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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Holy Family!


How many of you feel like your families have a problem or two, a little messiness, or "some skeletons in the closet" we might say?  Well, welcome to the club.

As we celebrate the Holy family, we may find it difficult to see ourselves in the people of Mary and Joseph when they are sitting there so nicely in that manger scene.  But if we look more closely at the story, we will see that things aren't as cookie cutter perfect as we make it out to be.  First off, don't forget what that manger would have really looked like: a cave with a little roof on top full of smelly animals and hay and dirt and who knows what else.  And in today's world we have the same problems, sort of.  I was just at home for Christmas day and my mom and dad still crack me up.  They spent about 30 years straight raising kids in the home, all 8 kids for about 4 years, and now they are actually getting used to having a clean house.  So when we all come home for Christmas and fill the house will all this clutter (and more dishes in a couple days than they use in a week!) it gets them a little uneasy.  But that messiness was present in the first Holy Family.  So holiness isn't about being sanitized and unrealistic, but it is about being radically devoted to Christ Jesus and being truly human.

One Christmas about six years ago, I asked my sister for an icon of the Holy Family.  In this simple picture, we see three aspects of how to be a Holy Family.

First, Joseph is clearly a protector.  He wraps Mary and Jesus and sort of acts as a safe support between them and the world.  Fathers need to do this with the same strength and tenderness that Joseph shows here.  Every family is a precious gift, and needs to be safeguarded in order to flourish, just like my baby nephew needs to be protected before he grows to full strength.

In Mary, we see Jesus is presented to the world, not kept for herself.  While we cherish and protect the gift of our faith and of our family, we do not do it for ourselves.  The family, just like our faith, is not for ourselves, but to share with others.  We don't keep the good of our families for ourselves.

Thirdly, in Christ, we see the center and the source of the family's blessings.  In the faithfulness and love of God, we find our blessing (symbolized in the gesture of Christ).  In Jesus alone will we find our happiness and be strengthened to heal others with his love.

Another important lesson from today's Gospel is hidden in the words at the end: he went an was obedient to them.  We don't hear anything about Christ's life for the next 18 years.  The point that I see here is this: Ordinariness is underrated.  Although it is not explained in the Gospel, it is absolutely important.  Christ lives an ordinary family life for 30 years before his public ministry.  Just like he didn't shy away from the quiet faithful work of family life, with all its blessings and crosses, nor should we.  The hidden life is real life, or nothing is real.   G.K. Chesterton made me laugh out loud with this very true statement about how God chooses our families to teach us lessons of love:
The modern writers who have suggested, in a more or less open manner, that the family is a bad institution, have generally confined themselves to suggesting, with much sharpness, bitterness, or pathos, that perhaps the family is not always very congenial. Of course the family is a good institution because it is uncongenial. It is wholesome precisely because it contains so many divergencies and varieties. It is, as the sentimentalists say, like a little kingdom, and, like most other little kingdoms, is generally in a state of something resembling anarchy.  It is precisely because our uncle Henry does not approve of the theatrical ambitions of our sister Sarah that the family is like humanity. The men and women who, for good reasons and bad, revolt against the family, are, for good reasons and bad, simply revolting against mankind. Aunt Elizabeth is unreasonable, like mankind. Papa is excitable, like mankind Our youngest brother is mischievous, like mankind. Grandpapa is stupid, like the world; he is old, like the world.
If we can love our disagreeable family members, we can love anyone.  If we can't love our families, we cannot love anyone; we can only pretend.
So how do we grow in love?  I would emphasize the little things.  Everyone can say "I love you.  I'm sorry.  I forgive you.  Please.  Thank you."  We can hug and kiss and show kindness in other ways.   We can help each other around the home. The small things that we can do to live with each other and share deeply with each other, make up everything!  There is no deep communion in the big things if we do not have it in the small things.
Secondly, we can stay focused on Jesus like in this icon reminds us.  Keep Him at the center and stay close to Him.  Come to Mass together, where Christ is literally at the center, and keep your eyes on him for a while as a family.  talk about the priest's long homily and what you learned from it, or what you thought about during it when it was boring! (hopefully it was the Holy Spirit saying something much better!)
Small things with great love, centered around Christ Jesus.  This is the path to a holy family!  Jesus, save and heal us!  Mary, bring us to Jesus!  Joseph protect us!

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