First Reading: Gn 15:1-6. 21:1-3; Psalm: 105. R. v. 7a. 8a; Second Reading: Heb 11:8. 11-12. 17-19; Gospel: Lk 2:22-40
THE MODEL FOR ALL FAMILIES
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
The feast of the holy family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a feast celebrated on the first Sunday following the solemnity of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. This feast presents the holy family as a model for Christian families.
The term ‘family’ is derived from the Latin, “famulus” meaning “servant,” and “familia” meaning “household servants,” or “the household.” This suggests that every member of a family is called to the ministry of service. And the core earmarks of a true servant are love, selflessness and humility. These features hold the family together and provide the plinth on which every family must stand, else it collapses. Every family risks a collapse because no family is perfect. But the strength of every family against the tides of life’s imperfections lies on love, selflessness, and humility.
Our readings today present to us two examples of a holy family: the family of Abram and the holy family of Nazareth. There are some obvious parallels in the stories of these two families. The conception of Sarah and Mary was preceded by the announcement of an angel (Gn 18:1-10; Lk 1:26-35). Both Sarah and Mary had a miraculous conception that defies common sense and biology. Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit; and Sarah at the age of ninety. They both questioned the possibility (Gn 18:12; Lk 1:34). Both Jesus and Isaac were called the “only son” of their respective fathers (Gn 22:2; Jn 3:16). And both of them would carry on their shoulders the wood of sacrifice (Gn 22:6; Jn 19:17).
In Matthew’s genealogy, the ancestry of Jesus was traced from Abraham (Mt 1:1). These two families are tied by lineage and exemplary in holiness. But they are not without challenges. Sarah was barren (Gn 11:30). In distress she watched Hagar her slave girl took over her role when Hagar conceived. Hagar ridiculed Sarah because she couldn’t bear a child (Gn 16:4). Sarah was angry. She lamented to Abram and had a fall out with him due to this (Gn 16:5). There was turmoil in the house. Sarah treated Hagar harshly that she fled from the house (Gn 16:6). We can only imagine the mental state of Abram amidst this turmoil. We can bet that there was that period of silent treatment, transfer of aggression, blame shifting, settlement of disputes, and whatnot. But amidst all these, their love for each other did not wilt. With genuine love, they weathered the storm. And the Lord blessed them with a son (Gn 21:1-2).
The holy family of Nazareth also had their ups and downs. Joseph did not believe the story of Mary regarding her pregnancy. He was planning a divorce (Mt 1:19). Mary most definitely was troubled. An angel had to intervene for Joseph to reverse his decision (Mt 1:20-24). Joseph had to change his marital plans to become a foster father and husband. Jesus was born at night in a manger (Lk 2:7). And that same night; Jesus, Mary and Joseph became refugees as they fled to Egypt to escape the massacre ordered by King Herod (Mt 2:13-15). When Jesus was presented in the temple in the gospel of today; on this joyful day, Mary heard a very disturbing prophecy that a sword shall pierce her soul (Lk 2:35). At the age of twelve, Jesus was missing in the temple for three days which caused his parents some troubles (Lk 2:41-52). Joseph was a carpenter and could only provide a meagre meal for the family. Joseph died earlier; Mary became widowed; and the family suffered the pain of bereavement. Jesus left Mary all alone in the house in the course of his ministry. Mary was bothered about his safety, for Jesus faced several attacks. Eventually, Mary will watch her only son killed like a criminal before her very eyes; the saddest moment of her life (Jn 19:25).
Obviously, there were more downs than ups in the life of the holy family. And again, what kept them together was genuine love. St Paul tells us that “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7) True love is the strongest weapon to weather the storm in any Christian marriage. But it has to be mutual; else the marriage becomes very toxic.
One of the reasons why several marriages fail today is because couples love for the wrong reasons. If marital love is based on fleeting things, fading attributes or any other external features; that love will not withstand the test of time. Marital love should be genuine, pure, unconditional and altruistic. Another reason why marriages fail is that couples jump into marriage with lofty expectations without a ready disposition for probabilities. In life, there are things we cannot control or change that will most likely get in the way of our plans and expectations. Abram had no foreknowledge of Sara’s barrenness. Joseph never planned to be a caretaker husband. Mary didn’t know that her fiat would cause her more sorrow than joy. These disruptors were not anticipated but the holy family withstood the test they posed.
Every Christian family must gear up for life’s probabilities. The lovey-dovey affection will not sparkle as always. It will definitely dim a little and may continue to dwindle. The unexpected may happen. It could be sickness, job loss, barrenness, miscarriages, impotency, relationship issues, infidelity, poverty, or death. The things we did not plan for may hit us so hard that but for the grace of God we may not withstand them. This is where humility comes in. The humility to realise that we are not in control of everything; and the readiness to readjust and trust absolutely on God to come through for us. In her confusion, Mary trusted completely on God and pondered all these things in her heart. (Lk 2:19). But we must not wait to face challenges before we humbly come to God in prayer. Faith in God should always be our backbone.
Another beautiful feature that keeps marriage and family bonded is selflessness. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines family as “the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life.” (CCC. 2207). This selfless giving does not only subsist in fecundity but also in sacrificial giving. Joseph laboured for the family; and Mary played her maternal role. Each selflessly gave what they could offer for the sustenance of the family. The selflessness of parents is seen in their willingness to procreate, train and provide for their children out of their own resources. They should also have a shared responsibility in providing for one another. And this selfless giving should generate contentment and gratitude, and not selfishness and greed.
The holy family was God-fearing. They worshipped in the temple and presented the child Christ received by Simeon. They also went to the temple together where Jesus got missing at the age of twelve. The Baptismal ritual of the Church states that parents are “the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith.” “Education in the family by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. . . . Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God.” (CCC 2226). When Jesus was found in the temple; he returned to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them (Lk 2:51). This should serve as an example to all Christian children.
The family is a call to serve; a call to slave for one another. “Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands this.” (CCC 2227). When parents build their homes in Christian love, faith, humility and selflessness, the family becomes a fortress against any marital crises and a sign of faith to Christian families. The story of the holy family proves this.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord God, bless all families and keep them united in your love. We ask your grace upon many families experiencing divorce and other marital crises; may your love that brought them together reunite them again. Amen.