I recently read a study that showed that ‘family dynamics’ is one of the top causes of stress over the holidays. Did you have a ‘dynamic’ in one or more of your family gatherings this year? Most of us do. Growing up, my Mom always wished for a perfect holiday. Of course that wasn’t possible so it was a source of frustration and sadness to her every year. It just wouldn’t be the holidays if some family member was not going through a crisis or nursing hurt feelings.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In the opening prayer of Mass today, we asked God, who gave us the shining example of the Holy Family, to grant that we may imitate Jesus, Mary and Joseph in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.
Do not be misled by the words: “Holy Family.” Too often we think of angels singing and wise men bearing gifts and think that the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph was a “perfect family” who were given a free pass from the harsh realities of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Joseph and Mary and Jesus definitely did not live a sheltered and trouble-free life.
They were a Holy Family because they were a real family, very much human. Today we celebrate how the wonder of holiness is found in the midst of humanness, and what can be more human and real than family life, where in the rubbing of lives against other lives the miracle of love can be born. This feast of the Holy Family is about how God can and has chosen to be revealed and found in the very ordinary ups and downs of family life.
The Holy Family is a very human model for all families in good times and in bad, when there are both harmony and problems. Take for instance the episode in today’s Gospel reading. Mary and Joseph had to take their infant and flee the country in the middle of the night. I think that this incident, the flight into Egypt, gives us inspiration on how we can model our families on the Holy Family.
For one thing, Mary’s and Joseph’s immediate response to danger was to put the baby Jesus first. Putting their own needs aside they took action to ensure his wellbeing.
We should model our actions on those of Joseph and Mary. Make the children the first priority. Protect the children in your life. Protect them from physical harm and also from adult stresses and worries. Protect and honor children. That includes advocating for a society that values childhood and the rights of children to be to be heard, to receive adequate care and to a protective environment.
The journey of family life is always a journey into the unknown. Parents have hopes and dreams for the future of their children; children in turn have their own hopes and dreams. Yet reality may well take a very different trajectory. In Mary and Joseph we see a couple who shows an openness to allowing God to lead their life together. They trusted in God and listened to God’s voice in their life even when it meant becoming refugees in Egypt. With an openness to God, your family, while not perfect, can strive for holiness. Look to the Holy Family for inspiration when burdens and hardships come.
The Holy Family inspires us to seek God’s voice in your life and in your family. Not many of us will receive a clear message from an angel as did St. Joseph. St. Joseph heard the message because had a rich spiritual life, a life of prayer. Certainly he listened to the angel because he knew and trusted God. Model the Holy Family in your life by continually enriching your prayer life and your family’s prayer life to trust in God’s word.
Another great lesson we can learn from the Holy Family, of course, is love. We celebrate today the human warmth of the Holy Family, the love of Mary and Joseph for each other and for their son, as well as Jesus’ love for his parents. This loving harmony is a model for every family.
Paul, in the letter to the Colossians we heard as our second reading, advises us on the way to live holy family lives. First, he reminds that we are holy- ‘God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved’. In his next breath Paul reminds us that though we are a holy people, holy families, we are not perfect: we are to ‘bear with one another, forgiving each other’. Perfect families have no need for forbearance and forgiveness! Paul tells us how to strive for perfection when he writes ‘…And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.’
Holy families are not the same as perfect families, but we can strive for perfection by love, the bond, the promise, of perfection. That should give all of us hope, knowing that we may not have perfect families, but that we can strive for the bond of perfection. Be intentional and have unconditional love for each other -a love expressed through heart-felt compassion, kindness, humility, patience and forgiveness. We must see each other as holy and worthy of honor, reverence and respect. Our families will never be perfect. We cannot control all the wrong that happens in our families – family dynamics, divorces, addictions, illnesses, financial pain, bad life choices, etc. But, we can choose love and choose to see the holiness in each member of our family.
Families are made up of imperfect people like you and me, who try to muddle through, who sometimes succeed, and sometimes fail. The Holy Family reveals to us how the wonder of holiness is found in the midst of humanness.
There was only one perfect, holy family. As much as we might hope, there will never be another one. We will never have a perfect holiday. The best we can do is to practice unconditional love, the promise of perfection. This Christmas Season, and throughout the coming New Year, let’s practice a little more forgiveness, a little more understanding, a little more love. And do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.