Today’s readings remind us just how unholy some families can be; even royal ones. We should not be surprised that King Herod massacred innocent children. He was so ruthless and domineering in his own family that he ended up killing three of his sons as well his wife Mariamne. And many of the kings whom St Matthew mentions when he describes Jesus’ family tree at the beginning of his Gospel are poor examples for good family life.
In fact, Jesus Himself is quick to warn us of the dangers of making the family into an idol. It is so easy to worship power, prestige and possessions when they are cherished by a closed family group. ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ He asks, and then He defines true family, not in terms of blood or kinship, but as those who hear the word of God and do it. Families are part of God’s plan. They are the essential building blocks of society in which parents and children are sustained and grow together into maturity and virtue. But they can go horribly wrong and need be guided and transformed by the Word of God.
The Old Testament highlighted fostering the relationships between the generations. Honoring parents and elders by showing them respect, especially when they become vulnerable, and not deserting them when they get feeble physically or mentally.
Saint Paul would tell us that a family becomes holy through the working of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism the Holy Spirit has already begun to transform and shape the lives of family members after the model of the crucified and risen Christ. All the domineering, selfish forces, which can tear it apart, can be restrained by God’s grace in the practice of Christian virtues such as; compassion, humility, patience, forgiveness and gentleness, being held together by a Christ-like love.
When we turn to the Gospel we find a holy family but not a very normal one. The mother is a virgin and the father is not the biological father of the child. And they are not living in some ideal family setting but rather being so hounded by the megalomaniac Herod that they must find safety in Egypt fleeing as refugees. But this is the family God had chosen, the one in which His Son would mature. Mary had listened to the Word of God, accepted it and did it, living out the consequences. Saint Joseph too, listened to God’s word and took the responsibility of guiding his wife and child through the ups and downs of family life including the joys, challenges and dangers they had to face.
What we are celebrating today, is that the God who created the institution of the family, chose to transform it through His Son’s Incarnation and birth and make it an important means of salvation. We can learn from the Holy Family that a family is meant to be a school of charity. Despite our weaknesses and failures at times, we too are called to become holy within the context of a specific family. Our families will experience both the good and easy times as well as the difficult and hard times. May we too be willing to hear the Word of God and do it.