December 29th is Holy Family Sunday, on which we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What a wonderful celebration!
Have you ever thought of what life would be like without family? What loneliness would reign in our hearts? Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his “Introduction to Christianity” that “…loneliness is the region of fear, which is rooted in the exposure of a being that must exist but is pushed out into a situation which he cannot endure.”
I was fortunate to grow up in a family of 14 siblings; whenever I had a problem with one, I had 13 other choices! How grateful we are to our generous parents! We may not have had much money, but we experienced richness from them as they gave us each of our siblings.
In family life, every member is called to be a receptor of Jesus’ goodness and to share that goodness with the rest of the family. The more the receptors, the richer the gifts received from Jesus. That is what these readings are all about!
Sirach begins: “God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority He confirms over her sons.” Parents teach and uphold the values they receive from God. That is how God instills His values of love in very small children. These values grow under the watchful care and love of parents. It is God’s way of becoming Incarnate in us through baptism and the living example of our parents.
Sirach then exhorts children to honor their parents. While Sirach comes from a patriarchal society, what he says about a son taking care of his aging father applies equally well to taking care of his aging mother. “Even if his (her) mind fail, be considerate of him (her); …kindness to a father (mother) will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins…”
Kindness to failing parents is a wonderful way of repaying them for taking care of us in infancy. It’s also a wonderful way of participating in God’s goodness to our parents, and to us.
In the second reading, Paul says: “Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”
We might paraphrase this by saying: “Put on the garment of God’s love, and you will feel comfortable in every situation. The garment of God’s love protects your heart against hurts and inspires your heart to pass along to others the goodness you are receiving from God.”
“And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.”
Paul really says “to put on Christ,” so that even when you fail, Christ will be there to forgive you and to heal you. Without weaknesses we couldn’t ask Christ for help; hence Christ couldn’t grow within us.
He is glorified when in our poverty we ask Him for help. In sending us His mercy, He is gifting us so that we can share that same mercy with others. This is how He works His way into family life! The more weaknesses discovered, the more Christ has an opportunity to come in and reign!
In the Gospel, we realize that the Holy Family wasn’t spared suffering from the sins of mankind. Herod wants to murder their Son, so they swiftly head out of town for Egypt in the middle of the night. Mary and Joseph weren’t previously warned that they would have to leave Bethlehem in the middle of the night.
When Mary said “yes” to Archangel Gabriel, and when Joseph said “yes” to the angel telling him not to fear to take Mary as his wife, they said yes to each unknown inconvenience that was yet to come their way.
What a great model of trust for parents. Parents can’t order online the kind of personality they want for their children. God gives them the kind of children that He knows will surface their weaknesses so that they can come in humility and prayer seeking help.
Parents can’t order a child guaranteed to be free of Down syndrome. Parents and siblings of a child with Down syndrome or other special needs consider themselves incredibly blessed because these children reveal to parents and siblings the riches they have to share. In sharing this love that they find incredible joy!
So as we celebrate Holy Family Sunday, we celebrate our kindergarten for eternal glory.
In the family, we receive the gift of life without doing anything to earn it. In family life, we receive the gift of receiving and sharing. Here, we first learn how to give and receive forgiveness. Here we first feel cherished and loved and surprise others with our gifts and are surprised by the gifts others share with us. Here we become aware that the acceptance of our woundedness befriends us with Christ and with others.
What is eternal glory like if not to gaze upon the Father of all families, upon the Savior of all families who made love and mercy possible for all, and to gaze upon the Holy Spirit as the blazing fire in the family hearth! We will be gazing on glory that will never fade!