Growing up in my home parish, being the oldest of 11, people would come up to us after Mass and say things like “Oh, what a lovely, well behaved family you have” and my brothers and I would all laugh quietly to ourselves because we knew all the stuff that had been going on during Mass between us while we were punching each other, stealing things from each other, and squeezing each others hands as hard as we could during the “Our Father” and the sign of peace. We also, knew, as all families do, about all the stuff that went on at home – the fights, the losing of patience, the arguments, etc.
I know as a priest walking with lots of families as a pastor that ALL families have struggles and adversity. All families have relationships that are strained, all families have struggles and challenges and pain and woundedness. Sometimes there are strains and problem spots that are decades long!
And it seems to me that it is a great temptation for people to look around and think that other families are good, other families are well-behaved, OTHER families are “perfect” but that our family is a dumpster fire.
If that’s the temptation for families, then how much more so is that the case for the Holy Family??? How in the world would we ever feel like they have anything in common with us??? They are up on Mt. Olympus, and we’re down here 100 miles away looking at them – how could we look to them, as the opening prayer of Mass says, as an EXAMPLE???
But what does Scripture say? I think, when we look at the evidence in Scripture, we see a family that, although we have no record of sin being in their family, they still faced great difficult, adversity, and temptation
1) The Annunciation – Mary is visited by an angel and told that she’s going to become pregnant by God, and that her child would become the savior of the world. That’s HARD. That’s ADVERSITY. God coming and telling you all that.
2) Joseph, too. He had these plans to “divorce her quietly” to do the honorable thing so that no shame or harm would be brought to Mary. But God comes to him and says “I hear your plans, but I’m changing them” That’s HARD. That’s difficult to accept from God, to learn that our plans that we had come up with need to change dramatically. That’s adversity.
3) In Today’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph, in bringing Jesus to the temple when he’s 8 days old, they are told by the holy sage prophet at the temple – “Mary, your heart will be PIERCED because of this child” That’s HARD. That’s ADVERSITY.
4) Finally, Mary watched her son be tortured and murdered. Are you still tempted to think of the Holy Family as a family of virtuous robots whose lives were the equivalent of vacationing in Tahiti?
The Devil wants you to think that the Holy Family is so aloof from your family, so different that your dumpster fire of a family has nothing it can learn from the Holy Family because your experiences and struggles are SO different from your own.
So what is needed to help families move closer to the example of the Holy Family? In our second reading St. Paul says one of the biggest keys for families that I’ve seen – FORGIVENESS!!!
Forgiveness is the oil that keeps the engine of the family working properly and running well. Oil keeps parts of an engine that would otherwise get overheated and strained – oil keeps those spots of the engine cool enough to not fall apart.
FORGIVENESS is just that. So many families need forgiveness in so many relationships.
But forgiveness is certainly hard. It is hard to offer, and it can be hard to receive.
So let me suggest one way to get better – the sacrament of confession. Everyone is afraid of confession and dreads it, but everyone experiences a great freedom and peace afterwards. It is place to ask for and receive the forgiveness of God, and after that, you are so much better disposed to forgive and seek the forgiveness of others in your family.
Finally, then, let me conclude by noting that through our baptism we are adopted brothers and sisters with Christ. So the Holy Family isn’t JUST a virtuous example, it is also true that St. Joseph is our adoptive father and Mary is our adopted mother – so they live now to intercede for us, for fathers and mothers and husbands and wives and children and siblings…so if you are struggling, know that the Holy Family knows adversity too, and also that because of your connection and life IN their family, we can draw strength from their prayers for us in our earthly families as well!