During the Octave of Christmas our thoughts remain centred on Bethlehem and the Holy Family, and the readings of today’s liturgy deal with various aspects of family life. Speaking about the Holy Family may be somewhat off-putting as our own home life and community life may be a far cry from this loving ideal. We are, after all, still human, but let’s not forget that Mary and Joseph had their own problems and difficulties to face. The shadow of the Cross was already beginning to form over the crib at Bethlehem when they heard Simeon’s chill prophecy, that their child was destined for the rise and fall of many in Israel, and that Mary’s own soul would be pierced with a sword. From the very beginning, the child they loved and cherished was a mystery to Mary and Joseph, and as he grew up under their guidance and protection all they could do was to place their trust in God. And we must do the same. The family is as old as humanity itself and has survived because it is built on the unshakable foundation of love. We may not be able to change many things in the world but our influence does extend over our own homes and our own families and the people with whom we choose to live.
Like any other worthwhile project, family life, community life, parish life, civic life, if it’s going to be successful, it has to be given time and energy to develop. The perfect family, the perfect religious community, the perfect parish, the perfect society doesn’t just happen automatically. Love, harmony and mutual respect, which are the basic ingredients of a happy life together with other human beings, have to be witnessed in action. And example always teaches the best lesson. Attitudes of loving and caring, which are encouraged in the young, have a deep and lasting influence. Children become, in later life, what their families and their homes have made them, and when children have learned to give as well as receive, they develop a growing awareness of others.
Today we have the opportunity to reflect on the love and respect we ought to show to members of our family and our community. For example, kindness to parents and elders is precious in God’s eyes and sadly, too many children today don’t always live up to the gospel expectations in this respect. Parents are often left bewildered and wondering at what’s happening as they watch their children grow up and express values and beliefs quite alien to their own.
Having experienced both a broken family and a broken community, I can tell you that sharing life with other human beings is far from easy. And yet it’s the raw material from which we fashion our sainthood. Those little daily acts of generosity and kindness help to build up the union between us. Life in our families, and life in the Church, is our rehearsal for divine family life, our preparation for eternity.
And so, may we learn from the example of the Holy Family the perfection of earthly family life, that we might also be well-prepared for the glory of divine life with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.