“My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you” (Luke 2: 48)
On this day, the last Sunday of the year 2018, when we celebrate the Solemnity of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love to begin this reflection with these words accredited to Pope Francis on the family:
There is no perfect family. We have no perfect parents, we are not perfect, do not get married to a perfect person, neither do we have perfect children. We have complaints about each other. We are disappointed by one another.
How true these words of Pope Francis that “There is no perfect family.” Do not be surprised if I say that it could also be applied even to the Holy Family itself. The incident of the missing Jesus we just listened to in the Gospel (Luke 2: 41-52) does not portray the status of a perfect family. Added to this, if we are to define a “perfect family” as one where everything happily and according to their desires and plans, then the Holy Family would be further from being perfect. They had their own challenges and moments: we can recall that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was “found to be with child” before she moved in to stay with Joseph, her husband; Joseph had decided to “send Mary away in secret” before the angel appeared to him in a dream and asked him to take back his wife because the child in womb was of the Holy Spirit; The child was not Joseph’s and so he could not give him any name except the name the angel gave him at the Annunciation; at birth, “there was no room in the inn” so the child had to be born in a stable, laid in a manger. After birth, they had to flee to Egypt because Herod wanted to have the child killed; at 12 The Child Jesus got lost in Jerusalem and for three days the parents had to search for Him and finally found Him in the temple. At some point, Joseph died, so Mary and Jesus had to struggle through life in austere conditions. Then came the ultimate sorrows of the Passion and Death of this only Son of the mother, who was a widow. In all these, Mary bore everything in her heart in inexplicable patience and uncomplaining manner.
The resume of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph lucidly presents the reality that there is indeed no perfect family, where everything runs on a smooth routine as they would desire it. The Holy Family was a family of faith and perseverance, where everything was entrusted to God and every action was in tandem with the Supreme Will of God. They neither wavered in faith nor severed in their love during those trying and difficult moments. The many unfathomable incidents in their family never made them to doubt the existence of God nor question His whereabouts. Similarly, in our families we may have these moments of misfortunes and difficulties, when the whole world seems to turn against us. Such times call for patience, for perseverance and for faith in imitation of the Holy Family.
Pope Francis said: “there is no healthy marriage or healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness.” The Holy Family epitomised this axiom: from St. Luke’s narrative, it is clear that Joseph had already forgiven Mary before the intervention of the Angel. For otherwise he would have decided to report the matter to the officials of the community, who would have had Mary stoned to death for alleged adultery (Leviticus 20: 10). Again after Mary and Joseph found Jesus, He, Jesus, “went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority” (Luke2: 51). This action indicates that Joseph and Mary forgave Jesus and took Him home with love. The Holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph have taught us to understand the import of statement of Pope Francis about the importance of forgiveness in the family:
Forgiveness is vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival. Without forgiveness the family becomes a theatre of conflict and a bastion of grievances. Without forgiveness the family becomes sick. Forgiveness is the sterilization of the soul, cleansing the mind and the liberation of the heart. Anyone who does not forgive has no peace of soul and communion with God … He who does not forgive sickens physically, emotionally and spiritually. That is why the family must be a place of life and not of death; an enclave of cure not of disease; a stage of forgiveness and not of guilt. Forgiveness brings joy where sorrow produced pain; and healing, where pain caused disease.
Forgiveness is integral in the family because wherever there is more than one person, there are bound to be differences, misunderstandings, hurts and tensions that require forgiveness to rebuild and grow. This is an inescapable fact. Families must rise up to face it positively as St. Paul advises in the Second Reading (Colossians 3: 12-21): “Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you, now you must do the same.”
St. Luke further reports that Jesus went down with His parents and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. Thus Jesus lived in obedience to His earthly parents and submitted to their guidance and direction. Obedience, like forgiveness, is integral to family bonding and growth. It is a product of love, for where there is no love, obedience becomes a burden and a duty. With love obedience becomes a gift, freely given out of love, and for the sake of love. There are three crucial pivots in the sustenance of any family: love, obedience and forgiveness. Of these three, love is the primary stand that produces, nourishes and sustains the other two.
As we celebrate the gift of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph today, let us imitate their exemplary qualities and virtues. I pray that our families may be the nurseries, where love is nurtured; gardens where obedience grows, watered by forgiveness so that the flowers of peace, kindness, wisdom and compassion may blossom grow together. Amen.
I WISH YOU ALL A GRACE-FILLED NEW YEAR 2019!