What is our Church celebrating today on this Feast of the Holy Family? If we are to reflect on the state of family lives in the secular world, what is clear is that divorce rates in Singapore, in all first world countries, and indeed all around the world are increasing daily, and if we look beyond divorce rates, and find that broken family relationships between parents and children, and between siblings are also getting more common, we may speak of a global family crisis.
If such tragic trends are not reversed and if family relationships are not healed in time, all the wealth that the world has generated and all the discoveries and technological advancements that is meant to create a more modern and more comfortable life will all go to waste and its fruits would not be reaped. It is like having painstakingly prepared the most elaborate and exquisite banquet for a group of special guests who cannot enjoy the banquet because they are all suffering from ulcer or cancer in the stomach. In such a case, is it not more wise to focus on preventing and reducing the cause of the ulcer and cancer instead of on spending even more time and money on preparing the banquet of all times, but with few or no guests who can benefit from the grandeur?
If there is no happiness in our hearts and homes, no amount of wealth and no amount of power and pleasure can buy and give us the deep and true happiness and lasting fulfilment that we long for in life. If there is no genuine happiness in our hearts, there will also be no genuine relationships to build on. If families in our homes and the world are broken and wounded and if such relationships are not healed in time, the vocation of families that are meant to bring and share God’s Love will not be able to take root in our homes.
God created Adam and Eve, out of His Divine Love. God planted in their hearts the innate desire to love each other unconditionally and wholeheartedly as God Loved them; they were meant to multiply in their family relationships and be fruitful in sharing God’s Love with everyone.
Sadly, this is clearly not happening enough in the world because instead of propagating relationships that have the selfless love of God, what we find in the secular world are more often than not relationships that are permissive and possessive, and positions that are intoxicated with power and eaten up with pride. Essentially, we need to renew and re-establish genuine relationships that are filled with God’s Love; a love that is selfless, sacrificial and salvific; a love that brings the graces and wisdom of God’s Salvation into our lives.
For this we need credible models of the family. Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the “Holy Family,” there is no better model family than that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. If I were to ask us, what is the difference between the “Holy family” and “our family,” most of us would immediately respond that the “Holy family” is “holy” because first, the child is Jesus, who Himself is the Son of God. Second; Mary as Mother of Jesus,is the most perfect of all mothers as she is pure and without sin. Third, Joseph is one of the most virtuous saints of all times whom God the Father found to be worthy enough to be the foster father of Jesus, the Messiah. And that is why they are the model family and we constantly fall short of the ideals of what is God Wills of us as families.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, while Jesus is divine He is also fully human. While Mary and Joseph are full of virtues, they are also as fully human as you and I are. This foundational Truth about the Holy Family must first be affirmed.
In other words, let us be reminded that if there is SARS or Ebola or flu virus, Jesus, Mary and Joseph too would be exposed to the epidemic as much as you and I would be exposed. If we have to work hard to earn a living and have to live a virtuous life of compassion and forgiveness to build good relationships with one another, so also must Jesus, Mary and Joseph with their neighbours, when they were living in Nazareth.
Thus, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph were also subjected to as much, if not more human pain and suffering, trials and temptations in their lives than you and I and any human family have experienced. So, let us remember that from the time of Jesus’ birth He and His parents were already rejected by innkeepers and classed as the marginalised of society. This in all probability would not have happened if Mary and Joseph were dressed in fine robes and had great wealth. Soon after Jesus was born, they had to flee to Egypt as refugees as king Herod wanted to kill Him. Also, when Jesus was lost in the Temple, Mary and Joseph were traumatised like all parents would have been. And what kept them going and gave them strength, was their deep faith in God to provide for their needs. Their unfailing fidelity to God’s Will regardless of the challenges they faced make them the models of faith and our inspiration in times of the challenges we face in the family vocation.
Today’s First Reading describes Abraham as the Father of Faith, the Responsorial Psalm 104 reminds us that God will always remember and forever be faithful in His Covenant; the Second Reading to the Hebrews explains further how the obedience of Abraham will bring him the blessings of descendants that are as many as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore.
Abraham was the Father and model of faith for all God’s people because he was obedient to God’s Will in many ways. On faith and in obedience to God, Abraham set out from Ur to an unknown land. Led by God’s prompting, he continued his journeys covering many hundreds of miles, beset often by plagues, famine and hostile men. When God told him he would have an heir even though he and Sarah were in their old age, he believed. And when God asked him to look up in the sky and count the stars, as his descendants would be as numerous, he believed without doubt even though no stars could be seen and counted during the day time. And finally, when God tested his faith by asking that he sacrifice his only son, Isaac, Abraham believed, even though such an act of sacrifice would render impossible the very promises that had been made to him by God. Abraham’s trust was so great and unconditional that he believed that if the sacrifice was necessary, then God would raise his son from the dead.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that our secular world and also our Church are suffering from a crises of the family life and vocation. If this trend of increasing divorce and broken relationships are not reversed, and if deep wounds and hurts in relationships are not healed, and if genuine relationships are not forged, all the wealth, growth and goodness that we find in our modern technological society will count for nothing. As mentioned earlier, we are so to speak preparing an elaborate and exquisite banquet for ulcer and cancer of stomach patients.
Our global crisis need clear and credible family models like Abraham and the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph; models who are totally obedient to God’s Will in the way they live their lives, regardless of the trials, temptations and threats they face in their lives. Unless, this global trend of increasing divorce and broken relationships in families are reversed, our secular world is heading for self-destruction. If our hearts are hollow of God’s Love and if our homes are empty of the Christ-like sacrifice, care, compassion, forgiveness and unity, there will be no lasting peace and fulfilment in life. There is only one sure way forward . . . you and I need to heed the Gospel of Christ and reclaim the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as our model and inspiration in our family vocation and in all our relationships.
(Cf. Catholic Bible Dictionary, Scott Hahn (Gen.Editor); pub.: Doubleday: New York; p.14) .
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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