images of families – celebrating the ideal Christmas –
that are impossible to live up to.
Our families aren’t perfect, and sometimes are cause for tears,
especially when we’re together.
So it was with my family, growing up; maybe yours, too.
On this Feast of the Holy Family,
let’s acknowledge some things:
Sometimes, in church, we talk so much about married life,
we neglect those who are single,
or those whose married life together has been shattered.
We often don’t know what to say.
Well, we could start with, “I’m not going to judge you;
and I do want to welcome you!”
Some people don’t “fit the mold”;
some can’t marry as God and nature define marriage.
It’s not our place to redefine marriage;
but it is certainly our place—indeed, our obligation before God—
to embrace everyone without mockery,
without ugliness, as Christ in our midst!
Let me just say here something that may not be obvious.
The conflict in our time – between what marriage has always been,
and how our contemporary culture has re-engineered it –
is ultimately about diverging ideas of what happiness is;
and that leads to vastly different understandings of what marriage is.
Look: everyone wants to be happy.
No one in his right mind refuses happiness.
One view – which is almost completely triumphant today –
is that you and I “create” happiness,
as we create our own lives, our own truth.
With so many today persuaded of this, of course they will say,
Why can’t marriage leave children out?
Who says marriage is forever?
And why can’t we redefine marriage to suit ourselves?
The older view – which is basically Biblical –
is that, instead of creating happiness,
you and I find happiness along the way;
That is, along the way to pursuing other things,
Like faithfulness, duty, generosity and courage.
The really hard lesson to learn is that
when we make “being happy” the central thing,
we may only achieve at best a pale imitation; or else, not at all.
On the other hand, when you and I set out to give ourselves away,
True happiness comes to us, usually mixed with burning tears.
So when we talk about the Holy Family,
it is not the family of self-creation and self-fulfillment.
The point of focusing on the Holy Family is not that it’s ideal;
But that this is how God entered our very broken, human family.
Christ knows well how “dysfunctional” our families can be.
That’s exactly why he came!
Things happen in our families and our homes we don’t like to talk about:
Alcoholism or other addictions;
anger, emotional abuse or physical violence;
depression or other emotional problems.
Yes, Christ took a beating on the Cross;
but he never inflicted such abuse on anyone—and neither should we!
To make matters worse, some of these issues aren’t dealt with openly,
but instead become shameful secrets, wounds that never heal.
Don’t we call this the season of Light?
Christ offers his Light to heal these wounds.
Will we let him?
Christ, who came to carry the Cross
of all our human sinfulness,
will give you courage and walk beside each of us
on our own Way of the Cross. Will we let him?
Our second reading talks about the role
each of us has in our families.
Christ is the child among us—should he witness
parents berating and demeaning each other?
Christ the teenager: we have no idea what music he liked.
But do you think he would have tolerated music
that demeans women and exults violence?
Christ was a worker;
but he did not make work an excuse to neglect his family.
Christ the man saw women as Images of God,
not as servants, or imaginary partners on the Internet.
Men, are you and I “man enough”
to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ?
And Christ the healer never shamed anyone he met;
not the prostitute, not the tax-collector,
not the leper or the alien.
And he will never shame nor despise any of us
for our sins, our wounds, our secrets…whatever they may be.
Yes, our families are far from the ideal.
But this is the great human family Jesus chose to make his own!
Precisely by welcoming Jesus into this mess is how
We make our families “holy families.”
Not because they look like a Christmas card,
but because we let Christ bring courage,
and healing, and hope:
Not to the families of our dreams,
but to the real family life we actually have.