Way back in 1970, Joseph Gallagher wrote a book entitled “How to Survive Being Human.” Several passages from the text speak to our feast today, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We might ponder: What is it that makes a family holy?
Gallagher writes: “There is a story about a young psychologist who at first gave a talk entitled, ‘Ten Commandments for Raising Your Children.’ Then he had a few children of his own. So he altered his topic to ‘Five Rules for Raising Your Children.’ As his own youngsters advanced through their teens, his topic became: ‘A Few Suggestions for Raising Your Children.’” (23).
From commandments to rules to suggestions! St. Paul gives us a list of guidelines that, if embraced, truly promote family life and all other human relationships: heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love, the bond of perfection. These are the virtues and graces that build and sustain our family and civic lives. They are so much more than suggestions; so much more than rules and, yes, even commandments. These qualities express the very life of God, in whose image we are made.
What the story of the psychologist suggests is that there is the ideal and then the real. Raising children and living in the close quarters of a home can be no easy task. Even in large homes we step on each others’ toes. Even when our motives are good, we are going to hurt one another. But we need not be reduced to just a few suggestions. St. Paul’s list should be plastered on the bathroom mirror, the family refrigerator and on the windows of the family car. A family is holy when we image God’s graces in all our relationships.
The story of the finding of Jesus in the Temple is a classic case of how difficult it is to hold in balance a variety of values. Jesus had commitments to both his Father and to his parents. At the early age of 12 he is caught in a dilemma: to return home from the pilgrimage or to begin his ministry now. We know the rest of the story. But all the way through his life (and ours) we feel the tension between the polarities that vie for our attention. A family is holy when those diverse values are honored and respected.
Another reflection from Gallagher: “I know a philosophy teacher who keeps insisting, ‘If it’s human, it’s messy’” (33).
Holiness (the perfection of love) is never neat and clean. It is as bloody as the cross, as painful as the sacrifice of losing a son for three days, as hurtful as a reprimand for failing to fulfill our duty. But in the end a family is holy because, despite all the struggle and ambiguity, people love one another in imitation of our gracious God.
Questions for reflection
1. What makes a family holy?
2. Why is balance so important in one’s individual and communal life?
3. How do you deal with messiness?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.