It is not the PERFECT family we honor, it is the HOLY family. This is important for us to remember because most of us don't come from perfect families, nor are we very good at creating perfect families because of our own faults and imperfections.
Becoming A Holy Family in 2021
by Fr. Alex Juguilon, osc
At the end of December, we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family. Perhaps when we think of the Holy Family, it is easy for us to honor them while at the same time be in awe of them and think of how difficult it is to imitate them. As a glancing thought, the family life of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph may seem too perfect for us to model. But it is not the PERFECT family we honor, it is the HOLY family. I think this is important for us to remember because most of us don't come from perfect families, nor are we very good at creating perfect families because of our own faults and imperfections.
As I reflected on the Holy Family, I turned to the nativity scene in front of our altar in our priory church. A confrere told me that it came from Peru, and the figures reflected the culture. This artistic depiction of the Holy Family looked very different from the Holy Family set up in our living room where the figures are all white or Anglo. And these look very different from the Holy Family scene we have from Mexico that is on display in our dining room. It was a reminder to me that families look very different from one another and come in various colors and sizes and have different ways of being set-up and being holy.
So then what does it mean to be a Holy Family? The prophet Sirach lists some ways by which we can live as a holy family. Parents and children should love and honor one another. He calls us to take care of our parents when they are old. “[E]ven if [their] minds fail, be considerate of [them] (12-14).” He also adds that the care we give to our elderly parents “will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt” of our own sins (3:3).
Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians (3:12-21) what it takes to build a holy family - heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, gratitude, and patience. He also notes how important it is to “bear with one another” and to forgive each other.
As a member of a religious community, there are a lot of parallels between my community life and family life. Sacred times happen around the dinner table and in going to prayer and Mass together. We also have to forgive one another for the little things. We have to forgive one another when no one replaced the milk in the refrigerator or didn't put a new roll of paper towels on the counter, or didn’t refill the gas tank so that others can use the car. Living together requires patience and bearing with one another.
Remember, being a holy family was not just a given for Mary and Joseph either. It didn’t just “happen” for them. They had to work at it. From the beginning, Mary and Joseph had to learn to compromise and to sacrifice. They had let go of any assumptions they may have had about the future of their life together, and had to respond to God in their circumstances as life unfolded before them.
When they had to move to Egypt for fear of Herod, they suddenly found themselves far away from their family and friends. They had to adapt to a new culture and learn a new language. Joseph had to find a job in a foreign country to support his wife and child. And Mary had to get up every day and do the basic things needed to support her family - like raising their child, preparing meals, washing clothes, and cleaning the house. But through these challenges and realities, their complete faith and trust in God helped them get through the difficult and trying times.
I know family life has gotten more complicated these days and what we might call our nuclear family may not resemble the Holy Family. Most families have histories of pain, woundedness, and problems. Many are in need of God’s grace for healing and reconciliation. Regardless of our family situation, we can learn from the Holy Family and be inspired by them. Joseph's willingness to accept the circumstances surrounding Mary's pregnancy, and Mary's willingness to follow Joseph’s lead and leave everything behind because of a dream, show the perfect submission of husband and wife - not to one another, but to the will of God in their lives. And THAT is ultimately the definition of a holy family.
So as we strive to imitate the Holy Family, let us keep in mind that being a holy family is always a work in progress. Through our family realities and challenges, we can learn how to be faithful to God’s will and how to love one another in God’s love. Even though our families may have their constant struggles and faults, we can strive to make our families holy by heeding the advice of Sirach and Paul. And the holiness of our families will be as unique look and as different as the various shapes, sizes, and figures of a Nativity set.
May we all come closer to being holy families in this New Year.
Prior to joining the Crosiers in 2011, Fr. Alex worked as a doctor in Northeast Ohio. His years of training in the care of patients has carried over into the care of souls in what St. Augustine calls the cura animarum. Living the Rule of St. Augustine as a member of the Crosier Fathers and Brothers, and having studied St. Augustine’s works in his years of Crosier formation and formally at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, Fr. Alex’s style of spiritual direction calls attention to the transcendent horizon of divine personal initiative. This means that the accent falls on care for the interiority of persons.
You can find out more about Fr. Alex and spiritual direction at Crosier Village HERE