Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Importance of Communication in Family Life

A still from the XFINITY commercial.

(Holy Family 2017 (B): This homily was given on December 31, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3; Hebrews 11: 8-19; Luke 2: 22-40.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Family 2017]

“Ah, dinner—throughout history the one meal when we come together, break bread, share our day, and connect as a family.”  That’s the opening line of an XFINITY commercial that I’m sure many of you have seen in recent weeks.  It’s rather amusing.  It begins with shots of four families from the distant past sitting around their dinner tables, talking with one another and obviously enjoying each other’s company.  Then the scene shifts to a modern-day dinner table, with a dad and his two children sitting there in total silence.  That’s because dad and sis are totally focused on their smartphones and junior is doing something on his tablet.

Well, in comes mom, who sees what’s going on—and what’s not going on!—and she proceeds to pull out her smartphone and use the appropriate app to cut off the WiFi!  That, of course, gets everybody’s attention very quickly!  The daughter says, “Hey!”  Mom responds, “I paused it.” She then sits down and says, “So how is everyone?”

And that’s how the commercial ends.

I’m sure at least some of you can identify with that scene.  Perhaps to a certain extent all of us can.  It’s one of the ironies of the modern world, isn’t it?  The technology we have, that was supposed to make communication with other people better, has, in many cases, actually resulted in less face-to-face communication between living persons.  I mean, why go and visit somebody if you can just text or tweet or email them?  And that type of convenience—which on the one hand is a great blessing—has also caused many people to experience greater isolation and loneliness in their lives.   

And one of the casualties of all this is the nuclear family.  That’s why I like that XFINITY commercial so much!  The scene in that commercial is the scene in many American homes these days.  It may not always happen at the dinner table, but in one way or another everyone in the family can easily be drawn into their own little “techie-world”—shutting out everyone else (and everything else) in the process!

In the commercial, mom saves the day!  (Mom’s often do.)  Dad, unfortunately, dropped the ball.  He should have been the one engaging his children in conversation first, while mom was finishing the cooking, but he was too busy playing around with his favorite app on his cellphone.  He was as disconnected as his kids were.  Thanks be to God, mom hit the “pause button” and made sure that everyone got re-connected.

I mention this today because this weekend we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph—who remind us, like that commercial does, that communication is key in family life.  And here I mean not only communication with each other, but also communication with God.

On that note, can you imagine what a dinner at the home of the Holy Family was like?  One thing’s for sure: they never forgot to say grace!  But, aside from that, can you imagine what they talked about during their meal together?  I’m reasonably certain that, like most of us, they talked about the things they had experienced during the course of the day.  Joseph probably talked about whatever he was working on with Jesus in his carpentry shop.  Mary in all likelihood talked about whatever project she was working on in the house.  They probably talked about current events in Palestine and in the Roman Empire.  And, because the Lord was at the center of each of their lives, I’m absolutely positive that they spoke quite often about their faith, including the events we heard about in today’s Scripture readings: about Abraham—and the promises God had made to him—and how God had fulfilled those promises in the past—and how God was continuing to fulfill those promises in the present moment.  I’m sure Mary and Joseph talked to their Son about the day they brought him into the Temple when he was an infant, and what Simeon and Anna had said, and what that meant for all of them in the future.

Communication is key in family life.  It always has been.  In fact, as you will recall, when Jesus was 12 his parents unknowingly left him behind in Jerusalem and lost him for 3 days.  That distressing event happened, sadly, because of a miscommunication.  Mary and Joseph “didn’t get the memo”, so to speak.  And even when Jesus tried to explain to them why he had stayed behind, they didn’t understand.  In Luke 2: 49 Jesus says to his mother and foster father, “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Then, in verse 50, St. Luke writes, “But they did not understand what he said to them.”

Even Jesus, Mary and Joseph had to work at their communication with one another.  They were not exempt from the challenge.  Actually, the challenge was probably even greater for Joseph and our Blessed Mother, because they had to try to communicate effectively with a child who also happened to be God.

And we think we have it tough?

Let me conclude now with a few suggestions for you parents on how to improve communication in your family.  There are many good suggestions you can also find online (some at good Catholic websites); these are a few more that I came up with the other day:
  1. Follow the mom’s example in that commercial and designate special times (for instance, during meals) when all the members of your family will disconnect from their technological gizmos so that they can be fully present to one another.  If you have to, download an app so you can turn off the WiFi—like that mother did.
  2. Take your children to Mass.  But, in addition to that, pray with your children at home—starting when they’re very young and more open to spiritual things—and ask them beforehand what (and whom) they want to pray for.  This is something that could easily be done at the dinner table just before grace.  Every family member could mention one person or situation they want to pray for that day.  This is definitely a great way to open up dialogue with your children during the meal, but it also has an added benefit: it helps you to keep tabs on what’s going on in your children’s lives.  And that’s always a good thing!  For example, if something bad happened to one of your son’s friends on a particular day at school, your son will probably want to pray for that friend at dinner that evening.  Then, of course, you can ask him to fill in the details during the meal and tell you “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey would say).
  3. From a very young age, encourage your children to ask you questions—about anything, but especially about moral and spiritual issues.  Because if you don’t give them answers to their questions and concerns about these important matters, the world will!  And, if you’re a good Catholic, you probably won’t like the answers the world gives them—at all!
  4.  Finally, if you want better communication in your family, don’t lie!  (This one applies to both parents and children.)  Lying destroys communication, because the basis of all genuine communication is truthfulness.  If you and I, for example, are going to communicate effectively, I need to be confident about the fact that you’re telling me things that are true, and you need to have that same confidence about me.  If we can’t trust one another’s words, our communication is over before it starts!I tell teenagers, “You want to ruin your relationship with your parents?  Lie to them—and then keep on lying to them.  After a while, they won’t believe a thing that you say to them—even when you’re telling them the truth.  And it will take a long time for you to win back their trust, so that you can communicate with them effectively again.  So don’t lie.  It’s not worth it.”
Let me end my homily now with a prayer to the Holy Family that was written by Pope Francis.  I say it today for all the families represented here at Mass this morning:

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, 
in you we contemplate 
the splendor of true love; 
to you we turn with trust. 

Holy Family of Nazareth, 
grant that our families too 
may be places of communion and prayer, 
authentic schools of the Gospel 
and small domestic churches. 

Holy Family of Nazareth, 
may [our] families never again experience 
violence, rejection and division; 
may all who have been hurt or scandalized 
find ready comfort and healing. 

Holy Family of Nazareth, 
make us once more mindful 
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, 
and its beauty in God’s plan. 

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, 
graciously hear our prayer.