“Family Living: A Sacred Process!”
Feast of the Holy Family – C
Over the past few weeks, I am sure, families have shared time together or communicated by mail or phone or even just reunited in memories. It is a good thing for us to be reminded from time to time just how powerfully influential family ties really are. The skills that we learn as we grow up in a family setting, just the ability to initiate and maintain human relationships, are skills we never really lose. That means that family members must be careful with one another, gentle, nurturing. It is from our family that we receive the tools that we need most in our life: encouragement, support, confidence, correction, discipline, affection, and even from time to time, healthy conflict. Strange as it may sound, one of the most important things family lives can teach us is how to dislike, from time to time, without ceasing to love, without pulling out, learning to argue, to have differences, even to scrap effectively, in a healthy way, creatively, in a way that chips off some of the abrasive edges of our personalities. That is a good thing to learn, and if we go to unreasonable lengths to shield ourselves from that element of family life, we run the risk of missing something valuable.
Another effect of the strength of family bonds, is the depth to which they go in our personalities, the surprise, even the uneasiness we can sometimes feel when we suddenly realize that those relationships, strong as they are, can, and inevitably do, change as we individually grow and change.
Luke seems to suggest, in this gospel, that Jesus himself is eager to inflict the wound promised by Simeon in his prophecy to Mary. Apparently indifferent to the anguish he imposes on his parents, the twelve-year-old-enough to know better, Jesus, separates himself from Joseph and Mary for three days and then actually rebukes them for their frantic searching: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Mothers, who find that Mary’s virtuous silence usually defies emulation might be consoled by this scene where she loses her temper-or at least her patience. Jesus should know that the kind of parents who turn to the Gospel for help need more encouragement than blame. So, is it possible to read his words as an act of kindness toward Mary and Joseph? Is Jesus trying to relieve his parents from all responsibility for a choice that is truly his own? Apparently, the evangelist does not think it blasphemous to suggest that they do not “get it,” that the adolescent Jesus was as baffling to his parents, then, as most adolescents are to parents today. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph did not understand what he said to them.
Jesus, as God, could have chosen to come into this world at any age he wanted. But he didn’t. He chose to come to us as an infant; vulnerable and helpless and grow up in a family setting with all its joys and pleasures, and pains and problems.
He learned from his family the same things that all children today learn from their families. He went through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and then he left home. For him that was every bit as exciting, frighteningly hopeful, and as uncertain a process as it is for anyone of us. He, too, had to remake his relationship to his family. He did it because somehow to do so contributed to the salvation of humanity, and that means it is a good thing.
Family living, with all its difficulties, leavings and returning, changing, and remaining the same, with all its human mystery, is a sacred process.
At this time of the year its’ easy to long for the good old days when life seemed simple and safe. But such perfection is an illusion. Every home, every time has had is problems, as today’s’ Scriptures illustrate. The sacrifice of Hannah and Elkanah, the anxiety of Mary and Joseph, the conflict within the boy Jesus will always be part of family life, even when age and distance separate us. What is important is that we keep traveling together – as the figures in today’s Scriptures did.
Let us promise one another today, to do the “family living” in emulation of the Holy Family; carefully, gently, with all the concern and respect, love, and generosity that anything sacred demands of us – and, be blessed by our loving God in the process.