There’s no escaping it. All of us have family connections. Even if we would like to escape some of these connections, our families continue to form the basis for our lives and our society. For the most part, our families are the source of our faith in the goodness of life and of our faith in God. Good families are hotbeds of love, and loving families can surely be called holy. The family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph that brought a new simplicity, goodness, and excellence into our world deserves to be called, The Holy Family. Today, I’d like to reflect on what it means to be family.
The Old Testament book of Sirach 3:2-14 details the way families should live together; that is to say, they should revere one another, and grow in harmony. This lovely message is directed to both children and parents. Parents must teach the practice of virtue to their children: “the Lord sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority He confirms over her sons.” Children must respect their parents: “kindness to a father will not be forgotten, it will serve as a sin offering; it will take lasting root.”
St. Paul, in Colossians 3:12-21, calls on families to exercise Christian virtue. This may seem obvious to us today, but we must remember that he was speaking to a people who had recently been pagans. Their former way of life and way of relating to one another left much to be desired.
He gives them some practical Christian advice, which applies also to us today, about how to live out the domestic virtues: “everything in Christ’s name,” and putting on “love which binds the rest together, and makes them perfect.” He urges families to “avoid any bitterness”; and He calls on children to “obey their parents” and for parents not to “nag children lest they lose heart.” Such practical advice is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago. Parents need to recognize: children may come through them but they are not from them. They are from God who created them.
In today’s gospel of Luke, chapter 2, the prophet Simeon encounters the family of Jesus as they present Him in the temple. Simeon cradles the child in his arms, and then proclaims Him to be the Messiah, the Light of the World, the Glory of Israel. This is more than idle praise for the newborn. This magnificent Child is not taken to a king’s palace to be raised. Instead, He is returned to the arms of His mother, who with her husband, Joseph, take the child home and raise him as any other child should be raised at that time; simply and lovingly, without fanfare or privilege.
The gospel makes it clear that God considered nothing to be too good for the Christ Child. So, He placed him in a loving, human family. Jesus grew to manhood and extended His love to every person He met.
As His followers, we should share that same family love by reaching out to everyone, the way Jesus did, as our brothers and sisters. Family is not just confined to the home or to relationships of blood. When Jesus was confronted by people who wanted to take Him away from His work, saying: “your mother and brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” Jesus answered: “who is my mother? who are my brothers?” He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said: “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” ( Matthew 12: 46-50 ) A true sense of family embraces everybody we come in contact with, irrespective of creed, race, background, nationality or place of origin. It begins in the home but it doesn’t stop there. We are part of God’s human family, and we need to support and love all His children. Even if others don’t appreciate Jesus’s message of universal love, that is no reason for you to behave like them. Do the right thing in all circumstances.
Today, take time to thank God for parents, for brothers and sisters, for friends and relations, and for all the people you’ve encountered in life, even your enemies, but especially those who have influenced you in a good way. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are destitute and are suffering incredible hardships in other lands which lack the material resources we take for granted in this country. Don’t just pray for them, try to help them anyway you can. Bless them all, and ask God’s blessing on yourself and on all your brothers and sisters, near and far.
Fr. Hugh Duffy