‘A Pathway of Hope’
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I trust this Christmas time is going well for you! We are blessed, indeed, to be able to be together once again as a faith family reveling in the birth of the Christ-child. Our celebration continues with the spirit of the season for several more weeks. So, don’t take the tree down just yet or put away the decorations. As Christians and as Catholics we are a little out of sync with societal expectations. We have one more feast day, New Year’s, and two more Sundays, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, before Christmas officially concludes. If the tree does come down, at least keep the Christmas creche up as a point of reflection on the wonderful birth of Jesus!
On this Holy Family Sunday, we take a moment to consider our own families and the importance of our family life as we reflect upon the point of reference for all of us in the Holy Family - Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.
It is true that each family has its own series of joys and sorrows. There are things remembered fondly, and there are things we would just as soon forget about because of the hurts that were generated. During this time of year – of thoughts of peace and joy, of family and get-togethers – it is reported that incidences of domestic violence rise. Sad, isn’t it? Not all family members “get along.” Some find it difficult to bury past offenses. They cling to perceptions and hurts that are not easily forgotten or even forgiven.
In my own immediate family, I have two members remaining – Mary, my mother, and Joseph, my brother! My mother Mary will be 95 years old in early January. All my grandparents are deceased. My brother, Joe, 7 years my junior, lives with mom. My father, Steve, will be deceased for 34 years in July. Until recently, mom enjoyed volunteering in the local hospital. During her working life, she was a public-school teacher, teaching 4th grade in a village on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Now she stays in touch with friends and relatives through Facebook and phone calls. My brother Joe works for a company that supports the main hospital in the pre-admitting services, analyzing insurances and amounts patients will owe the hospital for various procedures and services. He also works for a company that provides certification and qualifying exams for a variety of professions.
Dad had a grade school education, served in the Navy during WWII. His ship was torpedoed, and he was picked up by the Russians in the North Atlantic. He was dedicated to the family and did a lot of things quietly and without fanfare. He had a garden that provided a treasure of seasonal summer vegetables and fruits for the family. He also enjoyed ice fishing on Lake Superior for salmon and trout. It was a source of worry for all of us when he would decide to go out on the ice. He talked about the ice going up and down. While I haven’t been able to go home often, we are in touch daily by phone and Facetime. In our conversation, we often comment about how much Dad did in his own quiet way. Every time I would drive home, he would disappear for a while then come in and tell me that the oil was fine or down a quart and that the tires had adequate pressure. Every small new appliance seemed to have something “wrong.” He would take it down to his shop in the basement, take it apart and reassemble it. “Now it works better,” he would announce.
We had our share of ups and downs as a family. In our younger days, we did not travel a lot because we didn’t have the financial resources to do so. As children, we did not feel we lacked anything - we felt ourselves very lucky, indeed. My dad’s mother, whom we affectionately called Baba, lived in the lower flat. She was, in a sense, a built-in nanny for us. I miss her very much! Now, looking back, I have a lot of questions that I want to ask her when I see her again.
Looking at our feast day today, the Holy Family, we become concerned that our life and families don’t seem to measure up to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. With all that is going on currently in our culture wars about redefining “family,” we can easily throw in the towel and say, “We give up.” But, look at this family we call Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Their family seemed so “unreal” – their child was God! What do they offer to our understanding of family life in our modern world and society today?
At a time when we want to underscore its necessity as a bedrock of society or promote its virtue, we find family life as we know it is frequently assailed, belittled, and berated without so much as a whimper of a response. Taking a closer look at the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we discover some of the difficulties the Holy Family experienced. Oftentimes in moments of challenge and difficulty, the nature of relationships becomes more clearly defined and our true desires revealed. Here, the Holy Family is not immune.
For instance, we note that Mary’s pregnancy was untimely – she was so young and had a future in front of her. She had to make a long and treacherous journey to go and visit her cousin Elizabeth. They were poor people when they arrived in Bethlehem. There was no privacy for the birth, except in a stable or cave out back. Shortly after the birth, because of the designs of King Herod that they became aware of, they had to flee Bethlehem for Egypt, a foreign country, for their own safety and security, living like immigrants and refugees – people on the move! After a brief period there, they returned to Galilee, another long and treacherous journey.
As the child grew up, they lost Him for three days on one occasion near the temple during one of the major holidays – no GPS or text message to ask, “Where are you?” Jesus left home and the family business to launch out on His own. The neighbors disapproved of them. They were beset by parental worry, confusion, and lack of communication. There must have been parental heartache when their child was in trouble with the law. And there was an early, untimely, and excruciatingly painful death – the result of a flawed justice system of the day witnessed by His own anguished mother. There is a suggestion that, because we don’t hear about Joseph after the finding in the temple, that Mary was raising her son as a single parent.
This brief overview tells us that in many ways, the Holy Family is not so far removed from our own experience. The Holy Family doesn’t mean a glamorized “perfect” or “ideal” family that we sometimes saw depicted on TV of generations past. Amazingly, when we think about it, the image of the Holy Family is reflected in some way in our own.
Despite the daily concerns we have depicted, this family and our family become “holy” because our faith in God is at the center of it. Just as with a natural family, so also the church, our Christian family, should be for each one of us the school in which we can “progress steadfastly in wisdom, age, and grace.”
Like Mary, who kept all these things in memory and pondered them in her heart, may I suggest that in the Holy Family, we have a worthy model and example for our own day.
With all of you, we offer our prayers today for all our families, especially families that are separated or hurting, that each family be rooted in the love offered us by God and lifted up to thrive so that we may be anchored in such a way to face the daily realities of life with hope. Afterall, this is part of God’s dream for each of us – to be in a relationship that perhaps we may not have chosen for ourselves, but which offers us a pathway of hope to build a relationship of love, filled with grace and stability today. This is what a family can mean today. May we have the grace to witness the true joy of family life!
May God bless our families and each of you today!