Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church
Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.  What does the church want us to learn from it, after all we really know almost nothing of the family life of Jesus.  All we know is that at age 12 he got left in the temple and Mary and Joseph were a little upset.  Instead, let’s ask why God came to earth as a child and part of a family?  If there is something we know about, it’s families and it seems like there is a lot of “baggage” associated with being part of a family.  Things get messy in a family. 
I always thought it would make more sense to have Jesus come as an adult.  After all, his entire mission was accomplished within the span of some 3 years after he had reached the age of thirty.  What if he just appeared walking across the Sea of Galilee!  Wouldn’t that have been a great entrance!  Talk about getting people’s attention!  But God didn’t!  He came as a child, as part of the family of Joseph and Mary.  Why?  Because God’s whole rescue mission for creation was to show us how to love.  And to love requires relationships.  That’s what we learn in a family, how to live in a relationship of love.  It’s the love in a family, the giving and receiving that teaches us of the love that God has for us.  It is in a family that we learn to become “other-centered” rather than “me-centered.”  Ask any spouse or sibling or child who has suddenly become the caregiver for a loved one and they can tell you about being “other-centered.”  And that takes love.

St. Pope John Paul II wrote, “The family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love.  Man cannot live without love.  He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” 

Where does that happen?  In a family.  Mother, father, son, daughter, grandparent, these are all relationships, not titles.  Relationships of love, of giving and receiving love. Real love is a love that wants the best for the other, even if that love isn’t returned.  That’s where we struggle, as individuals and families.  It’s easy to love when we’re loved back.  But to be Christian is to love even when that love isn’t returned.  Christ certainly knew about love that wasn’t returned, yet he still loved.  Families need to let God form and sustain them.  How do they do this?  Two thoughts.

First, family prayerThe family that prays together, stays together!  This isn’t just a soft piece of piety but a hard truth.  Now for many of us our families are miles away.  But husband and wife is a family.  Do we pray together?  When the children and grandchildren arrived for the holidays, or when we went to their house, did we show them how important prayer is in our life?  Each and every gathering of family, whether it is two or twenty, is an opportunity to re-instill the importance of prayer.  And the ultimate family prayer is the Eucharist.  Do we ask our family to join us at Mass?  Do they know how important that is to our family life?

The last great non-negotiable of family life is forgiveness because it is simply impossible to be close to anyone for any length of time without seriously hurting him or her and without that person seriously hurting us.  We cannot NOT hurt each other.  The name of the game then is forgiveness.  We must learn to live graciously in a situation where life will not always be fair, our feelings will often be bruised, our needs often neglected and others will constantly disappoint us (even as we disappoint them).  When we forgive, when we live beyond our hurts and sensitivities, then God can enter our lives and our families.  No family, however good, is able to sustain itself by its own efforts.  God sustains families.  Pope Francis said that “every family, despite its weaknesses, can become a light in the darkness of the world.” Our job, through family prayer and forgiveness, is to be a light in the darkness of the world.