Lessons from the Holy Family

This past Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family.

What do you think about when you think of the Holy Family--Joseph, Mary, and Jesus? Take a moment. What image of the Holy Family comes to mind?

Which of the following messages do you hear:

  • "Kids, obey your parents."
  • "Teenagers, go to church!"
  • "We have to defend the institution of the family against a state apparatus that wishes to destroy it!"
  • "Silence, love, and discipline."

That last one--silence, love, and discipline--was the message of Pope Paul VI back in 1964, and I think that it's a lesson we rarely hear on this feast.

We need silence. "The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet" Pope Paul VI tells us. We need silence. We need time to be alone with God who loves us. In silence, we hear the Holy Spirit speak to us. Try this: next time you drive somewhere, turn off the radio. Drive in silence and listen for what God has to say.

We need to be people of love. Pope Paul VI tells us that the Holy Family models what family life should be: a community of love and sharing. We share what we have and what we are with the people we love. If you're in the drive through at a Starbucks, pay for the people behind you. If you're walking through the Loop, take some time to talk to the person selling StreetWise. Model the Holy Family by spending time in the presence of another person.

 The Holy Family

The Holy Family


We need discipline. Any spiritual practice requires discipline. It requires commitment. Paul VI reminds us that work is not an end in itself; this is true of the spiritual work we do. Rather, the value of whatever spiritual practices derive from the purpose they serve, and that purpose is to grow in love. Spirituality requires discipline; it requires that we constantly examine our practices to see if they are helping us grow in love. Take some time and look at your practices. Do they make you kinder? gentler? more compassionate? Or do they serve your ego, making you feel holier than everyone else? This is a great practice if you are stuck in traffic or riding the train.

We find it hard to be silent--we'd rather travel with the radio on or listen to a podcast. We find it hard to share ourselves with others--we either have to rush and catch the next train or we think that some people aren't worthy to receive our attention. And discipline is hard work--we can fall into patterns of rote behavior that may be comfortable because they are familiar, but they are no longer transformative.

Try to include silence the next time your travel. Share yourself and your time with someone you meet along the way. Reflect on the effect these things have on you. Your entire commute will then become a prayer.