December 30th 2018
Has any one of us got a perfect family? At the risk of alienating all of my own blood relatives, I cannot answer with a straightforward yes! We have had our good and even great moments, but also some dreadful occasions as well, not everybody gets on and yes there have been terrible altercations resulting in some separations. Yet before you shake your heads, isn't this a real microcosm of human life in general? We are far from perfect despite our apparent fascination with romance and love of happy endings. Life is not neat, nor does it always follow a prescribed route, so too with our family life, people are unique individuals not clones in every way and we can disagree as well as get on with others.
So what do we make of this feast of the Holy Family? The image of Jesus Mary and Joseph starts with this premise that their example will not be one of any 'normality', it cannot be, but it is one of acceptance, inclusion and hope. It breaks our rather sentimental viewpoint of some ideal situation, for as Jesus teaches us and hints at his meeting with the teachers in the Temple, his family is deeper, wider and accepting of difference. His mother, brothers, sisters are those who hear his words and live out his commandments!
But what of our attitude to the situation of 'family' today, how do we articulate this image of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, claimed as 'models' for us by the Church? Firstly we who are Christians need to be honest and recognize that the history of 'families' is far from straightforward, there is no 'one fits all' ideal. That should help us traverse the many complexities of the current changes in society, gender, sexuality and cultural differences! The Holy Family should shatter our complacency and remind us of Paul's words that love is patient and kind enduring all things!
Secondly we need to articulate our deepest desires, our profound hope, for a permanent home, our yearning for love, for a person, a community that can surround us and hold us and above all show us compassion and mercy. In these hopes we begin to understand why it is people need each other, but also how the wider family of life is also part of the relationships that matter!
Lastly the Holy Family reminds us that the stranger, the other living things of earth, the one who I find different, is also my brother and sister.
All these are part of the deep heartbeat of our search for God, but it is God calling us, not the other way round, leading us via our homes and relationships on this earth towards that greater community, the family of God, one we belong to already! This greater vision is one that needs more expression not only in words but deeds! It means that no matter who you or I happen to be, no matter what we do, in the end we belong to God, not individually but together! That's family!
"The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ou rselves we find in them" - Thomas Merton. No Man is an Island.
"God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility... this is for God the ground of unfathomable love." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
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