Christmas is a special time to be with family. Ideally, it is also a special time for evaluating the life of your family for most likely, no other group of people shaped you more than the family in which you grew up. This is also a time for parents to examine their need for more and deeper wisdom.
We are grateful when family life is an actual picture of comfort and joy. When households are at their best, family life is holy. The peace and grace lived out among family members reveal the peace and grace of God. Alas, not every family brings joy to the world or knows the peace of silent night.
For some, the family is the setting in which the most cruel and unloving things occur. Even in families where there is a measure of warmth and affection, some members begin to take each other for granted. Sometimes the words, “I love you,” spoken by a spouse, can mean, “I want to exploit you, I want to use you.” Sometimes the words, “I love you,” spoken by a parent to a child, can mean, “I want you to do as I say so you won't embarrass me.” And, we know that sometimes when a child says, “I love you” to a parent, it can mean, “I want something.”
The story in today's gospel is one of the few episodes in the Bible in which Jesus, Mary and Joseph are seen together as a family. Mary and Joseph are following the prescribed religious ritual of presenting their Child, Jesus, at the Temple and offering sacrifice to God. And in this context of family togetherness, Luke concludes the story with these words:
"When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”
Today’s feast reminds us that God works through created things to convey divine love and challenges us to seek God’s love anew through our loved ones. Such is the advice that we hear from both Sirach and Paul. If you do good, then good things happen to you; if you do evil, then evil befalls you. We know that isn’t always the outcome. Even though Mary and Joseph did good things, their family still experienced pain and suffering; they were refugees for a while in Egypt but that did not stop them from living as a respecting, encouraging, affirming and loving family. As Paul points out, love desires good for others, just as God does for us.
Blood ties alone do not create the family. What transforms a group of people into a family is love, the virtue that binds the other virtues listed by Paul such as compassion, kindness, humility and patience together. In a truly holy family all members are respected and cherished, nurtured and supported, united to one another through the bond of love.
Family life never runs smoothly all the time and today it is more difficult and trying than ever before. For a family to thrive and become holy, it needs a Christian home. So what makes a Christian home? I hope you agree that…
It is a place of love, consideration and understanding. It is a place where they pray for the homeless. It is a place of family fun and enjoyment. It is a place where children are welcome. It is a place of hospitality. It is not just a home for family.
It is a place where the stranger can feel at home. It is a place where God is given thanks for all things. It is a place where the family can bring their friends. It is a place where parents pray for their family. It is a place where children learn to pray.
It is not just a clean respectable house. It is a place where Jesus would feel at ease; a place where Jesus lives. And callers who come with doubts, fears, and sorrows will meet him. There they will find faith, hope, love, company and understanding.
A family, like any garden, needs time, attention and cultivation if it is to thrive; the sunshine of laughter and affirmation; the rains of difficulties, tense moments of anxieties along with serious discussions on critical matters. It needs areas of hardness, like bitterness, envy, anger, or unforgiven hurts to be turned over. As any green thumb knows, if a garden is not maintained, weeds flourish so as we enter into a new year, resolve to plant in your family garden, these17 rows:
5 rows of P’s: perseverance, politeness, praise, peace making and prayer
4 rows of “let us”: Let us be faithful in word and deed; let us be unselfish with our resources; let us be loyal; let us love one another.
3 rows of squash: squash gossip, squash criticism, and squash indifference.
5 rows of “turn ups”: Turn up on time for school events, turn up for family gatherings, turn up with a better attitude, turn up with new ideas and the determination to carry them out and turn up with a smile.
Nurture these values in your family garden and you will bring about a bountiful harvest of a real family where everyone is respected, encouraged, affirmed, and loved, thus a holy family, bringing forth a harvest of an abundant family life.