Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Feast of the Holy Family: Rediscovering Nazareth and a Lesson in Family Math

During his 1964 pilgrimage to Nazareth, the city that was the home of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Blessed Pope Paul VI offered these words:
Here we can learn to realize who Christ really is. And here we can sense and take account of the conditions and circumstances that surrounded and affected his life on earth: the places, the tenor of the times, the culture, the language, religious customs, in brief, everything which Jesus used to make himself known to the world. Here everything speaks to us, everything has meaning. Here we can learn the importance of spiritual discipline for all who wish to follow Christ and to live by the teachings of his Gospel.
Blessed Pope Paul VI celebrates Mass
in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
on January 5, 1964
How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths...
First, we learn from its silence. If only we could once again appreciate its great value. We need this wonderful state of mind, beset as we are by the cacophony of strident protests and conflicting claims so characteristic of these turbulent times. The silence of Nazareth should teach us how to meditate in peace and quiet, to reflect on the deeply spiritual, and to be open to the voice of God’s inner wisdom and the counsel of his true teachers. Nazareth can teach us the value of study and preparation, of meditation, of a well-ordered personal spiritual life, and of silent prayer that is known only to God.
Second, we learn about family life. May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children – and for this there is no substitute. 
This Christmastide Feast of the Holy Family fits comfortably on the Sunday between Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1) and on the surface it reflects an old-fashioned devotion to the Holy Family. I believe, however, that today's feast looks well beyond devotions of the past to give us an insight into the "Family" of the Church. We get a sense of this perspective if we read the words of the Collect (Opening Prayer) for the feast: we honor the example of the Holy Family and ask for the grace to imitate them "in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity."

With all the talk about family--especially "traditional" Western families--during the recent World Meeting of Families and the Synod on the Family, I wonder if we have lost sight of a fuller, broader understanding of family that should is part of what it means to be Christian.
I've been thinking a lot about this over the past several days as I have been saying good-byes to friends in Los Angeles--while I continue to appreciate the support of friends in other parts of the country--as I prepare to begin my life with the Salvatorians; I will begin my cross-country drive to Milwaukee on January 3.
When I read the above words from Pope Paul VI, I was especially touched by his definition of family: "a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings." That view of family goes well beyond our images of a mom and dad and children. It gives us permission to see that our families include many others, even those who exist might beyond the furthest branches of our biological family trees.

All of this reminds me of an important lesson about family I learned from a children's book I recently edited as part of my work for Abbey Press. In the book, author Cynthia Geisen writes, "In family math, members can only be added to the family. No one is taken away. Even though someone might die or move away, they're still part of the family."

And so, on this Holy Family Sunday, I offer a prayer of thanks for those beautiful souls who are members of my family, those indispensable players in my own personal journey and story. Today's celebration also reminds us of the ties that bind us together as both a family of faith and as a human family, particularly in our responsibility to share in the blessings, responsibilities, and burdens of the members of families... both near and far. I think especially of persecuted Christians in the Middle East, China, North Korea, and elsewhere, and of those who are enslaved by human trafficking, addiction, abuse, and neglect. I think of the those victims of terror, at home and abroad. But, there are also so many reasons to rejoice and to be grateful.

Perhaps, the great invitation of the Feast of the Holy Family is for us to rediscover the beauty of that simple household in Nazareth, with its silence, its dignified labor and household tasks, mutuality, and its love and to reflect on what it means for us to be part of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

A Prayer for the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph +
O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(from The Roman Missal)

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