My family lived in Dublin until I was six years old. One time when I was about five I was brought to a party of a school friend, but for some reason I decided that I didn’t like the party and that I wanted to go home. I figured that the best way to do this was secretly. So I told my friend that I would hide out in the garden and that he should come and try to find me after a few minutes. I then made my escape and headed home. The only problem was that I had no idea how to get home. So I headed off and asked a post-man how to get to ‘York Road’ in Dun Laoghaire, where we lived. He looked at me suspiciously but told me where to go. When I finally arrived home I found a big police motorbike in the front drive. Maybe that’s where my love of motorcycles began! Everyone was out looking for me. My poor parents were not the better for this experience. Family life is not easy.
This is a feast day which I think can often make us feel disappointed with our own families, although we don’t admit it, because it seems to tell us that our families are not what they should be. Things go wrong and we drive each other crazy. Someone gets into trouble and lets the family down. Marriages don’t always work out. We are afraid what others will think of us.
Then we are presented with the ‘holy family’, who we imagine were living in bliss all the time. That is not reality. They were poor. When Jesus was born they were homeless. Then with a new baby they had to flee to Egypt to escape an attempt on the child’s life and became refugees. When Jesus was brought to the temple, Simeon told them he was destined to be a sign that would be rejected. He would not be a ‘success’. Later they lost him for three days. Can you imagine the stress of losing one of your children for three days?
So why are they presented to us as a model? Perhaps because they had their priorities right. God was at the center of this family. It was the right environment for the person of Jesus to grow and mature. Jesus had to grow up as a person just as all of us do, learn to be responsible, learn the Jewish traditions and that takes a long time. It involves a lot of learning for each of us, and a lot of patience and sacrifice on the part of our parents, but how we are formed is vital. There is an African proverb which says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ We all have a part to play, even if that is just encouraging those who are struggling. If there are young families around you who are struggling financially, especially one parent families, look out for them. There is a couple I know who were telling me recently that at one stage, because one of their children was sick, they lost their home in order to pay hospital bills. The husband told me that for several months they lived on next to nothing. We never know how people are struggling and we must look out for each other.
We know almost nothing about the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, but no doubt it was very important for his growing and maturing as a person, and to help him be ready for the mission that He lived out for the last three years of his life, teaching people about God and sacrificing himself for us.
I met a man several years ago, who is now a friend of mine. He told me the story of his marriage which was so inspiring. When he was in high-school he was in a lustful relationship with a girl. He got her pregnant and she ended up graduating, six months pregnant. He decided to marry her for the child’s sake, but it was a loveless marriage for the first ten years. They just endured each other and spent any time they could, away from each other. Ten years into their marriage both of them were starting to take an interest in their faith. They decided to try and live their marriage exactly the way that the word of God directs. They started to live as faithfully to God’s word as they could. And he told me that it completely changed their marriage. They fell in love for the first time and their marriage has been wonderful ever since. They followed God’s directions and it worked. Why did it work, because God knows exactly what will work for us and He continually shows us. ‘Follow my directions and my commandments and your life will work.’ Who better to turn to when things aren’t working, than the One who designed us in the first place.
One very simple thing can make a huge difference as to how we live our life on earth and that is if we continually remind ourselves that our destiny is heaven. That is what we are created for. If we live with that in our mind, then we will live very differently on earth.
The word of God tells us that our time on earth is about service and sacrificing ourselves for others. That’s exactly how Jesus lived. He served others and completely sacrificed himself for others, ultimately with his life and He is the one we look to, to see how we should live. The world around us tells us the exact opposite. It tells us that our time on earth is about finding fulfillment and satisfaction in every way possible. It offers us every pleasure imaginable and tells us that we should have it all and if someone gets in our way, then we should move them aside so that we can find fulfillment. It is the opposite of the word of God. Who are you going to listen to?
The Holy Family were focused on God. They understood their role and their duties and that is how they lived. We are called to do the same.