HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY – YEAR B
Prophetic Marriage and Family Life
(Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3; Ps 105; Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40)
Noted sociologist Reginald Bibby, in his book The Boomer Factor, quotes respected American journalist Walter Kirn as saying, “There is still only one way to be sane – enjoy your family, friends, faith and job – but every year there are new ways to be crazy.”
This reflection underlines the Church’s wisdom of having this feast of the Holy Family so soon after Christmas. I believe there is a greater need than ever for marriage and family to be prophetic, to speak a basic truth, to point out the way to a better future. Marriage and family life are meant to be the cornerstone of a healthy society.
There is ever-increasing negative pressure on the traditional marriage and family today: open-ended marriages, a hook-up culture, a negative attitude to marriage, and attempts to redefine the very nature of marriage and family life, to name a few.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, of St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, made this comment following the introduction of such legislation in Scotland: “The family is the basic social unit, which needs to be recognized, protected and promoted as the most vital cell of society. Unfortunately, this truth is being obscured today. It is not without reason that human societies throughout history and across cultures have flourished only when they have built their human relationships on the rock of marriage and a solid family life.”
In his 1994 Letter to Families, JP II asserted that marriage and family life are windows into the divine world: human experiences that give us some insight into the inner life of God. The family, he claimed, is perhaps the clearest mirror or reflection of the community of self-giving love and receptivity that is God as Holy Trinity. And that makes the family prophetic.
I experienced that mirroring of God when visiting a family one day. Their fifteen-year old daughter returned from a soccer tournament, barged into the house, threw down her equipment bag, made a bee-line straight to her dad, jumped on his lap, put her arm around his neck, lay her head next to his and just lay there for at least two minutes, soaking up his love. He calmly kept on talking to me over her, while his wife kept on preparing supper and the other kids playing. It struck me that this was normal in this household. I felt warm and buoyed up as I drove away, and realized that I had just been given a glimpse of the Trinity. What I saw was a father and mother in a committed marriage relationship. Their love produced their children – a family united in love, intimacy, caring, tenderness, relationships. What they symbolized was God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a divine family in an eternal, committed exchange of intimate love!
The second reading today is full of the qualities that make for a strong Christian family life, based on especially compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, prayer and the word of God. It is in the family that children’s need to be loved, to belong and to be valued are met. If these needs are met, children will be able to handle any and all of life’s challenges. If they are not met, they get into trouble. One young man recently shared how his family was generally okay, but his workaholic dad never spent enough time with him. As a result, he started acting out to get his attention, got into trouble, then into alcohol, drugs and sex that all ended up in addiction, all trying to fill the hole in his soul.
Expressed love is central to a healthy marriage and family life. What kids need most, even more than the love that parents have for them individually, is the love and affection that the parents have for each other.
The gospel presents us with the example of two elders who can serve as role models for us – Simeon and Anna. Both were prayerful, holy and probably parents and grand-parents themselves. They both recognized Jesus as the salvation of Israel, and blessed him, spoke well of him. To bless, benedicere, is to speak well of someone. Words and blessings are powerful. Something happens when we bless another person, especially a younger person. That person changes.
That is our role as parents, father, mothers, aunts and uncles, grandparents – to bless our youth, speak well of them, affirm them, empower them to be generative, and then step aside and allow them to flourish.
I dream of a world where every family would have a weekly family night consisting of a meal together, no TV, some prayer based on scripture, honest sharing of their feelings and then some games. What a difference that would make to the quality of our families and the church in the world.
A long-time friend of mine would stay in the rectory in Beauval with me years ago whenever his work took him to the north. Every night he would call his wife in the South collect just to share their day. I commented that this practice must get to be expensive. He replied that it was not an expense, it was an investment. He is a wise man.
The Eucharist is our faith family meal. We share in the table of God’s Word and
the table of the Eucharist. With humble faith we recognize Jesus and experience
his love. That love empowers us to go out and be prophetic to a world that needs a
reminder as to what is most basic in our lives.
So today, as we continue to celebrate Christmas and the feast of the Holy Family, let us pray for humble faith and love to make our marriages and family life a prophetic window to the divine, and life giving to the world.