Holy Family – Reflection: Luke 2:41-52
There is no ideal family. Families come in all shapes and sizes. It seems modern society displays far greater diversity in family life than ever before. In addition to the traditional mom and dad and 2.5 kids, there are single parent homes, families with grandparents raising their grandchildren, uncles and aunts caring for nieces and nephews, foster families, and gay couples with their own children. I am sure there are even more combinations. As we celebrate Holy Family Sunday, we should recognize how varied contemporary family life actually is so as to help us understand and approach family life with more mercy.
Our Gospel today relates how there was a bit of an issue in the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Upon leaving the great festival in Jerusalem, Mary and Joseph could not find Jesus anywhere. He had stayed behind in the temple. Once they discovered him in the temple, the twelve year old Jesus seemed a bit surprised that they did not think to look for him there. If that was your son, how would you feel inside? Mary and Joseph had lost Jesus. At the very least, there seemed to be a lack of communication between Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. This story suggests that the Holy Family is like any other family. Not even Mary and Joseph had it all together. They were human, and so was Jesus. Despite two members of the family having no sin, they were still not without weakness and limitation.
No family is perfect. All families have weaknesses and limitations. Moreover, every family has dysfunction and areas of selfishness. No one does it right. We often look to other families and wonder how they seem to be getting everything done with so much style and ease. We think, “How do they do it?” They don’t. The perfect family does not exist. If we were to peek into such a family’s home life, we would quickly see flaws and hardships. Codependency, addiction, abuse, and even violence infest many families. On a more everyday level, little acts of selfishness tear at family love.
God’s mercy, however, remains the constant and ever-present reality. No matter how selfish we are or how sinful we seem, God has mercy and waits for us to open our hearts to receive the divine mercy. Precisely when we accept our imperfection, we meet the mercy of God always and immediately enfolding us, comforting us, and transforming us. Julie Hanlon Rubio, a moral theologian, writes, “Often it is in a family’s imperfection that grace is revealed. In their brokenness, their need for God and each other is made clear.” Faced with our individual selfishness as well as with the dysfunction in our families, there are two choices: ignore them or surrender to the mercy of God and let God transform self and family as God sees fit. Another moral theologian, Joanne Heaney Hunter, writes “God builds on the imperfection present in every family life, and makes it holy.”
Even though there is no such thing as a perfect family, family life is still inherently positive and good. God dwells in all our families, no matter what they’re like. God loves our families. Love may be an overused word to describe our families. So, consider a different word. For Catholics, family life is a life of communion. This idea does not simply show that our family life is a shared life–that we all live under one roof, eat together, and do things together. Communion expresses a deeper reality: that who we are is bound up with each member of the family. My life is the other person: wife, husband, daughter, son, sister, brother, father, and mother. Further still, this communion does not focus on the family alone. Our communion as a family opens out to communion with all in the Church, with all people, and with all creation.
The portal to this grand communion is our personal communion with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is like a wagon wheel. God is like the center of the wheel, each of us is like a spoke of the wheel. The closer each spoke comes to the center, the closer each spoke gets to the other. Then, all the spokes meet in the hub, the center of the wheel. Letting God be the center of the family allows family intimacy to grow. With this intimacy comes a closer relationship with everyone and everything in existence. It all begins as each of us personally enters into a loving communion with God. We commune with God in the silence of our hearts as well as in the praise of song and the solemn ritual of the sacraments.
One way to live this communion and deepen it is by obedience. Jesus was obedient to his parents, Mary and Joseph. Obedience can be a hard word for us. Some background on the word may help. The word “obey” comes from two Latin words: “ob” and “audire.” Combined, these two Latin words mean “to listen to” or “to pay attention to.” So, to obey means to listen to someone or to pay attention to someone. Jesus listened to his parents. Surely, Mary and Joseph listened to Jesus, too. Obedience means we listen to someone in a loving manner by giving them our attention. Obedience is fundamentally an other-directed action. We break free of self-absorption when we obey. We follow Jesus when we obey God first, that is, when we pay attention to God in prayer and by living in the Divine Presence throughout the day. Then, through God we can pay attention to and be present to the members of our families, to our neighbors, and to the poor. Who among us would disagree with the sentiment that we need to listen more to each member of our family? The best avenue to this listening, which blossoms into a listening to anyone in need, occurs by listening to God in the silence of our hearts. Commune with God within, and family communion will improve. Communion with the poor, and all creation will take root– all due to obedience.