What makes a family holy?

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Christmas is a time when we especially celebrate family.  At the same time, as we all know, family life is full of both joys and sorrows. And times like family gatherings around Christmas can confront us with both these aspects of family life. The sometimes-difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves, the personal journey of each family member and our relationships with one another, can often bring about various kinds of crises. We can let these crises either challenge us to grow in love or lead us into conflict.

Jesus’ desire is always to hold us together in unity. But the way He goes about doing it, is not always in the way we imagine it. The path to that unity is through calling us to follow Him and obey Him, into His purposes – for us individually in our human family and in the family of the church. And this path can be one of many crises.

God calls us to have ‘holy’ families rather than ‘perfect’ families.  What does that look like? Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher gives us a clue when he said: ‘A friendship will endure in the measure that the two friends fall in love together, with a transcendent third.’ Falling in love – not just with each other, but together with some great good that transcends them. Then they will stay together.’

We can tend to be romantic about family life – emphasizing its emotional ties. And the Bible as a family book – has nothing against these family connections. But at the same time, the Bible is not romantic about families. It teaches paradoxically, that a family will be stronger – the more it is subordinated to God’s will & purpose. The family will be stronger, the more each member of the family, subordinates his/her love for the family, to the greater love of God.

A family’s bonds will be greater, in the measure that together, the family members, fall in love with God and subordinate their love for each other, to their love for God. That is what makes a family holy.

We see this in St. Joseph – husband of Mary and foster-father of Jesus – a very important figure at this time of the year. This is what Joseph consistently did – he obeyed God! Even when it meant danger to his family. Even when it was anything but clear, precisely what God had in mind.

He knew whose voice to obey and he placed the human familial love (that he undoubtedly had for Mary & the child), within the wider and deeper context of his love for God. He subordinated his compassion for his family, to the will & purpose of God. He didn’t stop loving Mary & the child but he situated his love for them, within the framework of his love for God. And that’s what made him holy and his family life holy – the love of God came first.

– inspired by a homily by Bishop Robert Barron

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