1st Reading Gen15:1-6;21:1-3, PS 104:1-6.8-9, 2nd Reading Heb 11:8.11-12.17-19
Gospel Lk 2:22-40
Introduction – Key words for family
As I sat down to prepare this short reflection, I wrote down key words that come to my mind when I think of family:
Mother, Father, Sisters, Brothers, Aunts, Uncles, Grandmother, Grandfather, Nieces, Nephews, Brother-in-laws, Sister-in-laws, Dominican Family, School Community, Parish, all of these words related to people, all individuals that have in some way or another an influence on me. At different times they all can be summed up in the following words: Home, Help, Support, Love, Warmth, Tension, Stress, Pain, Worry, Care, Confusing, Understanding, Acceptance, Friendship, and Challenging.
The Family Unit?
Traditionally we see family as Mother, Father and children who live in the same house and include a wider circle of relatives. Today we know that is not the case, and often families live apart, for many different reasons. As I reflect on the Feast of the Holy Family I believe it is not important who we live with, but how we relate to one another. Do we include or exclude others – because we don’t agree with what they say or how they live?
God’s Mercy and Love
No family is perfect, no member of any family is prefect and that is why we need to allow God’s Mercy and Love radiate in our everyday lives, with our families. Pope Francis has emphasised God’s mercy rather than the narrow application of doctrine when he has been talking about the importance of family in our society, in preparation for next autumn’s Synod on the family. This mercy is what I believe the Feast of the Holy Family calls all of us to have. The Feast reminds us that we should “stop and think” and look at what role we play in our biological / adoptive family and the wider church family to which we belong.
The family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
The family of Jesus was not perfect, from the moment Mary and Joseph accepted God’s call to be parents they hadd to deal with worry – how to get to Bethlehem, find a place to stay, get away from Herod. Even Jesus was a “rebel” teenager, when he went off and began to preach in the Temple. Today we can romanticise this as his doing his father’s will, but at the time I am sure his mother and father suffered the same worry and tension that many mothers and fathers suffer today when they don’t know where their children are. Then as an adult Jesus gave up everything and wandered around the country preaching and standing up to the status quo. The ultimate suffering for his mother was to see him crucified on the cross. Again, in hindsight we see this as a “gift from God” for us, but at the time is was a scandal. Jesus was not accepted by many in society, and to some he was seen as “strange and even mad” Mary wept and suffered and I am sure Joseph got angry at what his son was putting his mother through.
Not Giving Up
Even through all of this Mary or Joseph did not give up on their “child”. The call of this Feast to us as members of the Christian Family is not to give up on one another. Despite the many challenges and hardship, we are asked to love and forgive and to heal relationships.
We as members of the Christian family must go out and heal, the hurt. We must be willing to include and to accept those who differ from us.
I often sit in my office with parents and young people, listening to their stories. Often the “root” cause of a student’s misbehaviour in school can be what has gone on “before they entered” the school gates. Often we end up not talking about the misbehaviour but about issues that are going on at home. Due to the breakdown of relationships within the family, members can feel “insecure” “angry” and “hurt” even if that family has not lived in the same “house”.
During this year of the Consecrated life and in preparation for the Synod on the family the church as a Holy family, is called to reach out to one another, to reflect on how no one is beyond the mercy of God and how this truth can be expressed towards families, especially those that are wounded and fragile?
Each one of us as a member of God’s family can do this if we truly believe that Family is where God moves through the world: in our daily lives, through ALL the people we meet.
We are all brothers and sisters. We are family, holy, surprising, fragile, imperfect, a bit scandalous and crazy.
But we are family and inside this holy family, we do not judge who’s in and who’s out.
Today we are reminded that love understands, love forgives, and love holds us in union in ways that take into account weakness, hurt, complexity, absence and even sin.
Sr. Liz Smyth, OP