LIKE EVERY OTHER FAMILY,
THE FAMILY OF NAZARETH HAD ITS OWN PROBLEMS.
- GOD CAME INTO WORLD THROUGH A FAMILY
Christmas has come and gone. Just as Christmas reminds us that God became Man as Christ, so today’s feast of the Holy Family reminds us that he did this at HOME and not in a national stadium or a theatre. He blessed the FAMILY into a holy institution, by belonging to one.
- THE WORD “FAMILY” EVOKES VARIOUS SENTIMENTS
In fact, the mention of “family” evokes various emotions in various people. In some people, ‘family’ means the place where they experience happiness, care, comfort, communal support and mutual love. For others, it stands for quarrelling, fighting, intolerance, inconsideration, rivalry, hatred and lack of respect and trust.
- THE FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY IS A FEAST OF ENCOURAGEMENT
While this feast is meant to encourage us to grow in our family life, it sometimes tends to discourage many, especially those who do not find themselves in the ideal situation where there is 1) A LOVING FATHER, 2) A CARING WIFE AND MOTHER, 3) GRACEFUL CHILDREN, 4) A PEACEFUL HOME. etc. There, people have a feeling that this is a feast for those who are married in Church, or at best, a feast for those who still manage to receive communion in the Church.
It is worth noting that none of our families is all holy. Our families are a mixture of all sorts of conflicts, compulsions and craziness that tests our love and forgiveness. But in the midst of all that, there is a God. There is no other place to find him. The family is the place where God found us.
- TYPES OF FAMILIES
God permits us to be born into different types of families. Nobody chooses to be born in a particular type of a family. It is God’s choice, though the making of the family depends on the people who are found there in: (you can describe these various families in your own words)
- Ideal monogamous families
- Problematic families
- Polygamous families
- Single parent families by choice (no body to marry me)
- Single parent families by accident
- Single parent families by divorce
- Single parent families by death
- List more of these families which you know; etc. etc. etc.
How can these families ever be like JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH? Does God listen to the members of these families as he did to Mary and Joseph? Have the members of all these ‘distorted families’ the same access to God as Jesus, Mary and Joseph?
- THE HOLY FAMILY HAD IT OWN PROBLEMS
Each family has its own share of problems. So was the HOLY FAMILY. But they had their secrete: TOLERANCE AND TOGETHERNESS. They tolerated one another in the midst of their problems, and above all, they did not drift apart from each other. They kept close. Here is a common saying: “Water been bend-bend because, e waka he one.” When husbands and wives stay together, and do things together, they thrive more. Here are incidences in the life of the Holy Family, where they could have ‘gone it alone’, but they always chose to stay together:
- a) At the pregnancy of Mary: Joseph did not abandon Mary. Being a “man of honour”, Joseph kept close to Mary and took her as his wife, in spite of the possible gossips and adverse talk in the community.
- b) At Bethlehem, during the birth of the Child Jesus: Mary accompanied her husband to Bethlehem. Joseph was present at the birth of their child, “their first born child”. How many men, today, are found absent when their wives are going to the maternity to give birth to their children?
- c) At the presentation in the temple: According to the gospel, Mary and Joseph made the purification sacrifice. Mary and Joseph took the Infant Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days (inclusive) after his birth to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn son, in obedience to the Torah (Lev 12, Ex 13:12–15).
Joseph and Mary were at the temple together, when the child, Jesus was being presented. They presented their first born child in the temple. Jewish law stated that after giving birth, a mother was ceremonially unclean until her cycle had returned to normal. Every firstborn child had to be ‘redeemed’. Every firstborn child was considered to belong to the Lord (this reflects back to the time when the firstborn children of Israel were spared in the Exodus during the Passover). An offering (or “tax” if you will) was paid to the temple that “redeemed” your child. This money supported the Levites who in essence served at the temple in place of all the firstborn children.
We may ask, how often do we not find one parent absent at the baptism of their child(ren)? Sometimes it is the ‘affair of only one parent’ with the other refusing to show up!
- d) The flight into Egypt: Joseph took his wife and son to Egypt. He did not send them to Egypt in order that he could stay by and earn money, and then send monthly allowances by MONEYGRAM, EXPRESS UNION or MOBILE MONEY. Mary and Joseph stayed together with their child, and brought him up jointly as true Jewish parents.
- e) The finding of the Child in the temple: At the search of the child, Jesus in the temple, Mary and Joseph did it together. It was not like Mary timidly went looking for the child, in fear of her husband. Joseph did not order Mary out of the home, saying “like mother, like child”, she should go and fetch her stubborn child. No. they stayed together. “Son, why have you done this to US? Your FATHER AND I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
- f) Mary and Joseph brought up their child, together, according to the Jewish tradition: After that, the father and mother of Jesus jointly undertook to teach and bring up their child in the proper Jewish fashion. The great harmonious relationship between child and parents is expressed as follows by Luke: “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and man”. (Luke 2:48-51)
Joseph and Mary performed one of the basic duties of the Jewish parents in Old Testament Judaism that was to provide for the instruction and education of his children, guiding their first steps towards a religious life and later enabling their children’s education in Jewish schools. Indeed, their obligation to teach their children is set forth in the famous Shema Yisrael or “Hear, O Israel” in these words: Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut 6:4-9).
This is at the center of Jewish religious pedagogy. We can see that the supreme teachers of children are first and foremost their parents. We are told in today’s gospel: “The child grew, and waxed strong, full of wisdom; and the grace of God was in him.” (Luke 2:40) The family had to constantly rehearse the history and events of God’s doing in the history of the people of Israel. The family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph embraced these outlines of Jewish pedagogy by presenting the baby Jesus in the Temple. Later, Jesus would willingly accompany his parents to the temple. It is important for parents not to neglect the duty of teaching children about God and His laws FROM THE VERY EARLY AGE. They should keep their religious obligations without delay, just as Mary and Joseph did.
- g) At the Marriage feast at Cana: At this point in time, Joseph was absent. He was probably dead. But Mary kept the tradition. She accompanied her son in his first pastoral mission, where he performed his first miracle.
- h) At the foot of the Cross: Joseph’s absence is more pronounced at this scene. But Mary’s company and presence are quite pronounced. She maintains the family tradition and ties that she cultivated in her son right from the very early age. She is there for her son at his moment of greatest maternal need.
- i) At the Upper Room on Pentecost day: Mary keeps the family of the apostles and the early Church together, according to the spirit and practice of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The Holy Spirit descends on the apostles and on Mary, who did not abandon the company of Jesus’ friends.
- THE NECESSITY OF STAYING TOGETHER IN OUR FAMILIES
Mary, Joseph and Jesus were a family much like any of our families today. They knew fear, loneliness, confusion, disagreement and disappointment. Sometimes, in our religious fervour, we may tend to spiritualize away the full and painful impact of the problems they faced by believing that they had direct access to solutions from heaven, through angels and dreams. The fact is that they stayed close TOGETHER. They were close to God; and God who spoke to them through the persons and events of their lives. Our families today have the same access to this same God. Our families and all its members can also make it if we stay together. “The family that prays together, stays together” (a saying of the Christian Family Movement – the CFM). Each family is encouraged, as much as possible, to organize family meetings. It may be a noble practice for each family to make it a NEW YEAR resolution that they will meet regularly as brothers and sisters, as cousins, as parents and children. There is saying that goes: “Divided we fall, but together we stand”.
- A FINAL THOUGHT
Apart from staying together as a family, there is the obligation of parents, today as always, to teach their children the right way to live and behave. The pedagogical upbringing of the Jewish child included story-telling. Important events in Jewish life and history are told and re-told in a repetitive fashion. So, story-telling was a characteristic feature of life in the Jewish family. Radical obedience was demanded of the Jewish child. We can see this in the case of the sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22. As we know, Isaac obeyed his father Abraham and carried the bundle of wood for his sacrifice to the sacrificial place. This is also repeated in the case of the lost and found Jesus in the temple who did not argue with the parents but simply got up and followed them, notwithstanding that he still had his father’s work to do.
On this feast of the Holy Family, there are a number of things that we could be doing to help us identify with this Nazareth’s Family. These are noble examples: Praying together, eating together, play indoor games together, relax together, care and respect for each other. The spouses should not take love for granted – it needs to be nurtured and renewed. If we do these things, they will help to keep the family together. “The greatest thing you can give to your children is time”.
Furthermore, there are further things that we could do. For instance, the control children’s use of television, cell phones and internet has to be paramount. Parents should be in-charge of their children’s home-work assignments. They should check their school bags regularly, when they come back from school. Parents, figure out the level of your family, morally and socially, and use this as a yardstick to set parameters for your children’s cycle of friendship. In other words, draw the social boundaries for them. If your kids are well mannered and you allow them to intermingle with unmannered kids, they will learn this very easily and your good work might not bear good fruits.
Finally, teach the children the danger of alcoholism, teen’s smoking and drugs. Teach them to embrace the school, rather than the prison. Teach them the dangers of internet chat rooms with strangers, strip clubs and night clubs. Teach them to learn how to say: “I am sorry” and “Thank You!” Help them learn how to use polite words of expression, for instance, “May I use your phone, please,” instead of simply saying: “Give me your phone.” Let us not be PART-TIME or ABSENTEE PARENTS. Let us be full time parents like Joseph and Mary. May the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph intercede for us in every regard concerning family life.
Prayer: Lord, I offer you myself this day, and in doing so, I offer you my family. I offer every relationship, be it good or difficult, peaceful or problematic. I offer every challenge we face. Please, come and sanctify my family, making it holy in the imitation of your family in Nazareth. Jesus, I trust in you!