28th December – The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
- 1st Reading: Book of Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
- 2nd Reading: Colossians 3:12-21
- Gospel: Luke 2:22-40
Sometimes when I am visiting homes, I see an old holy picture of the Holy Family on the wall. It always strikes me as being too sacharrine and sweet to be wholesome. The reality of family life sits uneasily with the halos and the holy faces in the picture. Someone once called the season of Christmas the ‘great indoors’ and having just spent some time with our families on Christmas Day or Saint Stephen’s Day, we may be filled with mixed emotions about family. This is a time for reminiscing about family members that dead and gone and remembering times past and Christmasses past. It can be a sentimental, nostalgic time and a time for showing our appreciation of each other with gifts and tokens; a time for meeting up with people we don’t see very much of in the course of the year and a time set aside for together-ness, restoring the broken relationships of the past year. With all its fault-lines and failings, family is still where most people wish to return to, if not in life, then in death and burial. It is our origin and sometimes it points to our destiny too.
We usually owe our families a great deal. It was our parents who first gave us life; who nourished and sustained us in our earliest years. It was family who protected us from harm or tried to do so, as in the Gospel story where Joseph and Mary fear for their lost child. We carry within us the genetic heritage of our families for generations past. Our character traits and our habits are largely those of our family and even our looks can identify us as sons and daughters of our parents. Our families live on within us long after we have cut the apron-strings of attachment and moved out to create our own homes and families.
There are some people for whom family experience is very painful. They carry within them a sense of loss, maybe for a family they never had or knew or for a parent that they lost early in life. Some others remain scarred by family dysfunction and find it difficult to allow the sore or the scar to heal.
There are a few for whom family is a nightmare because of gross neglect, violence or abuse of one kind or another. All of us carry within us hurts and resentments; war-wounds from the crossfire of family life. We must recognise these aspects of family life too and try to rise above them and to salve the hurt with forgiveness, reconciliation and constant growth and reformation of character in ourselves.
Thankfully, most of us come from what we call ‘ordinary’ families. People often ask me if any other members of my family are priests. They expect somehow that a priest, almost automatically comes from a middle class, professional background and has several relatives already in religious life. When I write stories or tell tales about my family, people are usually amazed at how similar family experience can be. All of us who were reared in the middle decades of the last century have somewhat matching or parallel stories despite the particular and individual detail of every family and person. Likewise, if we exclude the three years of Christ’s public ministry, the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, were both ordinary and holy. Some people speak of the holiness of common decency. That is what our feast is about today. We celebrate the richness of family heritage and the possibilities that it offered us. The Incarnation of God’s Word honours not only the human person but also the family.