On the Feast of the Holy Family we are invited to take a look at this family and discover how it can inspire us and help us in the lives of our own families.
The first thing that becomes obvious to me in both families we read about in today’s texts is the fact that they are not typical families : Abraham was a hundred years old when he became a father. One hundred years! That beats Charlie Chaplin who became a father at age 82.
And Sarah? From the first reading we can easily conclude that she was much, much younger than Abraham. The second reading mentions that she was old for conception, which would place her in her late forties. So we have a very, very old man married to a woman much much younger. Not a typical family. Now let’s look at Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Are they typical? Not at all : in that family the father was not the biological father, but the asoptive one. And Church tradition teaches that although the couple were living together they never shared sexual intimacy.
So maybe the first lesson we can learn is to not be judgmental about the types of families we encounter : single parents, blended families and other types of families that are not the typical one of a young man and a young woman falling in love, marrying and having children in their twenties. Abraham’s and Joseph’s families were not like this so let’s not be judgmental or prejudiced against « non standard » families.
What else can we learn from Joseph’s and Abraham’s families? One thing stands out very clearly : there is both a male and a female presence for Abraham’s son Isaac and for Jesus.
Not just male, not just female. That example is most meaningful. If someone is a single mother, it’s so important for her to find a man, perhaps a grandfather, perhaps an uncle, a man who will establish a close relationship with her child. And the opposite can be said for single fathers. The readings today suggest that a child needs a close relationship with both a man and a woman. You may know that today some homosexual couples adopt a child. I have a medical colleague who did this. If you know couples like this and if you have any influence on tham, you could encourage them to find a person of the opposite sex with whom their child can have a close relationship.
What else can we learn from the Holy Family? One thing for sure is to not put much importance on material possessions. St Luke’s gospel informs us that Jesus was born in a family that wasn’t rich. We are never told that Joseph’s family was poor and tradition has it that Joseph was a carpenter. He would therefore have earned a decent living but would never have become rich. Moreover when we read about Jesus’ adult life, a nomad, wandering around, sleeping outdoors or in a friend’s home, it is clear that he has learnt from his parents that material possessions are not what is important.
What else can we learn? To be open to God, to what he wants from us. Abraham had faith when God told him he would have a child. Mary had faith when the angel told her she would concieve. Joseph had faith when in a dream he was told to keep his fiancé even though she was pregnant. All three accepted to do what God asked of them. What about us? Do we do the same? If we are married or have a partner and have children, God asks us first and foremost, before anything else, to work towards the success of our marriage or partnership. And that is sometimes hard work : we fall in love, but to stay in love and grow in love over years and years is a challenge. To be present to our children or grandchildren, to make them feel important and loved, another challenge. Faith for us married people, or for partners with children, faith is accepting God’s call to meet the challenges of family life, to be faithful to our partner and present to our children, as did Joseph and Mary.
Is there anything else to learn from Joseph’s and Mary’s family? Yes! Prayer. Today’s gospel tells us about Joseph and Mary going to the synagogue to present Jesus to God. This was done according to Jewish custom, about 40 days after Jesus' birth.. St Luke also mentions Jesus’ circumcision, 8 days after birth. In the Jewish religion , circumcision is , for the male child, the outward sign of his relationship with his God. We are also told in another gospel about Joseph bringing his family on a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is obvious that Mary and Joseph prayed, and it is also obvious that by their example, and by bringing Jesus to the synagogue with them, they taught him how to pray. It’s difficult to have a relationship with someone you rarely see or talk to. Prayer, in particular the Eucharist, is so helpful to us and our children. It enables all of our family to deepen our relationship with God, to realize what it means to love and be loved, and it makes it so much easier to have faith and accept what God asks of us.
To imitate Abraham’s family, to imitate Joseph’s family, we are called not to be judgemental about family structures, but to work in our own families, and encourage other families, to have faith in God, to get to know him through prayer, to work at deepening our love for our partner and to always be present to our children.
If we do this, we are imitating the Holy Family we celebrate today.