There are many readily available definitions of family. The more encompassing one I could find states that a family is a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. Other definitions may be a little too strict, implying the existence of two parents, and that the only necessary links between the members of one family are established through blood or marriage.
We know that this is not so and I personally believe that sometimes these definitions are responsible for setting up people for failure. Common experience of how incredibly dysfunctional families can really be should lead us to affirm that any strict definition of family does not work properly or does not bear resemblance with the reality of things. Common experience tells us that the “cereal box family” is not the real family.
Besides, the recent 2011 census figures show an emerging variety of family types. For example, there are two millions families in Britain composed by a lone parent and children. Similarly, only twelve out of the eighteen millions families in the country are composed by married couples.
In my own family experience even the first more encompassing definition of family as a group of parents and children living together in a household is a pretty restricting one. [...] In other words, we are just one extended family; and the stereotype of family does not bear much relevance for us. If anything, sticking to definitions has hindered relationships in the past.
So what about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph whom we celebrate today? Does this most extraordinary family match any of our definitions or even any of our personal experience of family?
I would suggest that in the Holy Family God gives a new definition of family. However, this is not to say that the Holy Family is meant to be another perfect model that inevitably sets ordinary families up for failure. Let me see, if I can explain myself better.
In one sense the Holy Family is not a model because honouring it cannot have anything to do with modelling our own families around the behaviours of a First century Israeli family; daddy is the carpenter and sole breadwinner, mummy is the beautiful homemaker, and the only child is “seen and not heard”, or mild an gentle, just as a Christmas carol says. The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is not the Christian counterpart of the happy families we see in TV adverts.
However, in another sense, the Holy Family is model and patron of every family group, disregarding legal definitions, colour, ethnicity, or sex. In this sense the Holy Family is a model, a prototype of new family structures where the bonds of blood and kinship are surpassed.
Remember these words?
Remember these words?
Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother (Matthew12:48-50).
What binds the Holy Family together is the fact that the all members revolve around Christ and around doing the will of God. Therefore, in imitating the Holy Family we do not make our life to revolve our children, or around our work – as children, we don’t make family life to revolve around us. Rather Christ Himself should be the centre of our families much like he is for Mary and Joseph. Furthermore, by imitating and honouring the Holy Family we should learn to welcome as siblings all those who do the will of God.
Taking the Holy Family as a genuine model means being in relationship with Jesus and with all those who follow Him as members of the same group; it means encouraging and helping one another to grow in what God calls us to be.
And so, let us pray,
Holy Family of Nazareth, make our churches and our families one with you. Help us to be instruments of peace. Grant that love, strengthened by grace, may prove mightier than all the weaknesses and trials through which our families sometimes pass. May we always keep Christ at the centre of our hearts and homes until we are all one family, blessed and at peace in our true home with you. Amen.