Daily Reflection
December 31st, 2000
Larry Gillick, S.J.
Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality
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Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28 or Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Psalms 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10 or Psalms 128:1-5
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 or Colossians 3:12-21
Luke 2:41-52

Most Medical-School students, when reading about sicknesses and ailments, begin wondering if they have or have had this or that.  Most of us, hearing the term "Dysfunctional Family," begin pondering whether we were or are members of such a group.  The process moves from pondering to “probabling” to certainty.  The problem is that we are not exactly sure what a dysfunctional family looks like.  What we do know is that our family of origin was not perfect and we weren’t given everything we wanted for Christmas, birthdays and every other day of our young lives.  The major dysfunction for all of us began when we discovered that our parents were not gods and goddesses and our siblings were not little angels.

It is the eve of a new year today and the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family.  Our First Reading outlines how daughters and sons can atone for sins by reverencing their parents.  Being in a family is the situation where human sinfulness is displayed in life-size Technicolor.  Family life is also a very holy experience.  As Paul writes in Romans, “Where sin abounds, there does grace more abound.”  Sirach is instructing siblings on how their relationships with the parents are part of their relationship with God.

The Second Reading from Colossians, is a long and detailed prayer, which Paul writes concerning his wishes for those trying to live together.  He prays about “functional” loving and living.  In listening to the many virtues and practices listed, we just might find where any “dysfunction” in our living together might be rooted.  Unfortunately, this reading will be read rather quickly in our churches.  It really deserves a slow fifteen-minute meditation, but the younger members in the assembly would begin dysfunctioning.  If the sentence about wives being subordinate to their husbands bothers anybody, then they haven’t heard or read the spirit of the entire reading.  Family is the place to follow the example of Jesus by being willing to surrender to our being human and our needing forgiveness from the humans with whom we live or have lived.

Now talk about “dysfunction!”  Our Gospel story for today should be a comfort for every parent who has lost contact with his or her children.  We are watching a holy, not a perfect, family.  Most parents struggle to get their children to go to church.  Mary and Joseph had trouble getting their Child out.  Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem and only after a day’s journey did they realize their dysfunction; Jesus was not with them.  One lost child, one frightened couple, this is a family portrait of great consolation.

When they do find Jesus discussing weighty matters, they confront him with their worries and His reply is not insulting, but a prediction.  Jesus begins His entrance into the dysfunctional human family by indicating His orientation of dialoging with the learned.  He then conforms to His Jewish tradition and returns to being obedient to God by being obedient to His parents.  The reading ends with Mary holding many things in her heart and Jesus silently growing into being the Word.

So we wonder if our family is holy according to some standard or other.  Does holy mean perfect.  There do not seem to be any Owner’s Manuals, which arrive with each new marriage or birth.  The sitcoms on TV celebrate cynicism and chaos as the perfect family’s dynamic.  Radio talk shows will give us easy answers, which sound good until we try them out.  What is a family to do, to be holy?

The Holy Family of Scripture began in a dream, or vision, in Nazareth and ended in the nightmare of Calvary.  It had its memorable moments from getting rejected at the “inn” and setting up the delivery room in a stable.  They had to move several times.  Their only Son left home and lived His mission contrary to the prevailing religious traditions.  Mary, as do many mothers, would wonder, “Where did we go wrong?”  Turning all these things over in her heart and staying faithful to the mysteries floating in and out of her life seem to be a beginning of a definition of what just is a “holy family.”  Reading books about how holiness is achieved is like reading about how to fish or golf.  Turning things over in our own hearts and being faithful to the mysteries of the lives within the family, that helps filling in the portrait of holy family life.  Dysfunctional families can recover when they surrender their dreams and nightmares and instead treasure the call to holiness, which comes through family life.  Expectations of spouse, children, relatives and self can be a terrible dysfunction within the family and instead of seeing what is and who are, we only see our demands being frustrated.  Holiness has to do with allowing ourselves to be human, loved and all within relationships which will tell us, and very often, we need forgiveness and to forgive.  Without that, we are in a “dysfunctional self.” 

“Our God has appeared on earth, and lived among us.”

Baruch 3:38


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