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Octave of the Nativity

Mt. 2:13-15, 19-23

We don't choose our families. We are at God's mercy in the circumstances of our lives. The mother, father, brothers and sisters we have are all determined by God and it is within our families that our characters and personalities are formed. If we are born into a loving and caring family, the chances are we shall grow into mature and stable human beings. The converse would also be true - if we grow up in a dysfunctional family where we experience little care and love we are likely to be insecure and unstable.

Parents have an onerous responsibility. They have a duty to provide the kind of environment in which their children can thrive and mature. Today we keep the feast of the Holy Family in which Jesus, by living with and submitting to His parents, showed the importance of the family in the clearest possible way. In our modern world the family is under attack as it has never been before; I would find being a parent today very challenging but very rewarding.

How do parents manage to preserve a child's innocence for as long as possible? So many television programmes are shown at hours when children are watching which are not suitable for viewing - the name of God is profaned, bad language is used, broken and dysfunctional families are portrayed as the norm. Teenagers and even younger children are hailed as heroes for back chatting and being blatantly rude and disobedient to their parents. The magazines aimed at young people should be banned for they corrupt their minds. Then there is the peer pressure they face and because some have the latest fashions and computer games your children might feel unloved if you refuse to let them have them.

Little babies can be described as 'angels' and the time that parents have with them when they are tiny soon passes. In my opinion I think young children, certainly up to the age of five, should be with their mothers as much as possible. Mothers should try, again if possible, not to go out to work until their children attend school. It is of the utmost importance for parents right from the birth of their children to give them their time and guidance. That time is so precious and it will never return. It is in those years that they learn how to love, how to be generous, what is right and what is wrong.

That is the time for parents to bond with their children. Parents should teach their children to pray as a family. It is in this setting that they give reasons why they act differently from parents who are too indulgent and have worldly standards. Families should have at least one meal in a day together without the television being on. Parents should supervise what programmes their children watch and magazines they read. I question the wisdom of young people having a television in their bedroom.

Some parents make a rod for their backs when they shower too many presents on their children at Christmas time. The children cannot possibly appreciate them all and will take so much for granted, wanting more and more, not knowing how to express their gratitude for what they have.

What is generally at fault in our world today is a lack of respect for fellow human beings, for the elderly, for authority and for property. Parents are the best people to teach their children to have this respect.

Perhaps we need look no further than the model offered to us by the Holy Family. They lived in dangerous times just as we do. They were utterly committed to protecting their Son whatever the cost, even to go into exile in Egypt. We too must do all we can to protect our children from the influence of the world which, like Herod, is determined to snuff out God's life. The family is the school within which we learn to pray, read His word and obey His commandments.

We tend to stress what is wrong but we must never forget that there are so many parents who do their utmost to do what is right for their children and take their parental responsibility seriously. And for this we thank God.

Lord Jesus, on this feast of the Holy Family, we can pray for all married couples. That God will give them the wisdom, understanding, tolerance and especially patience they need to raise their children for Christ and His kingdom in a world that is growing cold to the Gospel.

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