Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. Along with the Feast of the Nativity, also known as Christmas, we celebrate three feasts that remind us that God is a God of family.
What do you imagine when you think of the Holy Family? Surely, Joseph was a hard worker and a good protector and provider for his family. He was a loving husband to his wife Mary. Mary was a loving wife to her husband, Joseph. She was quiet and gentle. She always had a good meal prepared. She provided a warm and caring home for the family.
Surely they were like the people described in the first and second readings (Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 and Col. 3:12-21) and the Psalm (128) for the Feast of the Holy Family this year!
Of course, being perfect parents is easy when you have a perfect child!
I’m sure that Mary and Joseph never had to discipline little Jesus. He never complained and never whined. He never threw a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store. He always ate his vegetables, never threw his food across the room and never had to be told to stop playing video games and go do his homework. He never argued or slammed the door to his room.
Well, he did talk back at them at least once.
There are only three stories about this Holy Family after the birth of Jesus, so we don’t know a lot about them.
On other years, on this feast day, we have the reading of Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:21-40). That story doesn’t tell us much. In that story, Mary and Joseph don’t say a word. But the reading reveals that they were obedient to requirements of the Law and were respectful to their elders. At the end, all we know is that Jesus, “grew and became strong, and was full of wisdom, and God’s grace was upon him.”
The other reading we get on this feast day is the finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52). This one gives us a better picture of what family life could have been. Still, Mary and Joseph never lose their calm, they don’t argue, they are very patient. Jesus is a bit sassy with them. But we don’t know if Mary hauled him off by the ear or if Joseph grounded him for the next month after that. All we know is that Jesus “became wiser and taller, gaining favour both with God and with the people.”
We know from other places that Joseph was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19) and that Mary was full of Grace (Luke 1:28) and that kept a lot of things in her heart (Luke 2:51). That same verse tells us that Jesus was obedient.
But we don’t know much else. So we conclude certain things as to why they were a holy family.
But I think that the Gospel reading we get for this year (Year A), tells us a bit more about why this family is holy. It is the Escape to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23). This reading also doesn’t tell us much about what the Holy Family was like (except that Joseph followed his dreams), but it does tell us some struggles they had as a young family: They had to flee a massacre and they escaped to a foreign country.
I don’t know if any of you who came to Canada as immigrants came as refugees. Maybe you lost everything when you left. Maybe you had to escape at night. Maybe you had to escape for your lives. The Holy Family did. They were refugees – just like the 70 million refugees or internally displaced people around the world today. (To learn more about refugees you may want to watch my episode of Deacon-structing on Migrants and Refugees
We also know the other struggles of this young family: an unplanned pregnancy; a doubtful husband-to-be who considered calling off the wedding; an unplanned birth in an unplanned location. Many scholars conclude that the Holy Family was poor – I am not sure how poor they were - probably not very. But poor or not, we do know that the child was born in the place where animals were kept because there was no room in the inn.
Unplanned pregnancies, doubt and uncertainty, poverty, migration. Those are the things that, I think, made this family holy.
Holiness has less to do with prayerfulness, righteousness, piety and humility and more to do with our plans being changed at the last minute, with poverty and migration. It has to do with persecution and with fear. It has to do with those things, because it is in the midst of the difficulties and struggles that prayerfulness, piety and humility are more likely to make us holy.
None of our families are perfect; but all of our families can be holy.
And so, the feast of the Holy Family is not for perfect families; but for all families, like yours and mine, that struggle with imperfection:
If you or someone in your family has ever had doubt or doubted your spouse; if you’ve ever had to deal with uncertainty, then good… your family can be holy.
If someone in your family has ever suffered financial difficulties, your family can be holy.
If anyone in your family has ever been unemployed, your family can be holy.
If your family has ever struggled with unstable housing, you can be holy.
If someone in your family has faced divorce or you come from a broken family, your family can be holy.
If you are worried about your adult children who don’t talk to each other or don’t go to Church anymore, your family can be holy.
If your child is struggling with same sex attraction or gender identity, your family can be holy.
If you’ve ever had to struggle with disease, chronic illness or disability, your family can be holy.
If someone in your family struggles with an addiction or mental illness, your family can be holy.
If your parents were not great parents and you suffered abuse or neglect, your family too can be holy.
If you’ve lost a child or parent to suicide, your family can be holy.
If you are not married in the Church because of a previous valid Marriage, no worries, you too and your family can be holy.
If you haven’t spoken to a sibling because of something that happened years ago, don’t worry, your family can be holy.
If you are a refugee, or you’ve suffered persecution, your family can be holy.
If you are a single parent or anyone in your family has had an unplanned pregnancy or an abortion, you can be holy.
If you hate Christmas because it brings up so many painful memories and regret, you too can be holy.
If your family is not perfect, then this feast is for you, because holiness has to do with imperfection.
And not only can your family be holy, but you belong in the Church.
Perfection means that you have no need for God; Holiness means that you are completely dependent on God.
Let me write that again:
Perfection means that you have no need for God;
Holiness means that you are completely dependent on God.
As we enter the new year let’s resolve to not look on our struggles and imperfection as impediments to holiness. Instead let’s see how our struggles and imperfections are the very things that can lead us to holiness.
In 2020, let’s be completely dependent on God.
So that when you think of the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, you don’t think of an impossible, un-existing, perfect family; instead think of your family.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org