The Holy Family

A POINT OF VIEW

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Feast of the Holy Family

TODAY IS THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY WE REFLECT UPON THE REVERENCE WE OWE OUR PARENTS. WE REFLECT UPON THE VIRTUES THAT SHOULD CHARACTERIZE FAMILY LIFE. WE SMILE CONSIDERING THAT NOT EVEN THE HOLY FAMILY WAS EXEMPT FROM AN ANXIETY-CAUSING CHILD.

FOR MY PART, I VIEW MY FAMILY MORE AND MORE THROUGH THE LENS OF A GRANDPARENT. NO SURPRISE THERE. I AM GRATEFUL FOR THE WORDS OF THE FRENCH POET, CHARLES PEGUY:

FROM HAND TO HAND, FROM FINGERS TO FINGERS,

LIKE HOLY WATER PASSED,

THE EVERLASTING GENERATIONS

WHO GO TO MASS

AGE AFTER AGE,

ONE GENERATION SUCCEEDING ANOTHER

PASS ON THE WORD OF GOD, IN THE SAME HOPE

IN THE SAME BREASTS, IN THE SAME HEARTS,

UNTIL THE WORLD ITSELF IS BURIED.

YOU WHO ARE PARENTS HAVE PASSED ON THE WORD OF GOD YOUR PARENTS PASSED ON TO YOU. OF COURSE, YOU HAVE NOT PASSED IT ON IN THE SAME WAY YOUR PARENTS PASSED IT ON TO YOU. ABRAHAM HESCHE, THE GREAT JEWISH RABBI THEOLOGIAN DESCRIBES THIS EVENT.

“RICH IN PERSPECTIVE, EXPERIENCED IN FAILURE,

THE PERSON IS CAPABLE OF SHEDDING PREJUDICES

AND THE FEVER OF VESTED INTERESTS.

THEY DO NOT SEE ANYMORE IN EVERY PERSON

ONE WHO STANDS IN THEIR WAY,

AND COMPETITIVENESS MAY CEASE TO BE THEIR WAY OF THINKING.

OLD AGE IS NOT A DEFEAT BUT A VICTORY.”

THE HOLY FAMILY, MARY, JOSEPH AND JESUS, WHOSE RELATIONSHIP WE HONOR AND CELEBRATE TODAY, WAS NOT WITHOUT ITS OWN STRUGGLES. WHILE THEY CONFRONTED AN INSENSITIVE CHILD, THEY NEVER HAD TO HANDLE A DELINQUENT ONE.

A SHERIFF’S OFFICE IN A TEXAS TOWN ISSUED A SET OF RULES, ENTITLED:

“HOW TO RAISE A JUVENILE DELINQUENT IN YOUR OWN FAMILY”:

  1. BEGIN WITH INFANCY TO GIVE YOUR CHILD EVERYTHING HE WANTS;

THIS WILL INSURE HIS BELIEVING THE WORLD OWES HIM A LIVING.

  1. PICK UP EVERYTHING SHE LEAVES LYING AROUND; THIS WILL TEACH HER

SHE CAN ALWAYS THROW OFF RESPONSIBILITY ON OTHERS.

  1. TAKE HIS PART AGAINST NEIGHBORS, TEACHERS, POLICE OFFICERS.

THEY ARE ALL PREJUDICED AGAINST YOUR CHILD.

HE/SHE IS A “FREE SPIRIT” AND NEVER WRONG.

FINALLY, PREPARE YOURSELF FOR A LIFE OF GRIEF. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE IT.”

NONE OF THAT, OF COURSE, APPLIES TO MY FAMILY OR TO YOURS. THOSE RULES CAME FROM A TOWN IN TEXAS.

JOSEPH DONDERS, A MISSIONARY FOR MANY YEARS IN AFRICA, HAS WRITTEN A BOOK ENTITLED, “WITH HEARTS ON FIRE.” IN IT HE TALKS ABOUT THE MANY TENSIONS IN THE FAMILY OF NAZARETH. “JOSEPH, A BETROTHED MAN, FEELS JILTED; WORDS AT THE CHILD’S PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE CAUSE ANXIETY: “THIS CHILD IS DESTINED FOR THE RISE AND FALL OF MANY.” A POLITICAL THREAT CAUSES THE FAMILY TO SEEK REFUGE IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY (THEY’RE POLITICAL REFUGEES); A CHILD RUNS AWAY IN JERUSALEM (THE SCENE WE RECALL TODAY). A MOTHER HAS DIFFICULT PERCEIVING HER SON’S PLANS IN CANA; A SON IS ARRESTED AND EXECUTED IN THE PRIME OF HIS LIFE; A MOTHER IS LEFT BY HER DYING SON IN THE CARE OF A NON-RELATIVE.

TRULY, THEIRS WAS A FAMILY FRAUGHT WITH ALL THE UPS AND DOWNS, JOY AND SADNESS OF OUR OWN FAMILIES. YET, AS IN ALL GOOD FAMILIES, THE MANNER IN WHICH MARY, JOSEPH, AND JESUS DELT WITH THE EXIGENCIES OF THEIR LIFE TOGETHER MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE. THEIRS WAS A UNION CHARACTERIZED BY REVERENCE, THE SAME QUALITY THAT

IS RECOMMENDED BY THE BIBLICAL AUTHOR BEN SIRACH.

.

            “WHOEVER REVERENCES HIS PARENTS WILL LIVE A LONG LIFE.”

REVERENCE OF CHILDREN FOR THEIR PARENTS, PROMISED BY THE SEER,

CAN LEAD TO RICHES, LONG LIFE AND EVEN FORGIVENESS OF SINS. SOMEONE HAS REMARKED THAT REVERENCE IS A FORGOTTEN VIRTUE IN OUR DAY, BUT ONE THAT IS NEEDED TO MAKE A SHELTER INTO A HOME AND A GROUP OF PEOPLE INTO A FAMILY.

IT SEEMS LIKELY THAT IT WAS REVERENCE FOR EACH OTHER, WHICH HELPED MARY, JOSEPH AND JESUS TO COPE WITH THE DIFFICULTIES IN THEIR LIVES. IT WAS JESUS’ REVERENCE FOR HIS PARENTS, WHICH MADE HIM RECOGNIZE HIS INSENSITIVITY TO THEM, AND HIS WILLING RETURN TO THEIR HOME IN NAZARETH, WHERE, UNDER THEIR CARE, HE GREW IN WISDOM, AGE AND GRACE. THE VIRTUES THAT ARE DESCRIBED IN THIS BIBLICAL PASSAGE FROM COLOSSIANS ALSO HELP BIND A FAMILY TOGETHER.

MUTUAL LOVE, EXPRESSED IN KINDNESS, MERCY, HUMILITY, MEEKNESS, PATIENCE AND GOD-LIKE FORGIVENESS, ARE CRITICAL.EVERY HUMAN COMMUNITY IS A COMMUNITY OF SINNERS. IT’S ALMOST AS IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DAILY, CONSCIOUS EFFORT TO ACCEPT OTHER MEMBERS AS THEY ARE – NOT DENYING THEIR FAULTS, BUT ACCEPTING THEM AND LOVING THEM EVEN WITH THEIR FAULTS. LOVE, OF COURSE, IS KEY.

LOVE IS A DELIBERATE CHOICE TO WANT OTHERS TO BECOME ALL THEY CAN BE. THIS CHOICE IS ENABLED BY GRACE, AND IN CHOOSING TO LOVE OTHERS IN A FAMILY FOR WHO THEY ARE, ONES OWN LIFE IS TRANSFORMED. IT IS THIS CHOICE WHICH MAKES FAMILY LIFE WORK.

IT IS THIS CHOICE WHAT MAKES CONTINUAL FORGIVENESS, WITHOUT WHICH FAMILY LIFE CANNOT WORK, POSSIBLE AND PRACTICAL.

FINALLY, A LITTLE STORY THAT SUMS IT ALL UP.

“A MOTHER SENT HER SMALL DAUGHTER ON AN ERRAND WITH THE INSTRUCTIONS TO HURRY STRAIGHT HOME.TWO ANXIOUS HOURS LATER, THE GIRL RETURNED. HER MOTHER CRIED: “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

“I’M SORRY I’M LATE,” THE CHILD SAID, “BUT I MET MY FRIEND LUCY, AND SHE BROKE HER DOLL AND I HAD TO HELP HER FIX IT.” “HOW COULD YOU HELP FIX HER DOLL? YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT DOLL REPAIR.”

THE GIRL SAID, “I KNEW THAT, SO I JUST HELPED HER CRY.”

THERE IT IS: HELPING ONE ANOTHER CRY, AND LAUGH, AND WIN AND LOSE. THAT’S EVERY HOLY FAMILY.

David J. McBriar, OFM                                                                      

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