Feast of the Holy Family
30 December 2012
Cathedral, 10.30 am.
My dear friends,
Most people in our world believe that the family is the fundamental unit of society, the place where growth and development take place, and our personalities are shaped. The family is even used as a model by some religious sects anxious to recruit members. It is not unknown for them to choose what they might consider to be a suitable location such as a railway station, an airport, a boat terminal to, as they say, “love-bomb.” They often target individuals who seem lost or disorientated, especially young people, and move in.
They befriend those whom they approach, are usually very helpful and offer to put them up for the night after providing them with a hot meal and a friendly atmosphere. In showing concern and affection, they are in a sense offering to become their new family, wanting them to become part of their group or sect. In the love that they express, there may seem to be little room for misunderstanding or tensions. The atmosphere may come across as rather idyllic. On the surface at least, all may seem to be sweetness and light. In some instances, unfortunately, those befriended may find that their new family can become a prison, cutting off contact with the outside world. All kinds of pressures and threats can be used to coerce people to remain part of the group, and leaving can be much more difficult than joining.
The real family, as we know and experience it, is rather different. It is where we belong. It is where we were born, where we were named, where we were given flesh, blood and many other ingredients of shared humanity. It was within the family that we first learned to relate to one another and it was there that traditions and values were passed on to us. It was our first experience of community, and even when there was dysfunction and breakdown, it was still where we bonded and reached out to others.
The family has been built into creation by God our Father. So it is not unusual that in his self-revelation, in his Word, we are given so much advice and direction on how the family should be. We have a fine example of that in the passage from the Book of Wisdom which formed our first reading – “he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune. Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own, he shall be heard on the day when he prays;” “he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord;” “support your father in his old age. Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy; do not despise him in your health and strength.” Very few would dispute the wisdom of these directives on how we should live as family.
The second reading relates to family life too. It is also God’s self-revelation. It is in fact the fullness of God’s self-revelation, God the Father speaking to us through the teaching of his son, Jesus Christ. Paul, one of the messengers of God’s Word, is in prison and he is writing to the Colossians to confirm his instructions to them. ‘God loves you’ he reminds them, and he exhorts them to live in the way God intended them to – being compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient and forgiving. We are meant to be wise, thankful and peaceful, obedient to parents and patient with our children. To put it as succinctly as possible, we are meant to love one another in the way Jesus taught us to love.
When the Word of God has inspired and instructed us, it rarely leaves us floating in the clouds. It has a habit of bringing us down to earth. Mary and Joseph landed with a bang in a moment of anguish, fear and misunderstanding. It is the kind of traumatic experience that could hit any family – where is the child? He was here only a moment ago. It is the kind of panic any family could experience when they realise that their child is missing. “Why have you done this to me and to your father?” “I must be busy with my Father’s affairs.” How is that for an answer? What do you make of that?
The first thing you can say is that this family is a real one. You may even recognise your own in it. Is Jesus saying to us in his answer – “your children are your children, but they are also themselves with a life to live and a mission to accomplish?” We each have to find, chose and embrace our mission and see it through. Can it happen that we can make a prison of the family and become self-enclosed and self-engrossed? We can treat our families as if they were sects. We can exclusively look after our own and blot out the rest of the world. We can lose a sense of belonging to a wider family, the family of God, the human family.
Each traumatic incident that we experience can bring us forward a little in our understanding of life, of one another and of God. Jesus Christ will not allow us to love only our own and to be concerned only about our own inner circle of family and friends. When he taught us to pray “Our Father, who art in heaven..”, he taught us an open prayer. Anyone could be our neighbour. Our own family is a base, and a crucial special base, but it is a starting point and not an end in itself. Charity begins at home but love never ends there. If Jesus Christ is the son of God, and if our God is the God of the Scriptures, then all people are our brothers and sisters, with the right to our support, our solidarity our care and our love.
He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature and in favour with God and man.
+Liam S. MacDaid
30 December 2012