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The God-given matrix

Posted December 26, 2020

Feast of the Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family belongs with Christmas, for the family is a key element in the process by which God takes our humanity to himself.  Family life for Jesus was, as for all of us, the first unfolding of his humanity: the first experience of encountering others, of receiving and returning their affection, of discovering in himself the human instinct for fellowship, compassion and self-giving.  It is the experience of the other and the way we react to that other that forms the matrix of our development as persons on our way to perfect communion with God.  All this lies behind St Luke’s reference, in today’s Gospel reading, to Jesus’ growing in maturity and wisdom in his family at Nazareth.  And just as family life was foundational to God’s plan for his incarnate Son, so it is foundational also to our vocation as children of God.  For the family is the primordial soil in which the seeds of those lovely virtues described by St Paul in today’s reading from Colossians are first sown and fostered, protected and cultivated, until one day they unfold into eternity.

Admittedly, in our case it does not always happen like that.  Christian families often find it more or less difficult to identify with the family at Nazareth.  Two members of that family were perfect and the third was as near perfect as makes no difference.  This already distances the Holy Family from us, for we are very imperfect, and quite often our imperfections create a family life that is far removed from that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Then, we are not immune to the evils that affect countless families today.  The materialism that pervades family life in modern society threatens our families too.  There are also more palpable evils that affect many families nowadays, resulting in broken families, dysfunctional families, families lacking any clear vision of what they are about.  It  would be surprising if this widespread collapse of family values left Christian families unscathed.

But we must not be deterred from identifying with the Holy Family just because we live in a more complex cultural world or because their perfect virtue seems to us unattainable.  For it is not their ideal perfection that should occupy us, so much as the real and solid conviction that dominated their lives as a family.  Reflect for a moment that the Holy Family, for all its moments of puzzlement and perplexity, must have been intensely aware that it had come into being solely for God’s purposes; its existence was part of God’s plan.  To be a family was, for those many years, their vocation.  We don’t always think that way about our families.  We are perhaps inclined to see our family as a neutral, mundane thing.  Today’s feast should remind us that our family forms a unique part of God’s plan for ourselves, for our children and for the world.  It is our vocation to make Christ incarnate in our families. 

Even if our family situation is difficult – there may be tensions, perhaps resentments, even instances of long-term estrangement – still we have to take our family as it is, with all its imperfections, just as we have to take life as it is, and the world as it is: and start from there.  I leave aside instances where there may be, though heaven forbid, situations of domestic violence or abuse.  Such situations call for rescue, not sermons; for drastic action, not exhortation.  But those tragic cases aside, our family, just as it is, forms the framework of our agenda as Christians, for it is as a family that we begin making our way to God. 

I think it’s true to say that we don’t often advert to the spiritual dimension of our family life.  Most of the time we are preoccupied with practicalities or numbed by routine, so that we are hardly mindful of the fact that our family life is the prelude to our eternity.  On this family Feast Day try to find areas of your family life that you can nourish by bringing them mindfully into the warmth and glow of God’s presence.  Do you pray together?  Why not agree today to start praying together as a family?  I’m not thinking of anything like a monastic horary, where the bell rings for prayers and everyone has to be there, but rather of serene, liberating moments, when the family spends a few minutes together in silence, perhaps at meal times, or before going to bed, praying for each other and allowing themselves to experience the love of Christ embracing them as a family. 

And if there is resentment, or conflict or estrangement in your family, why not make this feast day the beginning of your efforts to reconcile and make up?  Life is short and the prize is truly beautiful and lasts forever.  Let us embrace our family as the God-given matrix of all that is good and beautiful in this life and the next.  ‘Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’  

Fr Tom Deidun

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