For some of you who may have come from a big family, you might agree with me when I say that the expression: ‘The more the merrier’ is not always true. I would even say, based on my personal experience, ‘the more girls there are, the noisier’. I hope I don’t intend to sound like anti-girls or anti-women here but I’m just sharing with you how it is to be one of 11 children, how it is to be the sixth in the family, and how it is to be the eldest son with 5 older sisters before me. When I was growing up my sisters also had their own ‘girlish’ way of teasing me or ‘bullying’ me so to speak. However, the good thing about many girls in the family is that the girls were doing most of the household tasks like doing the laundry, washing the dishes, cooking, while I would just go with my father to the farm. It was a big family and still is by the grace of God. We’re not a perfect family as no family is. We’re not rich like many other families, yet we have each other, and there is no amount of money that can compensate this. And this makes me proud of my family.
I’m sharing with you a bit of my personal background because today we are celebrating the feast of the Holy Family- the example, the model, the ‘ideal’ of a Christian family or for any family for that matter. If at Christmas we focused only on the child in the manger, this time we broaden our perspective, we widen our horizon by looking at the parents of the child Jesus too: Mary and Joseph. But we are not only to gaze at them but to learn something from them. We are to learn from this simple, humble yet Holy family in Nazareth, how to live truly live out a Christian family life. We need this to help sustain our society. We need to look once again the status of our individual families. It is said that the family is the building block, the basic cell of the society, so as a family or as a member of any family we have the task to help uphold the values that our family holds. Let us contemplate and learn from the Holy family of Joseph and Mary and Jesus.
First, the Holy family is bonded by love. This love moved Joseph to take the extraordinary leap of faith by taking Mary home as his wife despite the extraordinary things and events surrounding Mary’s pregnancy. This love also moved Mary to trust Joseph even if she didn’t really understand what’s going on in her. Because of love, they welcomed the God-child into the world as part of their human family. Because of love for their child, Mary and Joseph had to seek asylum in Egypt to save the baby Jesus from imminent death by the hands of Herod. Their love together helped them to raise Jesus as part of the human society, introduced him to their obligations to the Jewish laws and traditions. It is love that motivated Mary and Joseph to search him when he was lost in the temple in Jerusalem. Love is the very important bond in the life of the Holy family. Looking at the many families around us, we find many families wherein love has slowly diminished or even worst gone. This leads to breakdown in the family, and if a family is broken down, any society would eventually collapse too. To stop this from happening, let us help one another especially if we know any families in the verge of breaking down. Let us help the people concerned to rekindle in them the power of love that binds them in the first place. It is a big challenge because we couldn’t really make this happen. God is the only one that can draw them back in love. What we can do however is to pray for these people that God may re-ignite in them the love that he shared with them in the beginning. We can also help these people by just being a leaning shoulder, a source of support and encouragement and by our lives showing them the dignity, the meaning and the value of love in the family.
Second, the Holy Family always had a space for God in their family. Mary and Joseph didn’t take for granted the fact that the arrival of Jesus as Emmanuel, God-with-us, in their lives would inevitably and certainly bring many blessings for them. Rather they keep the doors of their hearts always open for God. They always turned to God in prayers. We heard in the gospel that Joseph had a dream and it was in his dream that he heard God speaking to him about the things he should do. It doesn’t mean that when troubles came or when need arose, Joseph just slept on it hoping that God would tell him what to do through his dreams. It means that Joseph and Mary prayed about it. They put their trust in God. Their faith helped them see and understand that whatever happened to them and to the child is all part of God’s plan for salvation. What happened to Joseph and Mary, about the angel coming to them either in dream or in apparition, didn’t just happen out of the blue. It happened in the context of prayer. It happened because they allowed God to work in and through them. Thus, through prayers they were able to see God at work in every situation and circumstance they were in. So we can imitate the Holy Family in terms of their living and real relationship with God, in prayers and in contemplating the works of God for us. This is one secret to keep the family intact- prayer. And this is still true in our time, as Fr Patrick Peyton would say: ‘The family that prays (i.e. keeping God as part of their family) together, stays together.’
Third thing we can learn from the Holy Family is that despite all the trials, challenges, difficulties, threats, pressures, they remained together. They faced all those challenges in family life side by side. They stood firm on their commitment and in their faith even if things were not easily understood for them. They might be a Holy Family but they’ve got their own share of trials and challenges too. When Mary was in labor, they couldn’t find a room for her to deliver her child. Thankfully they found an inn for animals. When the child was born, Herod was after him to kill him. So the Holy family had to seek asylum in Egypt to save the child’s life. When Jesus was 12 years old and being introduced into the obligations of the law, Mary and Joseph lost him in the temple. When Jesus was doing his ministry of preaching, healing and service to the poor and the needy, he was in conflict with the religious leaders and the authorities. This might have caused so much stress for Mary being the mother. When Jesus was carrying his cross, a symbol of humiliating punishment then, Mary was walking with him all through till he breathed his last.
The life of the Holy family wasn’t the perfect one in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of faith, it is the ideal one in that, despite all hardships, trials and difficulties, they kept up in love, in trust, in hope, in loyalty, in dedication and in service to one another, and in their amazing way of making God a strong part and giving Him a prominent place in their family life.
As we contemplate on this Feast of the Holy Family, let us pray for the many families and many children who have to suffer the loss of love, the loss of respect, the loss of dedication, commitment and trust between their mothers and their fathers. Let us also pray for those families who have set God aside, or have never allowed God to be part of their family that like the Holy Family they may welcome God with open hearts and soul. It is an urgent call and an important task that we have to attend to because it is happening around us today. We don’t have to go far. It is so true today that Catherine de Hueck Doherty laments: ‘I cry for parents so engrossed in giving their children all the material benefits of our affluent society that they neglect the give the only thing that matters- God.’ Amen.