To read the texts click on the texts: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21;Lk 2:41-52
The feast of the Holy Family is celebrated every year on first Sunday after Christmas. It is appropriate that such be the case, because for centuries Christmas has been regarded as a family feast. Not only do members of a family get together to celebrate the feast, but the themes of Christmas like the birth of a child, naming of the child, gathering together as a family to celebrate this event, all lend themselves to reflection on the meaning of family.
That family life, under threat today, does not need any kind of in depth analysis. ‘Single parent families,’ unwed mothers, the rampant rate of divorce, are all testimony to this fact. What can the feast of the Holy Family mean in the face of this threat? The readings of today offer a response.
The author of the letter to the Colossians begins by giving the foundations of a good marriage. In a word this may be summarized as “adjustment”. The Colossian Christians are called to adjust with one another in any and all circumstances. To adjust means first of all to have the ability to let go off one’s ego. As long as one holds on to one’s point of view there can be no adjustment and so what is required is an openness and receptivity to accept that one can be wrong, that one does not know everything about everything and that there is lot that is unknown. Secondly to adjust means to be flexible. Rigidity of any kind is a hindrance. There is not just one hand; there is also the other hand. This leads to the third meaning of what it means to adjust: forgiveness. Any community in which forgiveness is not an integral part will be a superficial one. And what is required for sustaining community is likely to be more than a single act of forgiveness; rather, the lives of the people in that community will be characterized by the continuing practices of forgiveness that draw their resources from the forgiveness already enacted by Christ and especially on the Cross. If one realizes that one is forgiven completely by God for any and all wrongs that one has committed then it is easier to forgive others. Encompassing all of these is the reality of love. Love it is which binds everything together and while there are numerous definitions of love, it seems to me that a good way of understanding love is to realize that in love there is no “I”. The other is always more important than self. The other is always placed before self. True and genuine love is not barter exchange but unconditional.
To be sure, the exhortation to wives to be submissive to their husbands in the second part of the text might be misunderstood as servility. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a marriage both the husband and wife are equal partners. There can be no higher and lower rank. There can be no greater and lesser. What there is in fact is complementarity. Males and females need each other to complete the other. If this is understood by both partners half the journey has already been completed.
It is also important to note the role of children and the relationship of children which all three readings speak about. In the first reading from Sirach, the focus is on instructions to children to show honour to their parents. However, in the second reading while children are asked to respect their parents, parents are also asked not to provoke their children. In this context, the words of the famous Christian writer and poet Khalil Gibran take on a depth of meaning. He says to parents that the children who come through them are really life’s longing for itself. Thus they do not really “belong” to their parents but to life which “goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday”. Children “dwell in the house of tomorrow” and so parents have to be like flexible bows that are willing to be bent so that their children like arrows “may go swift and far”. Parents have to learn to grow with their children and keep in touch with all the changes that are taking place around them. They need to learn to be relevant and if they cannot be then to be understanding and accommodating.
The parents of Jesus did not realize this when they looked for him. It was not that Jesus was lost but that Mary and Joseph were lost without their son. However, Jesus made them realize that he was a child not merely of his parents, but of life itself and so his parents had to let him go to do what he had to do. Parents today too need to realize this about their children for family life to be what it is meant to be. When this happens then the feast of the Holy Family will be just that: a feast of holy families which keep inspiring one another to live like the Holy Family of Nazareth.