Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We all know that they are the most perfect of all families in the whole of human history. Yet, when we reflect on their lives, we see that this Holy Family is also not spared from the painful challenges.
Thus, we recognise that even though a family vocation is willed by God, we should expect to encounter the painful challenges of the vocation. Sociologists tell us that “the family is the primal human community; the basic building block of human society. The family is not a luxury – it is a necessity.” Thus, if we want to have a peaceful and life-giving society, then we must have wholesome families.
A family is more than just the husband and wife living together in harmony as individuals. A family also needs children. This is because, just as the romance of the early days of marriage begins to wear off, God in His providence usually sends children to challenge the unselfishness of the husband and the wife. The love of husband and wife grows stronger when they must make the needed sacrifices to care for their children. They then grow closer together in the shared love for their children.
Children also need their parents. Born physically helpless, they need a mother and a father for their physical care; and more importantly the wholesome love to grow in security and safety. Husbands and wives who choose not to have children can very easily become selfish and self-centred people; self-absorbed in their needs and pains. Children without parents to love them can grow up very insecure and unsure of themselves; abandoned and lonely. All of us need the family to find ourselves as individuals. Without the family we can become lonely pilgrims wandering aimlessly through life.
We also know that the love within a family has to be worked at. It is not something that comes easily or overnight. It demands a lot of time of each member of the family to be together and to share more deeply their life with one another in the home. However, we all know that our secular lifestyles and work demands are very hectic and such quality time with one another in a family is not always possible; rare for many. Often, parents and children live apart because of work or education. Young children too hardly see their parents who leave for work before they wake up in the morning, and don’t come home till after their children has gone to bed; weekends too can be as busily occupied in different things.
And when the family do find time to be together, it is important that the coming together is more than a physical presence. Husband and wife, children and siblings all need to learn how to communicate with one another on a deeper level. If this does not happen, then more often than not, the children will end up sharing their problems with their friends and get their emotional support and advice from them. And being immature themselves or worse still if their friends come from dysfunctional homes, then what type of advice and support are our children getting? Even as the family vocation seems to be filled with insurmountable challenges, we as Christians should nevertheless continue to face them with great courage and trust that God is there with us. (cf. Adapted from: Mustard Seed, Fr Joseph Galdon,SJ; pg 175-176)
In today’s Gospel, Joseph is warned in a dream to escape like refugees to Egypt (Mt 2:13) as king Herod wants to kill the child Jesus. Then, Joseph is later told in a dream again to return from Egypt as King Herod is dead (Mt 2:19). And when Joseph found out that one of King Herod’s sons Archelaus, (who was as cruel and murderous as his father) had succeeded the throne, Joseph was yet again being warned in a dream flee with Mary and the child to Nazareth, in Galilee.
We can see from these accounts alone that God’s Spirit was constantly protecting the Infant Jesus and His parents Mary and Joseph from the murderous plans of King Herod to kill the child Jesus. If we reflect on our lives, we would surely find that that God’s Holy Spirit is also on our side, and for countless of times have been protecting us and our families from harm and the tragedies of life. Is this not true of our experiences? Are we not totally dependent on God to provide for our needs? We all need God!
How many of us here can honestly say or claim that we are what we are today, whether we are a successful banker, lawyer, or a good husband, or living a meaningful priesthood or married vocation solely because we worked hard to achieve our successes in life or that we have been very lucky in life?
As Christians, the word “luck” should be banned and used only when we are buying 4-Digits or in a casino. This is because when we believe in God our Creator, Christ as our Redeemer and the Holy Spirit is there leading and guiding us, then we live in God’s Presence at all times and nothing happens because of “luck”. . . instead, everything happens in God’s Providence. When St Joseph and Mary faced insurmountable challenges in their lives, “Did they rely on luck?” Were they just lucky that Joseph had several good dreams that he acted on them without delays? Or were their challenges rooted in God’s Providence and their strength was securely built on a faith that strongly believed that God is always there for them and will never let them down? Without any exceptions, we all need God!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, none of us can claim to be a “self-made man”. To do so, would be pride and arrogance . . . nobody is invincible and every one of us, without exception is totally dependent on God in all our needs. One of the saddest ways to live is to live under the illusion that we can be happy without God. If we do not have water to live on, without water, we will die within hours. If we do not have oxygen, we will die within minutes. If we try to live as though we can do without God or if we push God to the background of our lives and family, in the way we live, then sooner or later, our family relationships will become more and more superficial because without God at the centre and foundation of our lives, we will inevitably become more and more self-sufficient and self-centred . . . and if this is not checked time or if we do not return to God in time, our family and vocation will sooner or later break up. This is a truth, we all know that we cannot deny; we all need God!
My sisters and brothers in Christ, while our First Reading reminds us to live more humanely, our Second Reading challenges us to live the Gospel values more fully. The First Reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus very specifically proclaims to us, that “whoever respect his father is atoning for his sins . . . and will be happy with children of his own . . . and he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.” St Paul, letter to the Colossians, in the Second Reading challenges us further. It asserts that as we are “God’s chosen race; we are His saints, and God loves us totally and unconditionally. Thus, we should clothe ourselves, like Christ, in sincere compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We are to bear with one another as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven us; now we must do the same.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we believe that God created us and brought us into existence, then our Christian faith also tells us that after creating us out of love, God our Father has not stopped loving us. His Love continues to sustain us and keep us alive; His Compassion continues to accept our weakness and sinfulness, and His Divine Desires continues to lead us to live in His Ways in our daily living. And when our time on earth comes to an end, as God our Father, He longs that we spend the whole of our eternal life with Him in His Glory.
As I conclude, let us remind ourselves once again, that as Joseph and Mary was constantly protected from harm and guided by God’s Spirit in whatever challenges they faced, the same Spirit of God is also present to us in our hearts and homes to help us build our family. And like Joseph and Mary in today’s Gospel, we are each called to Trust more fully. God would never give us any challenge that is beyond what we can manage for He Loves us too much to allow our challenges of life to destroy us and our families . . . and so, like Joseph in today’s Gospel, when we sense the Holy Spirit in our lives, we should immediately, “get up” and act on God’s inspiration . . . But, if we continuously choose to ignore Him and push Him to the background of our lives, then we may one day find ourselves standing alone in our empty home . . . licking our wounds.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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