Feast of the Holy Family – Year B


Liam T. O’Doherty, O.S.A.
Church of Our Mother of Good Counsel
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

Sir 3:2-6, 12-14
or Gn 15:1-6; 21:1-3
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
or Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Col 3:12-21
or Col 3:12-17
or Heb 11:8, 11-12, 17-19
Lk 2:22-40

Thirty years ago, I was pastor of St. Monica’s Parish in the city of Nagoya, Japan. Every year, the Diocese of Nagoya picked a theme and did many lectures and workshops about that theme. One year, the bishop picked the theme of “Family.”

People were very glad that the bishop picked that theme. But the lay people on the diocesan pastoral council made a request to the bishop. They said: “When you develop the teachings for the workshops and lectures, please don’t make the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph the centerpiece and main example.” The bishop was very surprised to hear this opinion and asked the people why. They had three reasons:

1. The Holy Family had two parents, but like in the US, many families in Japan are single parent families.

2. The Holy Family had two parents who both had the same religious faith, but many Catholic families in Japan have only one parent who is Catholic or even Christian.

3. And the third reason was their strongest felt: the Holy Family was composed of two saints as the parents, and their son was the Son of God! He was perfect!

I think this is a valuable insight. The lay people on the committee said that it was unrealistic to hold up the Holy Family as an ideal for people in the first two types of families to strive for. They said that even for the third type of family, for the more or less traditional Catholic family (with a father and mother both practicing Catholics) that trying to strive to be like the Holy Family could be, in the end, frustrating and counterproductive. It is true that no other family ever starts out with two saints and an only child who is perfect. So perhaps we need to think about this feast from another point of view.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family (with a capital “H” and a capital “F”). But at the same time, I think it is important to realize that no matter what condition our family is in, we are part of a holy family (with a small “h” and a small “f”).

No matter how divided or dysfunctional, no matter how stressed out or messed up a family may be, God is present in a special way in each family where at least one person believes and trusts in him. The spark of God’s life is there!

And in our second reading, Saint Paul tells us about the kind of attitudes of heart that we should have everywhere, but especially in our families. He says:

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts…

It is true that some people say that it is an unrealistic goal to hold up as an ideal the kind of perfection that the Holy Family (2 saints and the Son of God) for all families. However, it is not only possible but also desirable for us to strive in our families for many of the traits they had as a family – virtues that Saint Paul mentions in this reading. We can strive for mutual forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We can work to make our homes places where the peace of Christ rules, by making our homes places where we pray and read the Word of God together.

And finally, we can ask the Holy Family – Jesus, Mary and Joseph – to intercede for our families, so that our families, even if they are not perfect, might be places of peace, mutual respect and love, places of prayer. So that like the Holy Family, Jesus might be the center of our families too.