December 2001

Holy Family Time ©

At Christmas, we celebrated that wonderful day on which Mary and Joseph delivered Jesus to us, so that we might call him our brother. There is perhaps no more vivid sense of this than the one we get from recalling the first reconstruction of the Nativity scene, something we take for granted in our Christmas celebrations.

The year 1223 had been a very difficult one for Francis of Assisi, just as the year 2001 has been a disturbing year for many of us – even tragic for some. Francis stood by helplessly as his dream was being deconstructed by the conspiring hands of followers who would transform it into something troubling: they wished by devious means to dilute the order’s fidelity to Lady Poverty, its commitment to simplicity and its joy-filled solidarity with all creatures great and small.

This year, we have watched some of our most cherished dreams crumble as though the collapse of the World Trade Center towers had been a cruel metaphor. We have watched our faith hijacked and explode into fear and isolation; despair and self-righteous revenge.

Along with deep disappointment, came a serious deterioration in the health of il poverello. Today, psychological ailments and social ills rise as toxic dust from the rubble of lingering anxiety.

The year 1223 came at a time when church tradition emphasized the Feast of Epiphany over the Feast of Christmas; the kingship and divinity of God was paramount. For our part, we live at a time in which there is a tendency to de-personalize God…to enshrine ideas of divinity and, in effect, to reduce Him by de-emphasizing the Incarnation of his Word.

Amid the torment of such a time, Francis turned to prayer. He also turned to what was for him the most reliable source of wisdom, the Word of God. Recalling the scriptural account of the birth of Jesus, he asked a childhood friend to have the Nativity scene recreated in the Rieti Valley south of Assisi, in the tiny village of Greccio that he enjoyed as an oasis of serenity and prayer.

The genius of this simple celebration, which we have the opportunity of rediscovering each year, was to encounter the rich humanity of Jesus. Scripture assures us that God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that we might enjoy the fullness of Life. Our God of Infinite Love sent us a brother – embodied in compassion and mercy – that would cry our tears and laugh our laughter.

This year, we have need of Jesus’ humanity. We have need of his caring ear, of his loving eyes, of his uplifting counsel, of his guiding hand, of his comforting touch, and of his brotherly embrace. We have need of God so close that we can feel his warm breath dry our fears.

We have need of his Peace that withstands even the most brutal assaults of daily living. We have need of his Joy that restores brilliance to our world-weary eyes and a smile to our stress-ravaged lips. We have need of his Truth that grounds us in the nourishing soil of God’s Love.

We also have need of his earthly family…his Holy Family.

On the cross Jesus confirmed Mary as our mother, but she had become our adoptive mother the day she gave birth to Him. And in that instant, Joseph became our foster father, just as he was to our brother Jesus. In times of turmoil, we have need of this Holy Family.

Yet, what does an intact family comprising a chaste father, a virgin mother and God incarnated as a small child have to do with a “normal family”, let alone, with one we might call “dysfunctional”?

On the surface, very little!

Statistically, we know that so-called intact families are in the minority in Canada. Most either have only one parent present in the home, one birth parent and a step-parent, or two unmarried parents.

Most children are raised by parents who work outside the home.

Many parents struggle with doing their best while carrying a load of guilt about what they regard as deficiencies in their home life. Some children even grow up blaming their parents for limitations formed by these human shortcomings.

In reality, Jesus shares with us His Holy Family because he knows we need it. He knows we need the quiet affection, reassurance and protection that it provides. He knows that where parents leave off, His Holy Family takes over.

It may even be said that the Holy Family is the patron of not-being-normal. After all, what does “normal” have to do with a father who moves his family each time an angel appears in a dream; with a mother who claims to be a virgin after giving birth; and with a child who never needs lunch money because he has the ability to multiply loaves and needs no swimming lessons because he has the ability to walk on water?

More importantly, what does “normal” have to do with a mother who watches her son face ridicule, contempt, torture and agonizing death? What does “normal” have to do with overcoming the sting of death by faith, hope and love?

The Holy Family is the foundation of our family, no matter its appearance or behaviour. It is the wellspring of all its vitality, its vigour and whatever wholesomeness it enjoys.

The Holy Family is my family of adoption, not because of lack of appreciation for what my natural family has accomplished, but because of my greater appreciation for what God has provided as means of becoming fully mature in Christ.

We all need the Holy Family – both as model and as extended family.

There is no family on earth, no matter how atypical, that cannot find in the Holy Family inspiration for living in faith, hope and love, for building sound and wholesome communities of love based on truth and joy. On simplicity, gratitude and generosity.

And there is no individual in Creation who has no need of Jesus, Mary and Joseph to share their deepest joys and disappointments; fears and aspirations; and burdensome secrets.

No person, parent or child, is poorer for having investing time in nurturing a relationship with the brother who tears us free bare-handed from the suffocating clutch of deceit, with the mother who strokes our furrowed brow with reassuring tenderness, and with the father, the exemplar of virtue, who strengthens our will.