Family is the first school of social behaviour. Here a child learns how humans interact with one another. For some children that learning helps them adapt to and integrate into a larger human family, such as school, church, teams, friends and little by little society at large. For other children that learning is a stumbling block to the adaptation to and integration into the larger human family. Some children learn the art of sharing, communication, negotiation, security and respect, while other children learn fear, greed, suspicion, anger, insecurity and violence.
When we think of the Holy Family our minds probably imagine a small family unit of three people, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This was certainly the image presented, as this feast day was established universally by the church in the early twentieth century. However, we may be in no doubt that family to Jesus, in his experience, included the grandmas and the grandpas, the aunts and the uncles, the cousins and the kin. Growing up in a large extended family teaches the art of understanding, kindness, compassion, mercy and forgiveness and caring, for in such a social setting one meets all types of characters and personalities.
These are the very things that Paul is exhorting the Colossian community to clothe themselves in – “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another”. Over all these, Paul says, put on love, let the peace of Christ control your hearts, and be thankful. This is surely the recipe for a holy family, a holy community, a holy parish, a holy people of any grouping.
No family is perfect, and from external judgment not too many appear holy. Indeed, many families are in turbulence. Some are tossed about by poverty, and some by affluence. Whatever the circumstances of life, all are redeemable, and every individual in a family is redeemable. This season continually reminds us, that Jesus came into the world as a manifestation of God, not to condemn, but to save. It can be a challenge to recognize the presence of God in some family settings, but we can be sure that God is there, and where God is, it is holy.
As we celebrate this feast, we are invited to ponder the presence of God in every family member, every community member. Then will we understand the presence of God in the family or community group. We will know that no matter what one’s start in life, the power of God’s presence is always there, and that is what makes a person, a family, a community holy.
Elizabeth Ferguson, O.P.