Thoughts for the Feast of the Holy Family from Fr Willie Doyle

 

And you, wives and bread-winners, have you no task within the fold, no little flock to tend and guard? Has not God committed to your care the innocent lambs, the little ones of your household? Within the pasture of your own family are you the good shepherd, or the thief and the hireling? . . . Jesus does not ask from His shepherds now the shedding of their life-blood But He does ask from them a death more hard, more lingering, a life-long death of sacrifice for His flock, . . . the daily crucifying of every evil passion, the stamping out of sloth, of anger, of drunkenness, the constant striving after the holiness of your state of life. . . . Look upon the great Christ, the Good Shepherd, hanging on the Cross. He is our model, our hero. Gaze well upon His bleeding wounds, His mangled limbs, that sad agony-stricken face. Look well, and pray with generous heart that he may make you in word and deed heroes in His service.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of the Holy Family. Fr Doyle has some rather direct words for mothers and fathers in today’s quote. Parents have a flock to guard. Children have immortal souls and they have been entrusted to their parents for a time. Parents have a serious obligation to put their children on the right path in life. Naturally, parents are not responsible if their children abandon their Faith in later life. But if their spiritual life was not nourished in the first place, if they were never provided with formation, if their innocence was never protected to begin with, then the day will come when parents will have to provide an account of their stewardship…

St Benedict gives us exactly this message in his Rule. Referring to the responsibility that an Abbot has towards his monks (which is the exact same responsibility a parent has towards their children), he says:

Let the Abbot always bear in mind 
that at the dread Judgment of God 
there will be an examination of these two matters: his teaching and the obedience of his disciples. 
And let the Abbot be sure that any lack of profit the master of the house may find in the sheep will be laid to the blame of the shepherd. 
On the other hand, if the shepherd has bestowed all his pastoral diligence on a restless, unruly flock and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behaviour, then he will be acquitted at the Lord’s Judgment.

Thoughts for December 29 (St Thomas of Canterbury) from Fr Willie Doyle

 

Jesus, you know my longing to become a saint. You know how much I thirst to die a martyr. Help me to prove that I am really in earnest by living this life of martyrdom.

O loving Jesus, help me now not to fight any longer against You. I really long to do what You want, but I know my weakness so well and my inconstancy. I have made so many generous resolutions which I have never kept that I feel it is almost a mockery to promise more. This record of my feelings and desire at this moment will be a spur to my generosity; and if I cannot live up to the perfection of what You want, at least I am now determined to do more than I have ever done before. Help me, Jesus!

COMMENT: The cross is always at the centre of the Christian life, in one way or another. It was present in Bethlehem with its poverty and lack of comfort. The very first day after Christmas we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St Stephen. Two days later we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents. Today we celebrate the feast of the great martyr St Thomas Becket, though as it is a Sunday the feast of the Holy Family takes precedence. 

St Thomas is the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury who was killed because he defended the freedom of the Church against the dictates of the State. St Thomas’ example is very relevant for us today. A form of aggressive secularism seeks to squeeze the Church from the public square. Amazingly, there are now some, even in influential positions, who question the right of Christians to comment on matters of public policy. Those who propose Christian values in the public square, even when doing so with meekness and humility, are subjected to intense pressure and scorn and even a very real and palpable hatred, including, in some cases, death threats. And all of this in a culture that prides itself on its so-called “tolerance”. 

We may not have to face physical martyrdom like St Thomas, but we are called to stand firm and defend the Church against unjust restrictions on its freedom. Sometimes this may mean a kind of dry martyrdom which may lead to a loss of career opportunities or public scorn and abuse. For some people this dry martyrdom may be harder to bear than the loss of one’s life. Indeed, the well known 19th century spiritual writer Father Faber, writing on this very point, says:

Learn from St. Thomas to fight the good fight even to the shedding of blood, or, to what men find harder, the shedding of their good name by pouring it out to waste on the earth.

St Josemaria Escriva has useful advice on this point:

Don’t behave like someone frightened by an enemy whose only strength is his “aggressive voice”.

If we find it hard to stand firm, we are in good company. St Thomas himself was proud and aggressive in his earlier days, and it was only over time, as Archbishop of Canterbury, that he slowly grew into his role with God’s grace. Fr Doyle himself recounts in his diary how he himself struggled with “human respect” – a fear of what others thought of him. When we find the going hard, let us copy the example of the saints, and cry out with Fr Doyle: “Help me, Jesus!”