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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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