The Holy Family

The Holy Family

Today’s readings offers much tried and tested wisdom about the trials and experiences associated with living with other family members. The readings are quite ancient by modern standards but contain timeless wisdom. We realise that the commandment to ‘honour your father and mother’ is actually quite all-encompassing about mutual relations between parents and children and that the commandment works both ways – parents are to rear their children in such a way that will not lead to brooding resentment.. The reading from the book of Ecclesiasticus describes reverence and respect for parents especially as they get older. It is appropriate today as we hear all too often of parents being dumped in nursing homes, or of neglect and carelessness and ‘the burden’ that older people are to society and to family finances.

Relations among parents and children can become tense, tetchy and fragile. When children grow up they can only grow distant, especially as they crave independence and space and time for themselves.

As parents grow needier and infirm in old age it can involve financial dependence and pressure on a family. It can result in conflict between grown-up children as to who among siblings will carry most responsibility as well as who carries the financial burden of care, time and accommodation.

These are concerns that face all families sooner or later. The horror stories of neglect are rare enough in my experience. Each family is different. I wonder about the popularity of ‘soap operas’ on TV. Each family has enough drama and happenings from year to year.

The model of the family is of course the Holy Family. While Jesus, Mary and Joseph are put before us as the ideal, they were also quite real, flesh-and-blood people. They were not without earthly concerns – great and small: misunderstandings, the possibility of separation, problems with accommodation, travel expenses, flight from persecution, were in fear of their lives, emigration, refugee status, exile - all in Jesus’ infancy alone. Later they were to know loss, separation, bereavement. But all was not gloom. The joy of betrothal, pregnancy, the wonder of childbirth, child-rearing, being reunited after separation, and even celebrating a wedding.

And yet for all that they were an intensely private family. They went about their trade and domestic duties and fulfilled their religious obligations as observant Jews. And we know little about thirty of Jesus’ thirty-three years that were spent in Egypt and Nazareth. We are left in the dark.

But they were God-centred, and as we reflected on the Fourth Sunday of Advent last week, in times of doubt, God intervened and showed them the way and they readily obeyed.

It is in how we cope when things go wrong in family situations that can often strengthen family ties in a time of crisis. It is especially faith-filled families in my experience who find the strength and the resilience to cope. Where there is prayer, there is God-given strength to endure whatever comes.

May Jesus, Mary and Joseph help us to find the inspiration and strength to face what lies ahead and may they help us to live in charity, generosity and peace with one another.

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