December 23, 2007

Holy Family

He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth . – Mt. 2: 23

The point of this feast is not primarily to extol families & family life, but to remind us that Jesus was part of a family, as most of us are. Further, He was deeply affected & shaped by His family. Therapists tell us that we are molded by our experiences as children in a family; so we can never underestimate the importance of family background. A clinical social worker once told me, “If you really want to know your spouse or fiancé, look at his or her parents. That will tell you more about that person than they themselves can.”

Joseph is the central character in these first stories by Matthew. Further, he is a visionary & a man of action. He takes Mary to be his wife even though she is already pregnant, & when Jesus is born he whisks the family away to Egypt , out of the reach of Herod. Mary of course is famous for her faith & trust in God & her docility to the Holy Spirit. All of these qualities can be seen in Jesus.

Family life is a high calling indeed. Those of us who are parents should check what kind of blessed experiences we are giving our children. It is not enough simply to feed & clothe them; we must nurture their minds & hearts & souls. For it is in our families that children first discover who they are. To help them in this discovery is holy work. For most of us, families are the closest thing we have to heaven (or to hell, as the case may be). Families are a place where we are made one by love, where we discover we are part of each other, where we begin to come close to God (or the opposite of these). We should all aspire to live in holy families, & that means, among other things, discipline so that we are not defeated or discouraged by set backs.

Today’s feast offers us an occasion for recognizing & appreciating the treasure which is family. Perhaps this special day may prompt us to consider how well we are tending to that treasure. Even though our experience of family may not have been good, most of us value the gift of family & understand its essential importance for both society & the church. Some of us become caught up in the pressures of daily living, however, & do not take the time to tend to the treasure that is ours.

Of course, there is some controversy today about defining a family. Jesus Himself put it this way: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, & sister & mother” (Mt. 12: 50). This definition does not depend upon blood kinship, & expands the notion of “extended family” considerably. That is why it is not extravagant to call our parish or the Church as a whole a family. We are all integral parts of Christ’s body – tiny cells, as it were. What affects one affects the whole & vice versa. This is why we cannot be cavalier when a fellow Christian is in crisis, be it of a spiritual or a material nature.

In the final analysis, it is a certain quality of life that is the goal. We are not marrieds or singles who happen to be Christian, but Christians who happen to be marrieds or singles. Christ is our model. Are our lives shaped & affected by Him? AMEN!