “It is good to reflect on the fact that the Son of God wanted to be in need of the warmth of a family, like all children. Precisely for this reason, because it is Jesus’ family, the family of Nazareth is the model family, in which all families of the world can find their sure point of reference and sure inspiration.” In this context, the Pope also announced that this year of 2021 would commence a special time, beginning on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, for reflection upon the family especially as articulated in his Apostolic Letter on the family, Amoris Laetia, of which March 19 will be the fifth anniversary. The Pope expressed, “Let us entrust this journey, with families all over the world, to the Holy Family of Nazareth, in particular to St. Joseph, the devoted spouse and father.”
Perhaps this holiday season, when we were not able to be with our families in the usual way, we realized even more how important family life is to us. It is in the family that, even with the imperfections that can be found there, we are ultimately accepted as who we are with all of our own faults and imperfections. It is especially this message of love and acceptance in the family which needs to shine forth in our world as the meaning of what family is all about and of the essential need that we have for family. Pope Francis is the first to acknowledge the limitations of human failure in marriage and family life, but emphasizes that these do not undermine family love in anyway but only strengthen it.
In his Angelus message for the Solemnity of the Holy Family this year, the Pope gave good advice to families which emphasizes the nature of true love in a family. He said, “In the family there are three words, three phrases that must always be held dear: ‘Please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘I am sorry.’ ‘Please,’ ‘so as not to be intrusive in the life of others. Please: may I do something? It is alright with you if I do this? Please. Always, so as not to be intrusive. Please the first word. ‘Thank you’: so much help, so much service is granted to us in the family: always to say thank you. Gratitude is the lifeblood of the noble soul. ‘Thank you.’ And then, the hardest to say: ‘I am sorry.’ Because we always do bad things and very often someone is offended by this: ‘I am sorry’ ‘I am sorry.’ Do not forget these three words: ‘please,’ ‘thank you’, and ‘I am sorry.’ If in a family, in the family environment there are these three words, the family is fine.” Pope Francis has given this advice on many other occasions.
As we begin this new year with hope, it is good for us to reflect upon the importance of family life for each of us. While the pandemic may have caused us to be separated from our families in different ways, we need to appreciate their gift and to nurture each member of our family in love. We need to strive to give our families what is best for them, which is unconditional love. As we make New Year’s resolutions, we should make them in terms of appreciating and strengthening our families through the simple means which are available to us. As Pope Francis expressed in his Holy Family Angelus message, “We are called to rediscover the educational value of the family unit: it must be founded on the love that always regenerates relationships, opening up horizons of hope.” It is in our families that we are unconditionally accepted and that we accept others. This is always the path to hope for this year and every year.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 8, 2021