Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year C 2018
Generally, we think of a perfect family. We want our family to be perfect. We look at other families, and we wonder why our own family is so different. Why can’t we have the kind of perfect family others have. A family where everything is right. Perfect husband, impeccable wife and obedient children. A family where there is no fighting. A family that is always happy.
There is no such family. No family has it all together. Every family has its own troubles and struggles. Even the Holy Family had its own dosage of trouble. It is futile to expect our families to be perfect, to be without troubles, without trials and without some difficulties. Here and there, we hear of families going through phases of problems. Why the suffering, we ask.
It seems the families that suffer the worst trials are the families that pray more, the families that are regular at Mass, the families that discipline their children and try to bring them up in a godly way. We can’t just reconcile the amount of suffering these families go through and the reality of their piety and fidelity to the Lord. Talk of dysfunctionality, these families know it.
While we may be ashamed of the reality of our own families, the family stories we have just heard in today’s readings aren’t perfect either. In the First Reading, we hear that Hannah had a son called Samuel. But before she came to have her child, she suffered bareness even though she prayed regularly and intensely. Her husband, Elkanah was insensitive to her plight. Peninnah, another wife of Elkanah mocked her because she was childless. Eli, the priest called her a drunk. What a life?
The family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus also had their own issues. Jesus was an adolescent as we heard in the Gospel taken from Luke 2:41-52. Typical of all adolescents, He was acting His age, displaying characteristics of socialisation. He was beginning to dissociate Himself from His parents, searching for His own identity and feeling He could live without His parents.
All this was new to Mary and Joseph as it would be for any parent with an adolescent child. They struggled to understand what was going on, but they couldn’t. He even talked back at them, “‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied. ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’” We can only imagine how Mary and Joseph felt about Jesus’ reply.
This doesn’t seem to be the Holy Family we see in pictures and icons. Often, these pictures and icons present a perfect family. But what the Church emphasises is the holiness of the family not their perfection. We know Jesus is perfect. As such, His family is a perfect reflection of God’s plan. However, that plan was fulfilled within the human family that also struggled with imperfections and trials. Christ wasn’t ashamed of human struggle. He took it upon Himself.
We shouldn’t be ashamed of our struggles too. Yes, we have prayed, perhaps like Hannah we are being mocked and despised, or like Mary and Joseph our children talk back at us, or they even outrightly disrespect us. And we feel we have failed in our responsibilities as parents. We desperately want to be perfect. Stop trying to be perfect. It isn’t about perfection, but holiness.
So, the holiness of the family is the recognition of God’s plan. It is the ability to see more than the imperfections, to look for God in the mess, in the brokenness of family life like we would look for the missing piece of a puzzle. It is the holiness that comes by trusting God like Mary and Joseph did, especially in moments when we literally can’t understand what is happening.
Now, we grow in holiness as a family when we, like Mary, Joseph and Hannah go regularly to the Temple, in our case the Mass. It is in the Mass that we meet the God who is Holy, and the God who speaks, who tells us how we shall live a holy life and above all, who gives us Himself as the real food that enables us to die to ourselves, set ourselves aside for Him and His purposes.
We also grow in holiness when we, like Mary ponder all that happens to us in our hearts. Not hurrying to fix the problems or make perfect the imperfections like society would expect us to do but trusting God. Cooperating with God like Hannah did. The joy of living this way is that it profits us. Hannah was blessed by God with a son called Samuel (the name of God). While we remember Samuel, no one knows the sons of Penninah let alone remembers them.
This is only possible when we “think of the love the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are” (1John 3;1-2). The more we think of this love, the more we believe that “whatever we ask Him, we shall receive, because we keep His commandments and live the kind of life that He wants”. So, ask the Lord to make your family grow in holiness. Stop trying to make your family perfect. There is no perfect family.
Fr. Francis Afu