Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Gen.: 15:1-6, 21:1-3; Heb. 11:8,11-12,17-19; Gospel of Luke 2:22-40
My Family – Recalling 2017 –What is Love like? Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 31 December 2017

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and it is the last day of the year 2017.  It is appropriate for us to reflect on the year that has passed in the light and context of the family.  

I would like to begin with Our Holy Father, Pope Francis’ words of wisdom who on the Ninth World meeting of families says, “One might ask: does the Gospel continue to be a joy for the world? And also: Does the family continue to be good news for today’s world?  I am sure the answer is yes! And this “yes” is firmly based on God’s plan . . . . and His commitment to a humanity that is often wounded, mistreated and dominated by a lack of love.

More simply put, this “yes” to live a life of “holiness” in the Lord as husband and wife, within the context of committed love.  The secular world we live in offers many versions of committed love that distorts the Gospel meaning of family life through the confusion of genders, promotion of abortion and acceptance of divorce, just because there are irreconcilable differences; and where God is out of the picture.  The Family life is a means of promoting a life of “holiness” of the Gospel.  More specifically, family life is God’s calling to live a vocation, in God’s Love and Ways.  

Two weeks ago, I officiated the 20th Wedding Anniversary of a young couple Jerome and Avis; whose wedding I also officiated.  For this celebration, I asked them independently to share their experiences of their marriage for the homily that I was preparing.  They have given me permission to share their stories with you.  Avis, shared: We decided to renew our marriage vows for 3 main reasons: 
1) We are so thankful to be blessed with 20 wonderful years together.
2) To strengthen our union with God's blessing and guidance to see us through the many more years to come.  
3) That our family and friends in attending this Mass may also be touched and inspired to forge a stronger bond in their relationships by living a God-centred life. 

We have an amazing life together – I have a husband who absolutely loves me and whom I know wouldn’t hesitate to throw himself in front of a bus to save me. But as all couples know, it’s not always a smooth 100 km/hr ride. There are bumps on this ride. Some bumps are small and some big! 

Often it is easier to say "we can't work this out”, "I can’t talk to you anymore”, "You don’t get me”, "I’ve done so much for you and you could still say/do this to me.”… 

It is hard work working through the bumps. The key thing that helps us through these bumps is to always remember what God has done for us and for us to always strive to put to practice these same things – to forgive, to never give up on each other and on God, to never keep count of how much I have done or what he hasn't done - if I have to do something again and again and again, just do it. To always clear the air by making it a 2-way sharing - listen and share your perspective. It doesn’t matter if I thought I didn’t do wrong.  If Jerome feels I did wrong then I need to listen and be conscious of how to say/do things differently in the future so that he doesn’t feel that I refuse to change or that I don’t love him; vice versa.  So I need to be conscious of how to say, what needs to be said, in such a way that Jerome doesn’t think it’s a nag!

And of course we both need to pray. The last 20 years have made us realise how important having a common faith and a common value system are to our relationship.  In overcoming each of these bumps, we are able to build a bond that is a little more enduring and stronger each time.

Jerome on the other hand shares, “Our engagement ring was a $12 ring. No diamond. No emerald. Plain, simple, cheap silver ring. Because both Avis and I did not think it was the ring that mattered. What mattered was the commitment and the great journey ahead.  We’ve seen many couples who bought diamond rings for their engagement and marriage, but ends up separation or divorce within a few years.  20 years later, even as we are wearing our $12 ring, we are still standing together. This, for me, is a great story of love.

In 20 years we had an incredible amount of fights. I would say we must’ve fought close to 300 times (something like once a month at least). But what I learned with Avis is that marriage is a commitment: you never stop committing, you never stop working together, and youalways try to find a way to solve the problem.  Avis, for this, is a much better person than I am.

Marriage is learning how to forgive, how to be more patient. The opposite of what I actually am. And for this I have to thank God and Avis.  During the pre-marriage sessions with you, I remember thinking why should I go to Mass each Sunday.  I think I am a smart guy, and I was sure that I could outsmart you.  However, I remember you destroying all my arguments one by one, to the point that I thought you must’ve been a direct envoy from God to put me on the right path . . .  Since then Avis and I have not missed any week-end mass. That’s 20 years. Wherever we are in the world, for work or pleasure, we will always ensure we go to Saturday or Sunday Mass.  Having God in our marriage was critical to making it last these 20 years and to make it last until we leave this earth: forgiveness, patience and understanding are the keywords we try to live by, because these are the teachings of God.

When we got married Avis and I made one commitment to each other.  Our marriage is more important than our career.  So, I have turned down some opportunities and bigger jobs because I said no to travelling.

I try to pray every day and there is a sentence I always say, to thank God: “I have the most beautiful life, the most beautiful wife, the most beautiful job; the sun’s shining, the sky’s blue, life is truly beautiful”. That summarises the amazing 20 years I spent with Avis. True “happiness”.   I pray for God to make the next 20 years with Avis as fantastic as the last 20.  I pray we continue overcoming the obstacles together. I pray that Avis will continue to show me how to become a better man. For me, she is the angel God sent to my life. I am not writing this just to say so or because it sounds right or romantic: I seriously mean it…

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see that the life of “holiness of the Gospel” that God expects of us, as in the life of Avis and Jerome exemplifies is NOT one without challenges.  In fact, the life of the “holiness of the Gospel” is about fidelity to God and to one another regardless of the pain, trials and challenges one faces as husband and wife.  Pope Francis explains more profoundly when he said that, The family, is the “yes” of God as Love.  Only starting from love can the family manifest, spread and regenerate God’s love in the world. Without love, we cannot live as children of God, as couples, parents and brothers.  I wish to underline how important it is for families to ask themselves often if their lives are based on love, for love and in love.

In practice, Pope Francis adds, “this means the need for the: giving of oneself selflessly, the need to forgive, not losing patience, anticipating the other, respecting. How much better family life would be if every day we lived according to the words, “please”, “thank you” and “I’m sorry”.  Every day we experience fragility and weakness, and therefore we all, families and pastors, are in need of renewed humility that forms the desire to form ourselves, /to educate and be educated, /to help and be helped, /to accompany, discern and integrate all men of good will.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his reflection on Mary and Joseph, and on Simeon and Anna in today’s Gospel says, “This is a beautiful image of two young parents and two elderly people, brought together by Jesus. Jesus is the one who brings together and unites generations! He is the inexhaustible font of that love which overcomes every occasion of self-absorption, solitude, and sadness. In your journey as a family, you share so many beautiful moments: meals, rest, housework, leisure, prayer, trips and pilgrimages, and times of mutual support… Nevertheless, if there is no love then there is no joy, and authentic love comes to us from Jesus.  He offers us His Word, which illuminates our path; He gives us the Bread of life which sustains us on our journey.

And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that, whether we are called to live the married and family vocation or the priesthood and religious vocation, we are each called to reflect on our past 2017 year, and pray that God will give us the wisdom to commit ourselves in our vocation more fully and more wholeheartedly in Christ-like Love and Ways for the coming year 2018. 

In Avis and Jerome vocation, let us be reminded that they never miss a single Weekend Mass during their Marriage, and they share how important prayer is to them.  And to overcome the bumps of their marriage the put God at the centre of their lives through their common faith in Jesus and their fidelity to the Teachings of the Church

(ref: Pope Francis’ letter: ‘On the occasion of the Ninth World meeting  of Families on the theme, “The Gospel of the Family – Joy to the world.”; Dublin, 21-26 August, 2017.)

(ref: Letter of Pope Francis, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord,, 2 February, 2014.)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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