Feast of the Holy Family
29 December 2019
Every year, shortly after we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Our Lord, the Church places before us a particular feast day – that of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph – as a way to honor this new found family. It seems rather appropriate since most of us, this week, have had some opportunity to spend time with our families – or with folks who are like family to us … with close friends and relatives … including myself. I could not help but think, whether our experiences are good or bad, we all come from a family of some sort … perhaps we come from tight-knit families, or have had to form and build our families in our adulthood … perhaps some families are faithful and others not so much … maybe some families are quite dysfunctional or just a little crazy … nevertheless, the word of the day is family. Yet, since we all have various experiences of what family life is meant to be like, I began to reflect on the meaning of the word itself.
Family is defined as a group of persons consisting of husband, wife and children livening in the same household … a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage … the descendants of a common ancestor. But upon further study, the word ‘family’ is a late Middle English term that comes from the Latin ‘famulus’ or ‘familia’ – meaning: servant.
The author of the Book of Sirach lends us a particular insight into this servant meaning of family. A teacher in Jerusalem some 2,000 years before Jesus, his instructions cover topics like home life, business, courtship … in other words, our relationships with others … the importance of respect, obedience, patience, kindness … summing it all up we could perhaps use one word, one virtue – humility … and humility is the virtue of one who serves … who does not look out for himself or herself but rather in all things gives deference to another. In a homily given in Washington, DC in 1979, Pope St. John Paul II said: “To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others and share their burdens.” Share burdens, become the servant of others … in other words, lay aside ourselves, our own personal needs, wants, desires … ego … in order to confer goodness on others … for at the very heart of a servant is love … and this love, the love and service found in family, is a reflection of divine love. To serve one another then – whoever we call family: church, parents, children, close relatives and friends, the stranger begging for food, it does not matter – whoever we call family is an invitation, a call to serve with humility, kindness, patience, respect and dignity … it is a profound witness to love.
Perhaps this is why today we honor our patrons – the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the celebration of Christmas – Mary and Joseph, put themselves aside, they gave their consent to God’s will and not their own … they brought forth and gave witness to a profound love – the love of God for His people.
Our family experiences may be different, and vary from person to person, yet, we all come from family, we all are formed within the context of family – even priests … and we priests also have our own good and bad experiences – nevertheless to serve one another is something we all can do … it builds relationships, it conquers pride … it is a witness to love – the love for God and for His people.