A boy went to a priest and asked: ‘Father, what is a devil?’ The priest replied: ‘The devil is an evil spirit and comes from hell.’ The boy gasped: ‘Oh, so I must be from hell then?’ Surprised, the priests asked: ‘Why did you say that?’ ‘Well’, the boy explained, ‘my mum always calls me ‘you little devil.’
It is a sad fact, but true that though God has ordained a human family from which we all are born into, as good and thus for the good of all members, yet some of us would make ‘hell out of it.’ It is unfortunate that there are some of us who just can’t live out the ideals of family life as God has designed it to be from the beginning.
I believe one reason why God has chosen not only to become ‘flesh’, human like us, but also he chose to be born in a human family is to help us see the importance, the value, the beauty, the real meaning of a human family. As God as he is, he could just have come out of the blue. As God as he is, he could have just appeared anywhere and wherever he wants, in whatever way and whatever form he likes to be. But, no, he chose rather to be born as human, and to be born into a human family, to be cared for, nurtured and raised by a human father and mother, just like any of us.
Such is the dignity of the human family. Such is the significance of our families. So to remind us this, today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family in Nazareth. We are now broadening our perspective from just looking at the baby in the manger, we now are to look at the whole nativity scene- the image of a family.
We are to reflect on the Holy Family and as we have it in our opening prayer, we are to ‘imitate them, in practicing the virtues of family life. We can imitate the Holy Family not because they are the perfect family, but because they are the ideal family. I dare to say that the holy family is not the perfect family in terms of our human standards of perfection: i.e. they are poor (Joseph’s job was a carpenter); they could only afford a poor family’s offering for the sacrifice in the temple- a pair of turtledoves (Lk 2:22-40); Mary’s pregnancy is ‘unnatural’; they almost lost Jesus when they left him in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52); they had their ups and downs too as any human family would have.
Indeed, there is no perfect family in this world, but there could be an ideal family. As Pope Francis would say to the engaged couples at St Peter’s Square during the Valentines day this year: “We all know that the perfect family does not exist, nor a perfect husband or wife…(then he paused a moment) we won’t even speak about a perfect mother-in-law.”
The Holy family though is an ideal family for at least three good reasons and in these they are worth imitating.
First,they were grounded in God. They opened their hearts to God and allowed God to be part of their life, of their day to day works and decisions. The last line of our gospel today can assure us this when Jesus “grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.” (Lk 22:40). If God wasn’t real and true, and not welcome in the family of Mary and Joseph, theirs wouldn’t have love in there too, because as St John would say: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” If love is absent, a family is impossible, that’s where ‘hell is made.’
Second, they were grounded in faith. Such is their faith in God and in one another that even if things are not really that clear for Mary and Joseph, even scary and tedious, if you like, they remained firm, they remained grounded. If Mary’s faith is that shallow, she would have trembled in fear and would have done something to prevent what Simeon, the prophet in the temple has said about Jesus as: ‘destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce [her] own soul too.’ I can only imagine Mary’s reaction as I am reminded of that news months ago about a baby with down syndrome, born in Thailand by a surrogate mother, not taken by the foster parents. If Mary had no faith of what God has done and would do still for her, she would have opted to do away with Jesus if only later on He would only give her such pain, shame or disgrace so to speak. But no Mary, remained faithful to what God has willed for her. So with Joseph, they did their best to raise their child no matter what it takes, no matter what it costs them and no matter how much pain Mary had to bear later on.
Third, they remained grounded in their tradition. As we have heard in the gospel Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem with the child to undergo the purification ritual to offer a sacrifice for the Lord. This is their tradition-
It was a tradition and belief of the Jewish people of old that God is the source of life, and He would channel that life to human beings through blood. So, if a person came in contact with blood, he/she would be deemed to be coming in contact with God’s creative power, and that set this person apart from the ordinary world. This person then would have to undergo a certain ritual bath to go back to his/her ordinary and everyday life. Mary, of course upon giving birth, came in contact with blood and so before she could offer sacrifices to God she would have to go purification first.
This is just a glimpse of how the Holy family observed their traditions. We can see this again, when Jesus reached 12 years old and he was presented in the temple.
There are many challenges that families faced. One challenge for the family today is to uphold the traditional and ancient way of understanding marriage, i.e. between man and woman. Another one is the rise of domestic violence that divides families that leaves a traumatic and sometimes deep psychological wounds for the children. Surely enough there are families today that have fallen short of the ideals of family life.
Let us pray for them, as we pray for our families: that we may all go back to the Holy Family of Nazareth and learn from them how they keep their family grounded in God, grounded in faith and grounded in tradition. God, faith and tradition are the grounds that would prevent more families from collapsing, and effectively keeping our human society together.
As we pray for our families, I leave you with a recipe for a perfect family. I found this on a website called Tastebook. The ingredients are: 1 loving Father, 1 loving Mother, 4 wonderful children, 2 cute puppies preferably one much larger than the other one, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins. Directions: 1 Mix together: (God, faith and tradition-my addition) 2 understanding 3 Patience 4 Laughter 5 Tears 6 Compassion 7 A dash of Humor 8 and a whole ’lotta love! 9 Blend well and serve generous portions, evenly to each and everyday