A sermon on the Holy Family by St Jean-Marie Vianney for the Feast of The Holy Family
Beloved in the Lord! Our Holy Father stands on a watchtower and looks down upon his children with enlightened eyes. He is aware of the melancholy fact that family life is in a disturbed and wavering condition. For this reason he draws our attention toward the Holy Family at Nazareth, and calls upon all the faithful of the entire world to join the Society of the Holy Family, which he has inaugurated. In plain words, we will now consider: the foundation of the family, what it is, and what it should be, the reason of its ruin, as well as the means of its restoration. May God bless my words at the intercession of the Mother of God and St. Joseph!
The family is the most ancient institution which God founded in Paradise, when He called the first pair of human beings into existence. The first blessing which God gave was for the well-being of the family. With family life the history of the world commences. In the course of centuries many dynasties have been established and mighty kingdoms founded; they lasted for a short while, and have disappeared. An institution, however, which has not been destroyed by the many revolutions of time, is the family; generations come and go, but family life remains. It outlasts everything, until, finally, the whole of humanity will at the end of time be divided by God into two great families; God’s family in heaven, and the devil’s family in hell. As it was at the commencement, so will family life be the end of the world’s history. In the little word family there reposes happiness and peace for some, and likewise for the greater part of mankind, at the same time, however, also misery and curses, heaven and hell.
The family received from God a threefold mission: The care of the material life, the spiritual life and the supernatural life. We will to-day, in particular, consider closer the two last questions, because by the very fact of this great duty being neglected the ruin of the family must follow in consequence, bringing with it a miserable eternity for parents and children.
It is, of course from a natural standpoint, understood that when man is born into the world, he should receive all the bodily care possible which the state of life will allow. Protection and attention in health and sickness are indispensable to him. The benevolent, loving and inventive care of a family, how it beautifies and makes easy man’s path through life! In his old age he longs for this family, and he would wish to close his eyes in its bosom.
But, with the material care alone, the problem of family life is not solved; man does not attain the goal by strength and height of body. He requires as a thinking being, provided by God with a free will, spiritual care also, instruction in that which is good, so that he can fulfil his mission and attain his object. He was created not only for this earth, but, also, for a higher everlasting life; he must find one day his bliss in God. For this reason it is, above all things, necessary that he should know the means that are indispensable for him to this end – and that is the knowledge of the commandments of God, or, in one word, Religion. But how is it in most families with this, the most important thing of all? God says: Strive first after justice, and all things else shall be given you. How seldom is this divine command observed. Prayers have been forgotten, and the church is only known from the outside. Ought we to be astonished if the peace of God has disappeared from the hearts of parents and children; if the hands, instead of being clasped in prayer, are lifted up for acts of violence; if blasphemous curses are uttered?
The foundation of many families takes place often in grievous sins. Therefore, I cry out to you, beloved Christians, that: Christ must come back again into the family! The Holy Trinity cannot give its blessing to a modern marriage which is not contracted filled with the spirit of the Holy Family at Nazareth. People enter into matrimony without the necessary preparation. They neither take counsel with God nor the Church; they are occupied with the dowry, and arranging everything as well as they possibly can; for the Church, the hearts of the young couple can find no time. So long as there is a suitable maintenance, everything else is of minor importance. Whether their life partner is of the same religion as themselves, or whether he knows anything at all about religion, is a matter which does not interest them. They receive the Sacrament of Penance and the Holy Eucharist unworthily, and enter the married state with a threefold sacrilege upon their souls. They discover only too soon in their wedded life that, not true love, but passion; not happiness, but, instead, a material and spiritual misery, has come to stay with them. Just look around in the homes of so many newly married couples. In the houses of the wealthy, what luxury; in the apartments of the middle class, what extravagance; even in the rooms of the poor, how many wants have been gratified of which our simple ancestors knew nothing! But we look in vain in most families for any signs of Christianity. The holy water font which formerly was to be found in every room is hardly ever seen nowadays. The pictures of Christ and His Blessed Mother have had to make way for worldly and indecent representations. We seek in vain for a crucifix. The literature corresponds with the prevailing spirit of the household. The Catholic press is entirely ignored; it is inconvenient to have the mind led to serious subjects, to be reminded of the transitoriness of all things earthly, and of the reward beyond. Ungodly novels and magazines, dulling to the souls, inimical to religion, and newspapers which stupefy our moral sense, are the mental food. Do not tell me that these are only exterior signs; they affect the heart. At any rate, by considering these things, we learn to know the prevailing spirit of the household. Where are the morning and night prayers, which formerly were said in common by every family? Or, where this is not possible, do the children ever see their parents kneel down to say their prayers? How do they keep Sundays and Holy days?
To all this I hear the simple answer: We have not time for all this, but the good will is not wanting. In reply to this I must draw attention to the crowded liquor saloons, theatres, and places of amusement; it does not look as if people had neither time nor money.
O dear Christians! You enter the married state without God, and you desire to remain in that state without Him. What is the result? These days of pleasure are followed too soon by days which are for the married couple hell upon earth. Those who will be married at any cost, will find themselves fearfully disappointed in the end. Those who seek money and pleasures by marrying, will very soon find out that though the money lasts, their hearts do not agree. Those who are dazzled by exterior perfections, will by daily intercourse discover so many faults and weaknesses in their ideal, that all the perfections combined will be thrust into the background. In a word: those who enter the married state without God, will very soon find God’s curse upon them, and they will consider themselves mutually deceived. As a matter of fact they have both been deceived by their passions.
And what is the consequence? Complaints, contradictions, coldness, indifference, perhaps curses and maledictions, from the same lips which formerly only spoke of love, this is their daily bread, and the bitter tears of repentance and sorrow which fall on the ruins of their conjugal happiness, is their daily portion. We are moved to compassion for these unfortunate creatures, who gave their all to the false, deceitful world, and had nothing left for God. We should, however, do them an injustice if we held them alone accountable for the origin of these lamentable conditions. The parents are accessory to their children’s misery; they did not set them a good example, or bring them up for God. They seldom or ever discussed religious subjects with their children, but on the contrary excited in them a worldly spirit, helped them in their pursuit of pleasure, told them that wealth affords a life of ease, but that poverty brings unhappiness. They perceive, when too late, what a grievous mistake they have made. They looked forward to gratitude in their old age, but find only ingratitude; indeed, they live too long for their children. What a shame it is, when children become engaged, and the parents do not even know whether the prospective son or daughter-in-law is a Catholic or not. Fathers and mothers, if you wish to be contented and happy, and see your children happy, Christ must come back into your family again!
The reason why our times are so irreligious is on account of the unchristian families. Where the wrong was, there must be the remedy. All the authority of Church and state is useless if the family does not co-operate. Children are often great philosophers, they ask innumerable questions and seek for information. How sad it is when they are neglected spiritually, when they become ungodly, for want of their parents’ good example and a religious training.
What must be done to preserve the Christian family from ruin and to raise up the ungodly, and reform the unhappy family life?
If we wish to see any improvement in the state, community or family, the family must in common with the Church educate the children in Christianity. It is true that the hope of a better future is founded on a good obedient youth. The home, therefore, must be in accord with the Church, that all harmful influences must be withheld from the souls of the children. Where there is true piety in the household, purity of morals reigns supreme, and every agreeable virtue finds a home therein. I turn to you, dear parents, and implore you: To imitate the Holy Family of Nazareth!
Christian fathers and mothers, if you wish to have pious, good children, you must first of all yourselves be God-fearing and lead good lives. As the tree, so will the fruit be, says an old proverb, and the divine word verifies this. A good tree brings forth good fruit, a bad tree fruit like itself. We know that now and then, even in good Christian families, there are to be found degenerate sons or daughters, but the rule is as our Saviour says in the above words.
What are the means to renew the family life in the spirit of Christ and the Church? I answer: Keep the commandments of God, and follow the infallible teaching which God has placed in that haven of salvation, the Holy Catholic Church, so that you may walk in the right path which leads to the inheritance of the Saints. If you wish, Christian married people, to imitate St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother of God, you must sanctify yourselves; you must practise the virtues which shine out to us from the life of this most holy couple. Matrimony is a great sacrament, as St. Paul says, but only in Christ and His Holy Church. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loves His Church; wives, be subject to your husbands, in love and obedience, and care for one another; bear with patience your imperfections – it is not always possible to overcome them of our own strength. Do not forget daily prayer, keep holy the Sundays and Holy days, and receive frequently, being well prepared, the Sacraments. Show by your course of life, by your example, that you are thoroughly penetrated with Christianity and that you make a practical use of it daily. When it is possible, say in common the morning and night prayers, and grace before and after meals. Tell the children about God and His saints. During the holy time of Lent, speak to them of their suffering Saviour, during Paschal time of His glorious resurrection, during Christmas time of His birth. You will see what a profound impression it will make on the minds of your children.
O what a happiness to grow up in the bosom of a truly Christian family! It requires care, a great deal of care conscientiously to fulfil the obligations of a father or mother. The parents are a mirror to their children; and the children constantly look into this mirror. Be careful therefore that only the good, and what is worthy of imitation is perceptible in you and graven upon your hearts. What a consolation it is for you if you can say: I am the father, the mother of a pious child, pleasing to God and man. Watch particularly over your children when they have grown up. Do not allow them to associate with irreligious persons. Be sure to employ Christian servants, for many a child has been eternally lost, on account of bad servants. How many hearts have been poisoned in their youths by obscene writings. Do not permit anything of the kind to be brought into your house. Bring up your children simply, withhold all luxury from them, discourage a too great desire of pleasures, and let them learn only that which is good, useful, and practical. See to it, that in their childhood, as well as when they are older, they frequent the Sacraments regularly.
Christ must come back into the family!
Christ must remain in the family!
Let this be your motto. Then, with the help of God, a devout, chaste generation will spring up to the joy of the parents and of the Church. When the time comes for your children to make their choice for life, the divine blessing will descend upon them, and with unpolluted hearts they can join hands for life. Such good, well brought up children, will at last be the support and consolation of your old age.
Christian husband! imitate St. Joseph by beginning your day’s work with God, and ending it for Him. Cherish those belonging to you as the holy foster father did Jesus, and be their faithful protector. Christian wife! follow in the footsteps of the ideal of all womanhood, the Blessed Mother of God; in joy and sorrow she will be your advocate at the throne of her Son. And you, dear children, be as pious as the twelve-year-old Jesus, and like Him be subject and obedient to your parents, as the Saviour was to His parents for thirty long years. Help your parents in their labours as the Redeemer helped Hyouis foster father.
We will all make our hearts like unto the Heart of Jesus.
Let us often say the ejaculatory prayer: “Jesus! Mary! Joseph! enlighten us, help us, save us!”
Christ must come back into the family! Then God will make you partakers of His blessing, then will true happiness reign amongst you! (Let us say to-day and every day the act of consecration to the Holy Family. With this we will conclude our instruction to-day.) I will pray for you that God may bless my words, at the intercession of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother of God. Amen!