Year B Holy Family
This year I re-watched my favorite Christmas movie, and probably the greatest of all time – Home Alone (You thought I was going to say It’s a Wonderful Life or something like that but I tricked you). It’s a film that sits right at my level of low-brow humor – bad guys getting hit in the face with paint cans, bad guys stepping on glass Christmas ornaments and falling down, bad guys getting hit in the face with a hot iron… It’s cinema magic. There’s actually a scientific breakdown on youtube about how, in real life, those criminals would’ve ended up in the hospital very quickly as a result of those booby traps. But underneath the ridiculous slapstick veneer of the movie, there’s actually a rather touching story about family: what happens when we argue, or feel ignored and unappreciated, how difficult it can be to grow up in the midst of all these other people who are also trying to grow up, how hard it is to be the perfect parent, how easy it is to treat each other poorly.
Families can be, let’s say, stressful. Brothers and sisters fight. They take up your space. Take your toys without asking. Husbands and wives find relationships strained and difficult at times, or simply find themselves in desperate need of some alone time. Children, as much as we love them, have a habit of driving parents completely crazy at regular intervals. And from the perspective of children, parents can be troublesome, too, and aren’t always perfect. But in the end, we wouldn’t want to live without our families being in our lives in some way or another. We may, in dark moments, want them all to just disappear, but in the end, each individual emerges from their family better for it.
And I say all this full well knowing that many families are broken or full of trauma. Even in these instances, the absence of what ought to be is revelatory of what we seek. Even those who don’t have a natural family to speak of always have the family of God, after all Mary is our Mother and Christ our brother. When the scriptures refer to us as “brother and sister” it isn’t simply an accident of language. It’s a description of a fundamental, life-changing relationship. You have a family. So whether we like it or not, we are all part of a family.
Today is the celebration of the Holy Family, and it’s worth noting that in the Gospel we do not find explanations but rather what Pope Benedict refers to as “an event which is worth more than any words.” It is the simple description of what it was like to grow up in a 1st century, Jewish family. The Holy Father says, “God wanted to be born and to grow up in a human family. In this way he consecrated the family as the first and ordinary means of his encounter with humanity.” That is fascinating. What he means is that the family, not Church, is the way in which we first meet Jesus. He could have arrived on earth in any way he chose as a fully grown adult – but he chose to have a mother and father.
And, in spite of the fact that at least 2 out of the 3 members of that family never sinned, it wasn’t perfect. Mom was a teenager and the circumstances of the pregnancy seemed suspicious. They had to flee as refugees to Egypt for a time because Herod was seeking to kill Jesus. At the age of 12, Our Lord was lost for a time and his parents were frantic until they finally found him in the temple. They were constantly facing up to a difficult and challenging future, knowing that it would be marked by death and loss. In short, this family may be holy but it is also human.
This is the kind of family that God loves. His presence in the midst of it sanctifies each and every other family and draws us into that love. A family doesn’t have to be perfect, that isn’t what makes it successful. The vocation of a family is to stick together and be there as each member is set on a path of discovery about God and the special plan he has prepared for every single person. It is a school of virtue and a domestic Church. This formation is irreplaceable. We can’t get it at school, or at work, or from friends, or even at PSR or Bible studies. It has to happen in the family, because this is the primary structure of human relationships. Your family will make you holy, and help you find God, and help you find your place in the world. It has its ups and downs, and you may be thinking that your family could never provide any spiritual support, that it isn’t even close, and that may take some hard thinking and praying to see how God has led you to where you are and how to find the good from any situation, but however your family delivered you to the place you are now, it is what has made you uniquely yourself.
All of us could benefit from meditating on the Holy Family and imitating them in always keeping Jesus in the center of our shared life together.
Parents, pray with your children. Help make your home a joyful, gentle, supportive environment where mistakes can be made and growing up is nurtured. When it comes to the faith of your children and the reality that God loves them and they are valuable in his eyes, you are far more important than your priest.
Children, honor your parents. Even when we think they have been unfair in the past or don’t understand us, they have often given to us more than we know.
Brothers and sisters, don’t get too competitive or allow unhealthy rivalries to sever the bond between you.
And to all of us who find ourselves in the midst of an all-too human, messy family, don’t give up on it. Let the Holy Family be your guide. If we gather round Our Lord as the source of our unity and strength, he will never let us down. Even if our families bring us joy and sorrow, anxiety and security, or the occasional wish for alone time along with our bond, this is the way God has chosen to save us and the way he reveals himself to us.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!