During one of the worst snowstorms of the season a small business owner, who owned his own bakery, decided to close his store early. “I’m not going to get any customers tonight,” he thought, “in this kind of weather.” But just as he was ready to lock the door, a man came in, shivering and covered with snow.
“I’d like two sweet rolls” he said. Now the owner was shocked that anyone would brave such bad weather for two sweet rolls. “Friend,” he said, “I don’t recognize your face. Are you new around here?” “Yes” the man said. “I moved into the old Wagner place about two weeks ago.” “Well, welcome,” said the bakery owner, handing him his sweet rolls. “Are you married?” “Of course I’m married,” said the man. “Do you think my mother would send me out on a night like this?”
Ah family! Who cares more for us? Who demands more from us? It is the people in our families who love us the most and also hurt us the most. This truth should not surprise us, because with a little reflection it is clear that love and hurt are connected.
The Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are put before us by the Church this weekend as a model for our families. We call them “The Holy Family” but that does not mean that they did not have problems. Just as every family has to face problems and overcome them, or to put it another way, has to carry a cross, so also The Holy Family had to carry crosses. Their many crosses come to mind as we read the Scriptures.
We can easily imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been when Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Their story would never be believed.
Even Mary herself had it very rough early in the pregnancy when Joseph was planning to divorce her before the angel intervened in a dream. When the time for Jesus’ delivery came it took place in an animals’ shelter since Bethlehem was already so crowded. Then the family had to flee to Egypt as refugees because Jesus’ life was in danger due to Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries are now entering many western countries. Mary and Joseph suffered the awful experience of losing Jesus for three days when he was twelve years old and the only satisfaction they got from him was that he had to be about his Father’s business.
We do not hear of Joseph any more so we presume that before Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee Joseph had died – The Holy Family suffering the greatest pain of all families, the pain of bereavement and separation through death.
Jesus’ public ministry must have taken its toll on Mary. Simeon had predicted in the Temple that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. We can imagine one such occasion as we read in Mark 3:21 that when Jesus returned to Nazareth one day his relatives came to take him by force convinced that he was out of his mind. Not a very pleasant experience for any family, no matter how holy.
There was also the pain caused by the rhyme made up about Jesus: “Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34). The saddest moment of all came when Mary watched her son die on the cross.
What kept The Holy Family together and sane throughout all of these trials and crosses? The answer is ‘Love for each other and God’. Jesus’ love for Mary and Mary’s love for Jesus, and the love of both of them for God the Father. We can see Jesus’ love for his mother when he was dying on the cross and was worried about leaving her behind so he asked his close friend and disciple John to look after her, saying to Mary, ‘Woman behold your son’, and to John ‘behold your mother’ (John 19:26-27).
What holds our families together also in times of difficulty is love and forgiveness. It is love which triumphs in the end, even if for a while love may have to take the form of some honest talking. When discipline needs to be given, if it is not given in love it is reduced to abuse. If ever our families fail in any way, it is because of a lack of love on someone’s part. Whenever our families are successful, it is because they are places of love.
I believe that the greatest threat facing families now is simply that we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, or socializing, or watching TV that we have less and less time for each other. What a pity. Spending time together with the family is a way of showing our family that we love them. When we love our family we want to sacrifice ourselves by spending time with them, and all the more so when we realize that by not spending time with them we are depriving them of our love and hurting them.
Just as the holy family survived all its crises through love for each other and faith in God, let us pray during this Mass that our families will conquer all difficulties through love for each other and faith in God.