Friday, December 28, 2012

Is your Family a Holy Family?

Is your family a holy family?  This Sunday is the Feast oft he Holy Family, so this feast day presents us with a wonderful opportunity to ponder the question. Are our families holy families?

Let me paint you 2 portraits. 2 portraits of the Holy Family.

1st Portrait of Holy family = Marriage made in Heaven. We might call this the Holy card version of the Holy Family.

Mary = perfect mother - serene, meek, and mild mannered.
Joseph = perfect father - protective, caring husband and father figure.
Jesus = 'model child.'

No terrible twos, and other than one minor mishap as an adolescent (when he stayed behind in the Temple and worried his parents) Jesus did not give his parents any grief as a teenager. He grew up in wisdom, age, and grace... and they lived happily ever after.

That portrait is too shallow and overly sentimental. We look at our own families and find that they fall way short of this perfect holy family that has it all together, and that leaves us feeling discouraged and inadequate.

The 2nd portrait of the Holy Family looks like this:

Joseph and Mary’s Relationship began with a shaky start.

Mary was a pregnant teenager with an explanation too far fetched for even the most understanding fiancé to comprehend.

He considered divorcing her quietly, but in the end, he married the woman who carried another's offspring. The baby was born at a very inconvenient time and in a very inconvenient place. And then Joseph's dreams directed him to relocate the family to a completely different country for a few years for the child's safety. The child had a mind of his own, demonstrating an unusual degree of independence. Mary tried to understand her child's unconventional ways, pondering in her heart all that she experienced. No matter how much a mother loves her son, she can not determine his destiny. The sword of sorrow pierced Mary’s heart, and in the end, her son died a criminal's death.

1st portrait of the Holy Family is disturbing for its idealism. No family can live up to that idealism.

2nd portrait is disturbing for its realism. Unexpected pregnancy. Questions of divorce and illegitimacy. Dreams and angel visitations. Perplexed parents. When God decided to enter human history, he chose to do so through a human being who would live in a human family. Jesus’ human family was not un-real or ideal, but it was into the real world, with all its brokenness, that Jesus came bringing wholeness and reconciliation. Jesus knows from personal experience what it’s like to belong to a very real human family with very real struggles and difficulties.

A question for all the parents here –Have any of your children ever caused you a bit of anxiety, or when you were a kid did you ever cause your parents any concern? It seems that children do things that cause their parents some degree of consternation, and Jesus was no exception. As we hear in the gospel, instead of heading home with his parents after their annual Passover observance, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. Have you ever asked one of your children “why did you do that to us”? or “why did you do that to me?” “why did you do that?” Joseph and Mary ask Jesus the same thing! It says in the scripture we heard today --The very anxious parents asked, "Son, why have you done this to us?" - It’s a question still posed by parents today. Life in the Holy Family was much like life in our families: The gospel also says that Joseph and Mary did not understand what Jesus said to them." Parents are often bewildered by their children - both when they do communicate and when they don't!

Consider this: If there was miscommunication and misunderstanding in the Holy Family, then there is hope for us all!

--So caring for our children can be tough. What about caring for our ageing parents? Many parents find themselves in what is sometimes called the "sandwich generation" - taking care of growing children along with aging parents.

We are advised by Sirach to help our parents in their old age, even if their minds fail, be patient with them. Every time I go to my parents house my Dad tells me: “be patient with the old folks.” He is talking about himself and my Mom. Be patient. Kindness to a mother and a father will never be forgotten. The model people set for elderly care now will probably be the quality of care they receive when they are old.

OK, so What makes a "holy family"? The spirituality of the family is not about excessively long hours of prayer and fasting. There are more than enough opportunities within family life to qualify for sainthood. Here is a list of a few: Changing dirty diapers, getting the kids up and to mass on time or to school on time, wiping runny noses, visits to the emergency room for stitches (when I was a kid the ER doctor knew me by first name!), Car pooling the kids and arbitrating squabbles in the car, helping to settle fights in the family, Fast food sandwiched in between piano lessons, sports, and play rehearsals, Crying with your children when a pet dies, Sitting through a three hour recital waiting for Missy to play the Minute Waltz, Waiting up for a teen out on a date. Stretching paychecks to cover college tuition, Agonizing whether to institutionalize a parent with Alzheimer's.

Folks, what family spirituality is about, is prayer, love, healing bruised egos, mending broken trust, and struggling with reconciliation. It was into family life, holy and messy as it is - that God came to dwell among us as Jesus Christ.

--Is your family a holy family? It is if it is bound by love –the love of Christ. Our families are holy if we find the love of Christ in our family and keep God first in our lives.

Oh yes, family life can be messy, but we also remember that marriage between man and woman is a symbol of Christ’s love for his Church. A marriage between a man and a woman is a symbol of Christ’s love for you his church, his bride. Through marriage, husband a wife share in the creative powers of God -- First, by bringing new life into the world by two people becoming one flesh.

-- And secondly, by bringing new spiritual life into the world by being the first teachers of the faith and the primary source for nourishment of the faith. Listen carefully, It is a serious mistake to think that the Catholic school or the Catholic church is the primary source for spiritual nourishment. I repeat: It is a serious mistake to think that the Catholic school or the Catholic church is the primary source for spiritual nourishment. Lest we forget let me read to you what we all promised at on behalf of our children when they were baptized. . . . (from the book). Faith must have a base upon which to build, and that base is supplied in the home by the family.

So --how do we help keep our families together? How do we bind them together? We are all aware of common experiences that bind people together. Disasters seem to bind people together --Hurricanes, Earthquakes, sickness, fires, war all bond people together. Why not use the common experience of prayer and God to bind our families together? The old saying goes, a family that prays together stays together. Is that still true? Do you as a family pray? I’m not talking about some rote recitation of something like prayer before meals. Do you really pray from the heart? Many families start off like that –do you still do it?

So I ask you, is your family a holy family? How can you transform the nitty-grittiness of your daily life together as a family into a holy family. You don’t do it by getting rid of your humanness, but rather by starting the day with strength from God – from prayer and closing the day with strength from God –from prayer.

Here is the list for building and maintaining a holy family:

Pray -- love -- Teach the faith – love --

heal bruised egos, love -- mend broken trust, love -- struggle with reconciliation, love -- pray.

---Oh yes, life is messy, relationships are messy, families are messy -- I come from a family of 9 kids, dogs, cats, fish, parents, you name it we had it. I know it can be a struggle -- Is your family a holy family? Not a perfect family – but a holy family.?   --DH