Thursday, December 31, 2015

Families are Amazing Things

Holy Family - Yr C 2015
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

Families are quite amazing, messy, cracked and broken things. They are always...every single one of them...far from perfect.  Families are affected by things like unexpected teen pregnancy, poverty and homelessness; by family trees that don’t quite line up – foster and step and adoptive parents.  Families are sometimes on the run from the law; they sometimes hide out in strange places hoping they won’t be recognized.  Moms and dads sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the children leading to a lack of adult supervision that these days can result in the involvement of Child Protective Services, if not charges of child neglect and endangerment.
Families struggle with misunderstanding and miscommunication as they navigate the challenges of the growing-up years.  They experience challenges when it’s time for the young ones to leave the nest and begin their own lives.  There is the pain and drama of plans seemingly gone awry...  There is laughter and and sorrow...heartwarming moments and heart breaking moments... amazing stories that have to be re-told and difficult memories that can barely be endured...  And that's just the story of the Holy Family! 
Jesus, Mary and Joseph are the model we are to imitate!  God gave us the Holy family as a 'shining example' the opening collect said; our path to eternal reward lies in imitating them. 
But just imagine if the Holy Family lived in our neighborhood!  What looks they would get when they walked down the street!!  We’d know their story by heart as often as it had been whispered to us behind their backs. 'He's not the real dad...  She had him when she was just a baby herself...  Did you hear about the time they left him alone in the city...couldn't find him for days!!'
One thing is for certain...the Holy Family was far from least according to the standards we usually use to gauge family perfection.  If there's one thing we can learn right off the bat from the Holy Family it is this:  when it comes to families, holy does not mean perfect
A Holy Family is not a perfect family, especially when we consider the kinds of unholy things we sometimes do to one another as we chase the false idol of family perfection.  Think of the lies we tell trying to paint the picture of family perfection.  Think of the time we spend chasing the finances required to live the perfect family lifestyle, and all the holy things that go undone because our time and effort are caught up in that pursuit.  Think of all the fights and arguments, the unnecessary discipline meted out, the lost time and energy spent chasing family perfection.  (As I think about it – I’ve been talking about the basic family unit – but all of these things could be said of the ways we live together as a parish family sometimes, too...)
What does it mean to be a holy family – at home and in our parish?  If we’re willing to let go of perfection, what would it mean for us to strive for holiness?  Our opening collect reminded us to imitate the Holy Family in their practice of the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity.  That is the first thing we must do – in our homes and in our parishclaim and hold on to at all costs the bond of charity, the bond of love – a bond that should be unbreakable.  No member of the family should ever wonder if they are loved.  Behaviors and boundaries and decisions sometimes result in some members of the family being distant for a while – but even that must be lived out, by all involved, in love.  The first thing we must do in our homes and in our parish is to make the family bond of charity as real and unbreakable as Christ’s love for each one of us.
And what are the virtues of family life mentioned in that first prayer?  I can think of no better list than what we heard in our second reading today.  Take a moment, and consider your family – and our parish family.  Let’s grade ourselves according to this standard:  A holy family is certainly not perfect, but the holy family lives and breathes with heartfelt compassion for one another, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  A holy family is far from perfect, but the holy family bears with one another and forgives one another because the holy family never forgets that Jesus forgives each one of us.  The holy family is thankful – thankful for what it does have more than lamenting what it doesn’t have.  The holy family is controlled by the peace of Christ; even when the ridiculousness and brokenness and messy-ness of real life come crashing in, it is the peace of Christ that takes hold and navigates the holy family through the storm.  Above all – the holy family’s and the holy parish’s life is governed by the bond of charity – the bond of love – living in unity through the ups and the downs. 
Finally, brothers and sisters, our prayer today reminds us that the key to being a holy family is not in trying to achieve perfection in the moment, but rather to set our eyes on the real goal of heaven.  Every family – every home and every parish – is holy when it sets its eyes on the goal that is far beyond this life; families are holy when they claim, loud and proud, that this life is a journey, a pilgrimage, a means to an end... Families are holy when the passing world is just that – passing...when the world and its allures and opportunities are not avoided, but neither have they become the primary focus of living – rather, families are holy when all the members of the family make use of the things of this world for one purpose alone – as a way to reach our heavenly home
I think families are amazing things.  God the Father thought so, too – the plan to redeem us was to send us the Savior whom we celebrate this Christmas season.  He didn’t appear on the side of a mountain.  He could have – but He didn’t.  He was sent to a family to show us that family is an amazing thing; to teach us that the basic unit of life and living – the family – need never be perfect, but it must always strive to be holy. 

Families are quite amazing, messy, cracked and broken things. They are always...every single one of them...far from perfect.  But each and every family can be holy.  In our homes – and, brothers & sisters, here in our family of faith – can we let Jesus, Mary, and Joseph teach us how to be a Holy Family?

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