Daily Reflection
December 26th, 1999
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
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The Holy Family - Feast 
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Psalms 128:1-5
Colossians 3:12-21
Luke 2:22-40

The calendar is not kind to our liturgical prayer this year.  Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus in the cave of Bethlehem with shepherds and angels attending and today's Gospel has Mary and Joseph taking the Child up to Jerusalem to be offered to God according to the law of Moses.  Things seem to be happening too fast to pray with.  We would need time to ponder the simplicity of the drama.  It is the feast of the Holy Family though, and as we know, family-life does not slow down much for pondering.

Our first reading is a wonderful poem from the Hebrew scriptures praising the role of mothers and fathers.  "He stores up riches who reveres his mother.  whoever reveres his father will live a long life."  The poem also is an instruction concerning the manner of relating with parents by their children.

Paul gives us a more particular description of just how families are to reveal God's love towards each other.  It will be read too quickly in church and after the excitement and encounters of family-life of yesterday's celebration, perhaps its message and details would seem only a pious hope.  I am smiling as I write this.  I am imagining my own father standing in our living room amidst the chaos of six young catholic kids having a peganlike celebration of comparing, conflicting and greed.  My father reads, over the dim of Irish-Catholic family battle, "Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another...."  I doubt we would have heard him until he would have threatened us with words about not getting any supper. 

The Gospel is meant to show the fidelity of the Holy Family to the law and the customs of their jewish faith.  They receive the blessings of those figures who represent the traditions of the law.  The family of Israel is the family of God and birth into that family was a blessed sign from God.  We see the Child Jesus, welcomed into that larger family by Simeon who completes the presentation of Jesus in the temple by proclaiming, "Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel."  The journey of Jesus has begun.

The Holy Family had its upsets, interruptions and strange happenings.  Mary and Joseph had to move, had to find their lost child, had to let the child grow and then watch Him leave home.  Life was not perfect for them either.  From beginning to end the human conditions treated them in the usual ways.  What was perfect was their trust in the law and in the God of the law.  What was perfect was the way they walked into mystery with their questions and their dreams.

Are there any perfect families any more.  Perfectly human families have their holiness.  Angels live in heaven, angelic new-borns, cry at night, do not listen to reason and make noise in church.  The original Holy Family began in the poverty of a stable with the mess and muck of the earth.  What is holy then? 

Family life is a celebration of constant conversion of all its members.  Holiness has to do with being so human that each of us knows our need for forgiveness and for forgiving.  Being in a holy family means being on a journey from ignorance through unawareness, through confrontation, with loving-encouragement, into the acceptance of our need for further acceptance.  Husbands and wives are bound together to confront themselves, accept themselves by relating with each other.  If there are children, as with Mary and Joseph, they will force the process of self-confrontation, self-acceptance and eventually gratitude.  Mary said, "let it be done."  She had to live those words all her life.  So does each member of any family who let's God's grace form its ways. 

My father and mother were forced to face themselves by their inability to make us angels.  Their holiness was that they kept loving each other as they encountered their own humanness and that of their children.  Were we a holy family, yes, even though my little sister was trying to hide broccoli in her glass of milk and my father refused to put on his shoes when unexpected company arrived.

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