Friday, 28 December 2007

Feast of the Holy Family Year A

The priesthood to which some of us are ordained for and committed to is principally directed to the service of the family. The preface of the mass for wedding, [the preface is the part which begins with “The Lord be with you” and end with the “Holy, Holy, Holy”.] may help us understand the relationship of the priesthood to the family. “You are the loving Father of the world of nature, you are the loving Father of the new creation of grace and in Christian marriage, you bring together the two orders of creation: nature’s gift of children enriches the world and your grace enriches also your Church”. The baptism of infants is the normal channel whereby the grace of God enriches the Church and through which the membership of the Church is increased. And it is to this grace that the priesthood is involved because the family is at the centre of the Church’s apostolic vision. We are in the business of the nurturance of or in the formation of grace-filled families.

In this endeavour the Church aptly gives us the Feast of the Holy Family for us to reflect on. The Holy Family is given to us not because they are a perfect family. In fact, as a family they resemble some of our families. Mary was pregnant out of wedlock. Joseph wasn’t quite sure about what he should do and the young boy “serious” about his father’s business is perhaps too head-strong at such a tender age.

They are considered holy not because they have an unblemished family history. They are holy because they constantly sought God’s will in their lives and they lived their holiness through the grace of God. A conclusion thus is that there is hope yet for every family here especially for those who consider theirs to be less than perfect. This path to holiness may be gleaned through the readings we heard today.

In the first reading, we hear of the command to honour our parents. To care for one’s kith and kin is no easy task. Not especially when the demands of career and work are plenty. But the book of the Ecclesiasticus enjoins upon us the duty of ensuring that our parents live out their final years in comfort and dignity. Unfortunately, comfort and dignity are often interpreted as sterile and clean... put them into a nursing home where they will get better care than they would get at home. But, have you ever heard of a saying that “one mother can take care of ten children but ten children cannot take care of one mother”? It is possible that the elderly sometimes need professional care that only a nursing home can provide but professional care is not what they always need. There are more people who die from lack of love and affection than from physical neglect. The pressure of forging a future may make us forget our past or history. But Jesus hanging on the Cross gives us a model of what it means to honour one’s parents. On the cross, Jesus thought not of his suffering but of his mother and entrusted her to the care of his disciple. The call to holiness often challenges us to walk beyond the convenient path of comfort.

The second reading widens the path towards holiness. It is quite telling that people often think that theirs is the worst family there ever is. Parents know this to be true. You send your child to school and your child wants you to drop him or her 150m away from the school gate. You are NEVER to kiss the child in front of his or her friends. Peer pressure may explain your child’s embarrassment. But it is more likely that your child probably thinks that he or she comes from the worst ever family.

It just illustrates for us that a holy family to be proud of is not just a wish. It takes a lot to make a family holy. St Paul says that the foundation of a holy family is anchored upon the bonds of commitment, fidelity and self-sacrifice. It is a common experience that people are kinder to strangers but can be mean to their kin. When we encounter this phenomenon of dislike in our family, then we are challenged to re-think how we relate to each other as members of a family. Even religious life is like that. St John Berchman--whose portrait can be seen in the stained glass said that his greatest cross was community life. We are born into a family and we have no choice about it. Likewise a religious community is not something we choose—we are sent there. This is significant because the family or even a religious community is ordinarily our first path to salvation. That is why we say that charity begins at home.

Finally, our path of holiness must cross God’s will. The paths of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were not straight-forward—just like many of ours. What makes their lives remarkable was the will of God. At every juncture in their lives, they sought the will of God. “I am the handmaid of the Lord”. Joseph unquestioningly took Mary to his home and Jesus upon returning from Jerusalem was obedient to both Mary and Joseph.

That being so, every family’s story, shameful as it may sound, may turn out to be a story of salvation. The will of God is always to save us and God can write straight line with crooked ones. Therefore, holiness is never beyond the reach of any family.

In conclusion, the holy family is given to us not because they were perfect. They were on their way to perfection, thus giving us hope that one day we too may enjoy the perfection that became theirs.

I said at the beginning that the priesthood is directed in the service of the family. Yet the vocation of the priesthood is tied to the “fortune” of the family. A weaker family is a poorer society. A poorer society will result in poorer vocations to the priesthood.

Whilst the priesthood may be directed to the service of the family, it’s the family that must give birth to the vocation of the priest. It is time to rethink and re-embrace the path of holiness that runs through our family.