Sunday, 26 December 2010
Feast of the Holy Family, Year A, Shaftesbury
On today's feast of the Holy Family I’d like to say a few words about God's help to us in family difficulties.
Every year today's feast of the Holy Family comes immediately after Christmas. Christmas, for many of us, is a time when families gather, and so we think of what it means to be a family, and the birth of our Lord in Bethlehem reminds in particular of the family of “the Holy Family” of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
When the Church urges us to think of the life of the Holy Family we have set before us both an EXAMPLE of happy family life, and, and an ENCOURAGEMENT to value family life in a way that sadly too few people in our society today do.
But just because the Holy Family is set before us as a role model that doesn't mean we should either imagine or pretend that their life was not a family life with difficulties.
This year, with the snow, many of us have not been able to meet up with family in the way that we had planned and wanted. And this perhaps is one of many examples of the difficulties we can have in family living.
Thinking of the difficulties faced by the Holy Family it is worth noting the fact that even though the Gospels tell us relatively little about the life of the Holy Family much of what they tell us concerns the difficulties that family faced:
First, there was the unusual nature of Jesus Christ's conception –something that the gospel tells us troubled Saint Joseph.
Second, there was the difficulty of His birth: there was no room for them at the inn, and He was born in poverty, in a stable, and laid in a manger.
Not long after, King Herod tries to kill the boy Jesus, and the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt (Mt 2:14).
Then, when Herod died and they attempted to return to Judaea, they heard that Herod's son had become king there, and so they had to go to live in Nazareth.
Finally, the last difficulty of this period was when the child Jesus was lost for three days in the Temple, a time that must have been of great anxiety for Our Lady and St Joseph.
Our Catholic Faith tells us that family life is to be valued, but does not promise that it will be easy, and it was not easy for the Holy Family.
What our Faith does promise us for family life is divine assistance, and this is also something we see clearly in the life of Holy Family:
In the unusual circumstances surrounding the Lord Jesus's birth, St Joseph and Our Lady were each assisted by dreams and visions.
Though the childbirth was in poverty, messages from angels, adoration from shepherds, and gifts from wise men in the East accompanied it.
Though they had to flee from King Herod, St Joseph was nonetheless warned to do so by another dream. And in a similar manner, it was by yet another dream that he was warned to avoid returning to Judaea.
In summary: Repeated divine assistance in the midst of the difficulties that came upon the Holy Family.
Perhaps the greatest divine assistance, however, must simply have been in their daily living. What must it have been like for St Joseph to have raised such a perfect child? What must it have been like to have had such a perfect sinless wife?
The abiding presence of God among them, the fruitfulness of the inner life of grace in them, the strength of such grace to help them for every difficulty
-this is surely what stands before us as a SIGN of how God is present in EVERY family, and His grace will strengthen and bear fruit in every family, just as long as we turn to Him, and seek Him, the way that St Joseph was attentive and responsive to the promptings of the Lord.
So, on this feast of the Holy Family, let us take inspiration from the life of that family. As we see in the life of that family, family life is not promised to be easy, but we are promised to have the presence and help of the Lord, just as truly as the Lord was present and active in the life of the Holy Family of Nazareth.