For most of my life I have associated the Feast of the Holy Family with homilies that emphasize the value of the traditional nuclear family in todayâ€™s changing world. For this reason, I approached todayâ€™s scripture passages with the assumption that I would be writing about the importance of celebrating the gift of family as we finish out 2018 and prioritizing family as we prepare for the year ahead. When I actually read the lectionary, however, I was struck by the fact that the focus is not really on strengthening traditional family relationships. The Old Testament passage, the epistle and the gospel all point to a concept of family that extends far beyond the confines of the home and the relationships of husband, wife, parent and child. The holy family of todayâ€™s readings is the family of the faith community.
In the story from the book of Samuel, Hannah brings Samuel to the house of the Lord to live with Eli.Â Again in the gospel, Jesus reminds Mary and Joseph that his home is in the Temple. Finally, John reminds us that we are all Godâ€™s children, with the implication that we should love one another as sisters and brothers. When I read these texts within the framework of the feast of the holy family, I found myself thinking differently about what it means to finish off the year by celebrating family and to begin the New Year by prioritizing family.
Initially, when I thought that I was going to be writing about family in the traditional context, I began by reflecting on the fact that it is my choice to decide whether to focus on the things that have caused pain within my family over the past year or to focus on the love that binds us together and carries us through the hard times. I thought about the fact that I can choose to see what is missing or I can choose to see what is present. I can choose to affirm or I can choose to critique. When I expanded the concept of family to include the whole community of faith, I realized that I have the same choice. I can choose to see how much we fall short, how often we are hypocritical, how uncertain our future looks â€¦ or I can choose to see the ways that we hold each other in prayer, and the efforts we make to care for those in need or to promote peace. Just as with my immediate family I have a choice regarding how I will respond to the mix of good and bad that is part of being human, I can choose to say, â€śfor shame,â€ť or I can choose to say, â€śone thing I really appreciated was â€¦â€ť Although I sometimes forget, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when it comes to family, the response of appreciation is far more effective than the response of criticism. I canâ€™t help wondering how different the world would be if we all finished this year by appreciating one another.
I also wonder how different next year would be if we all decided that we were going to take just a little more time to reach out to others in our community. Every day in the hospital I see people who have rearranged their lives to support family members who are ill. But every day I also see families who are stretched to their breaking point and individuals who have no one supporting them. I cannot help thinking that if we truly saw each other as family, there would be enough support to go around.
As we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, I wonder how much we could change the world if each one of us made a commitment to draw someone who is on the outside into our circle of care and support â€¦ into the family we hold in our heart.