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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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Hilary of Arles: It’s been said that youth is wasted on the young. In some ways, that was true for today’s saint. 
<p>Born in France in the early fifth century, Hilary came from an aristocratic family. In the course of his education he encountered his relative, Honoratus, who encouraged the young man to join him in the monastic life. Hilary did so. He continued to follow in the footsteps of Honoratus as bishop. Hilary was only 29 when he was chosen bishop of Arles. </p><p>The new, youthful bishop undertook the role with confidence. He did manual labor to earn money for the poor. He sold sacred vessels to ransom captives. He became a magnificent orator. He traveled everywhere on foot, always wearing simple clothing. </p><p>That was the bright side. Hilary encountered difficulty in his relationships with other bishops over whom he had some jurisdiction. He unilaterally deposed one bishop. He selected another bishop to replace one who was very ill–but, to complicate matters, did not die! Pope St. Leo the Great kept Hilary a bishop but stripped him of some of his powers. </p><p>Hilary died at 49. He was a man of talent and piety who, in due time, had learned how to be a bishop.</p> American Catholic Blog True freedom lies in the ability to align one’s actions freely with the truth, so as to achieve authentic human happiness both now and in the life to come. Jesus promised, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31–32).

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