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Bible Reflections View Comments

It's OK if Your Family Isn't Perfect
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 29, 2013
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A lot of mental and emotional interference takes place when we hear these readings. Some focus on the line from the Letter to the Colossians about wives being submissive to their husbands. Parents and children exchange looks at the line, “Children, obey your parents in everything.”

We tend to be either cynical and dismissive of this feast or we over-idealize the idea of family. People with unpleasant memories of an abusive or dysfunctional childhood resent the notion that all families should be just like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Paul tells the Colossians to forgive one another, but we know some people might not yet be at a point in their healing where forgiveness is possible.

When we hear the phrase “Holy Family,” too often we think of something that’s “holy card” perfect. Instead, if we look with eyes of faith, we will see in the deeply sacred, graced-by-God reality of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus a hint of our own families. The scripture readings for the feast keep us grounded in an awareness that God knows family life is both essential and complex, always very real. And we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus understood that the concept of family went beyond blood ties to include those intimate communities that sustain us as adults.

The section of Matthew’s Gospel chosen for today’s feast recounts the story of Joseph being told in a dream to take his wife and infant child to Egypt to save the boy from Herod’s massacre. Matthew summarizes this in a few terse lines after the fact and with a good dose of Scripture fulfillment built in. The reality must have been terrifying for the young family. It brings to mind scenes from the news of families of refugees fleeing war, genocide, and famine.

When we hear of the messages Joseph receives in his dreams, again we imagine the serene scenes portrayed by artists, with the words of the angel twining into Joseph’s ear as he sleeps. But I suspect it has more in common with the young father tossing and turning during the night, caught in the stressful tension between work responsibilities, the insistent nighttime needs of a growing infant in the next room, and the juggling of too many things.

Family responsibilities ebb and flow at different times of our lives. Young families have the concerns of infants and children and all that entails. Caring for elders is part of many people’s lives. At times the two coincide, creating what’s become known as the sandwich generation.

One of the most touching lines in the reading from Sirach is, “My son, take care of your father when he is old;... Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him.” Several friends are among the countless people caring for parents suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It’s an almost overwhelming responsibility and through even the most difficult times, it’s obvious they’re doing it because of the great love they have for their parents. It’s easy to lose touch with that love in the day-to-day grind of the mundane and even distasteful tasks of caring for helpless human beings.

We need to celebrate this feast not as some seemingly unattainable goal for mere humans, but as a sign of the obstacles we can overcome if we truly place ourselves in the arms of a loving God who is Father and Mother to us all, and in whose sight we are all part of a holy and sacred family.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

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