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Reflection on the Feast of the Holy Family

Posted on December 27, 2020, by Johanna Brian SL

Today is the feast of the Holy Family. The whole world seems to love a good family story and the entertainment industry knows it. “The Godfather,” which introduced us to the Corleone family, ran through two sequels by popular demand. “Downton Abbey” went on and on and on and spun off into all sorts of thematic gatherings complete with costumes. “The Royal Family” is mostly a staged operation to boost British tourism, and it works. The world continues to watch with interest.

The whole concept of family has undergone radical changes in the past 60 years. The households of “The Brady Bunch” and “Leave It to Beaver” bear little resemblance to family households today. Individual family experiences seem to range anywhere from wonderful to horrible. Dominican theologian Ladislas Orsy said that a good definition for original sin might be to say that one generation traumatizes the next. Stable marriages that formed the bedrock of family life in the past seem to be in jeopardy across Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. The options to skip marriage all together or live together without a formal marriage agreement frequently are chosen. And yet, paradoxically, this is also a time when many people seem to be awakening to a new appreciation of the value of faithful loving relationships in a framework of a stable commitment. New configurations of what was once called family are being formed.

Our readings today skip all of the youth, glamour and celebration associated with theatrical families. In the first reading we have a very old couple holding on to a promise that they will have a child and a link to future generations. They weren’t perfect by any means as we well know from stories about them that are not included in these readings. The important thing is that they did not give up hope even though the years ticked away past all biological possibilities. The birth of Isaac, when it finally happened, solidified Abraham’s faith, and he was able to believe that even if he had to sacrifice Isaac, who was the only tangible evidence he had that God was faithful to the promise, he was willing to do that and continue to believe. Isn’t that what faith is really all about — the unshakable certainty that God is not restricted by any limitations.

Abraham’s faith provides some good food for thought for us as we look out upon our broken world and seriously wonder if we have a future in the face of the massive breakdown of familial, political, financial, ethical, medical and legal structures of support. It would also be good for us to remember that Isaac prefigures Christ — God’s final and powerful Word — the Word made flesh — the perfect embodiment of the creative power of Love.

In the Gospel we find two more old people. Simeon and Anna are figures of transition from what was to what will be. Both had been faithful and devout and were filled with joy, peace and hope. In their greetings, they witnessed a perfect trust that a new day had dawned with the coming of this child. With their blessing and affirmation, Jesus, Mary and Joseph returned to Galilee to the town of Nazareth where the child grew and became strong.

He was filled with wisdom and the favor of God was upon him. There, as a member of the Holy Family, he waited for his time to come. His time has come, and it is now. God’s time is always now.

It’s probably true to say that the human family has never been more lost, confused, incapacitated and wounded than it is today. Like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, Pope Francis welcomes the human family home with his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti.” He reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters and that the earth is our home. He hands us a blueprint that diagnoses the problem and offers a step-by-step path to a viable solution. As we ponder the contents of this magnificent document, may we, like Simeon and Anna, be filled with gratitude, joy and trust that God will enlighten and empower us to do our part in facilitating the unfolding of the vision of this new world. May we, as members of the Loretto Community, devote ourselves to the task of creating that critical mass of loving community that the world so desperately needs today. May we, with steadfast generosity and unshakable trust, continue to do all in our power to work for justice and act for peace.


Johanna Brian SL

Johanna came to Loretto from Colesburg, Ky., which is just over the hill from Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky. She attended Bethlehem Academy and Loretto Academy in Kansas City, Mo. She also attended Webster University and St. Louis University. Twenty-six of her 38 years of teaching were spent in El Paso, Texas, where she taught English and religion. For the past 25 years, Johanna has been on the staff at The Healing Place in Louisville, Ky., helping women to recover from alcoholism and drug addictions. Since moving to Loretto Motherhouse a few years ago, she has been having a great time participating in all that is going on there.