Holy Family: the wisdom of our elders and our children
Posted: Sat, 26 Dec 2020 08:06
On Sunday 27 December, as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB looks at it message for our own family relationships, which have faced tremendous challenges in recent months. Image: Unknown Georgian artist, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
As we continue our celebration of this Christmas season in our strange times, we are given a time today to celebrate the gift of family. 'Christmas' and 'family' seem to go together so well and this year, more than ever, we need to appreciate the gift that is our family.
As Pope Francis reminds us, there is no such thing as the 'ideal' family—we have to TRY to do our part to build up our family unit, aware that we all fail at times. Families are all shapes and sizes—and today we are called to celebrate family life. As this time of lockdown has really emphasised, the family is the domestic Church—you will have gathered around your laptops on a Sunday morning to join your friends across the parish to celebrate a living Eucharist. These pandemic times have forced us to discover Christ's real presence in those we live with. It has been a challenge and has probably forced us to make greater efforts as we go through our 'wobbles', but, hopefully, this enforced time together has strengthened your family bond.
Sadly, we have been all too aware that this time has brought hardship too for some families. Not all families can live the picture perfect 'Little House on the Prairie' existence. Perhaps, under more normal times, we were able to hide family tensions and problems—we could get out of the house or lose ourselves in work and activities—including for the Church! This past year has forced families to live and work together far more closely—the family home became our workplace, classroom, gym, cinema, online shop, meeting/social place and Church. For some family units, the strain has just become too much and tensions have burst that very basic 'social bubble'. There is great pain in separation, but sometimes that is better than the tension turning to even greater physical or emotional abuse. Whatever the time of year, the family must be a sanctuary of safety, albeit with the odd wobbles and healthy sibling rivalry.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph are presented as a family facing difficulties and problems, with a deep and sincere faith and trust in God. They are are all too aware of the promises made to them by God—they are a family rooted in the covenant relationship so dear to the people of Israel. When was the last time someone promised you something that was never fulfilled? How many times have you made promises that you never kept? It seems to me that the readings during these days speak to us about promises, but promises that have been fulfilled! Promises that are fulfilled by a faithful God, a God who is Emmanuel: God-is-with-us! As we gather to celebrate this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we are invited to thanksgiving but we are also invited to healing and compassion; we are invited to look at the past with gentleness, to look into the future with hope and to see the many blessings that life is offering us, even in the midst of personal difficulties
As they enter the Temple to make the offering for their first born, Mary and Joseph meet the wise Anna and Simeon. In our families, we need to look to the wisdom of both our elders and our children—we ignore them at our peril. The image of the elderly prophets holding the infant Jesus is a living icon of the beauty of intergenerational relationships. Both Simeon and Anna see Jesus as the LIGHT who will lead us all to the truth. They received promises that were fulfilled. They were filled with the spirit and were able to see things others could not; they saw salvation, peace, redemption, Christ the Saviour! Others in the Temple that day could not see it; they only saw a couple with a child fulfilling a requirement of the law. Mary and Joseph were probably filled with questions, but with God in their hearts and the hope of a promise, they went back home and"the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him."(Luke 2: 40) The God given promises were fulfilled!
COVID-19 has caused damage to the relationships between children and their grandparents—the need for shielding has meant that many have not even been able to meet together for this Christmas celebration. I've spoken to so many of my family and friends who just want the chance to hug again! It is summed up so well in the thoughts of a young friend of mine who said to me recently, "I really don't want any toys this Christmas—I just want to be with all my family...and my friends who have become family!" The wisdom and care of that young person is to be admired.
As we enter the new year of 2021, it is my prayer that your family be blessed in this coming year of hope. We have all seen those memes and pictures on social media that urge us to forget 2020 due to the pain of this international silent killer. We pray for our scientists working on a vaccine, and that we can live fully and happy lives with our families and friends once more. I pray that we have learnt from this past year and that our families are stronger for it. If the pain of this past year has been just too much, I pray that your new start and new family living-style will be supportive and constructive. May 2021 bring you joy as you walk in the light of Christ.
John O'Donohue offers us hope as we move forward together through the gift that will be 2021:
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
John O'Donohue, Beannacht (New Year Blessing)