Reflection: Feast of the Holy Family
This morning we continue our Christmas celebrations with a feast focused on the family. That makes a lot of sense, because the Christmas child has been given to us in the bosom of a family, given to us as the baby son of Joseph and Mary, the grandson of Anne and Joachim, the nephew of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the cousin of John. Jesus is a member of a big Jewish family that goes way back.
This Jesus, who will lead us to God, comes, not as a solitary figure of self-sufficient power, not even as a fully formed mature human being, but as a newborn, a dependent member of a family.
Since we believe that all creation reveals the hand and heart of the Creator, let us ask what God might intend to reveal by speaking the Divine Word into the heart of a human family.
In Catholic devotion, the Holy Family is usually revered as the model, the ideal for family relationships. We were taught that we should revere and obey our parents as Jesus did – and it was an article of faith that Jesus never talked back.
Even our Loretto Community has the family at Nazareth as our model for how to live with one another. Charles Nerinckx urged our first sisters to love one another with the perfect love of the Holy Family.
But maybe, just maybe God gave the Son into a human family not to make the family perfect but to bless its imperfection. Maybe God is at home with the messiness, the ups and downs, even the mistakes and struggles of family and community life.
At this time of year my experience of Christmas seems marred by my limited spiritual insight. At Midnight Mass I have had moments of deep awe and gratitude, marveling at the wonder that God has chosen to come among us, to be one of us. As Christmas Day and the Christmas Season progress, however, my moments of inspiration fade. I feel disappointed and a little ashamed that I cannot hold onto a clear pure sense of Christ in our midst while I go about my small daily tasks.
In a similar way, my experience of family and community at Christmas time is marred by my expectations of what family ought to be. I am beguiled by the Christmas card pictures of families happily gathered beneath the tree. However, just when I have given myself over to warm and fuzzy feelings about family, I stumble into petty anger or self-centered stubbornness. And I feel embarrassed, even ashamed that my family and our Community aren’t like those families in the TV movies, where everyone knows the best, most kind and loving way to act, where occasional mistakes are graciously forgiven.
I believe the coming of God’s Son into our human family gives us a choice about what vision of family and community we will celebrate today. Instead of feeling impatient with or ashamed of our imperfect families and Community, we can take it as a compliment that God, who knows our imperfections, accepts us just as we are, and is pleased to make a home with us.
The Creator made each of our hearts in God’s own image. In sending Jesus to become one of us, perhaps God tells us that having hearts that can love is good enough. It is not perfection but love that God seeks, in our families, in this Community …
That was my homily of six years ago on this same date, Dec 29, 2013.
What would I add today? In the last six years our Community and our individual selves have experienced continuous change; there have been many dramatic and difficult events in our nation and world. All of it leads me to these further words about family:
In the push and pull of community and civic life, when times get tough two phrases emerge: Blood is thicker than water and that one is a stranger, whereas this one is my own flesh and blood. These are ways we talk when we wish to dismiss the demands that love makes on us to recognize the needs of strangers and aliens. We are probably endowed with an instinctive preference for the claims of “our own.” We find outward differences like skin color, lifestyle, culture, religion or residence in another country adequate evidence that those people are not related to us, not our family.
The loving Creator of all peoples and all things gives us indisputable counter evidence through the world of nature, showing that our natural family relationships extend far beyond our nearsighted prejudices and pride. In recent years we have come to a new understanding of the interconnectedness of all creation, and the part we play for good and ill in the whole. Our personal, Community and national response to the climate crisis depends on our fully accepting that, like all creation, we are star dust: We share common origins and common destiny with all creation; in other words, we are flesh and blood with all that is.
We who celebrate the birth of Jesus, recognize his family connections with the divine and all humanity. We are graced with a sacrament for understanding and accepting our kinship with all creation. Here at this altar, we believe, Jesus is again present in the flesh. He invites us to consume this reality and ourselves become his flesh and blood for our times. At this altar this morning may we renew our willingness to treasure each person, near and far, as beloved family, and care for the Earth itself as our beloved home.