When I was a kid, I naively thought that my family was perfect, and that the families of all the kids at school were exactly like mine: perfect. How wonderful it was to be eight years old and completely ignorant of the realities of the world! It didn’t take long before I realized that few things in this world, including my family of origin or for that matter myself, are perfect. But you know, maybe a little naïveté when it comes to the Christian family is a good thing. What’s wrong with aspiring to be perfect, and to live in a perfect family? In fact, Jesus himself, in scripture, commands us to ‘be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’
Now, does that mean to be perfect in all things? Are we commanded to be perfect golfers? Perfect softball players? Perfect writers? Perfect readers? Perfect TV watchers? Do we always do a perfect job at work? How about your diet and exercise routines: perfect? Obviously, in our human state, with all the mistakes we make every day, being perfect in most things is virtually impossible. If you want to hear ‘far from perfection,’ just listen to my singing voice. They tell me to sing solo: so low that nobody can hear, or to sing by the window so they can help me out.
But first, if we are commanded to be perfect by Jesus Himself, we have to understand what that means. So what does it mean? It means that we are commanded to aspire to perfect love, Godlike love, to love God and others as God loves us, unconditionally and without restrictions. And as each one of us knows in this sinful world, that’s a very tall order. So we’re going to need a model, an example. And that example is the reason for today’s feast of the Holy Family.
I think it’s all too easy to put Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Holy Family, onto some high pedestal and essentially write off their example as unattainable. Of course, they obviously had a few things going for them, one member was divine, another was full of grace, after all, but let’s not forget that advantages or not, all three, including Jesus Himself, were human. They were not dolls or play-figures that weren’t real. They were living, breathing honest-to-goodness human beings just like us. With all the bumps and bruises of living in the real world, with all of its imperfections and challenges. I wonder if Joseph ever hit his thumb with his hammer while he was making a table, and I wonder what he said when he did. I wonder if Mary ever burned the dinner, and we all know that Jesus managed to make both his parents mad when he failed to return with them in the caravan and was found teaching the elders in the temple in Jerusalem. “Son, why have you done this to us?” You have to wonder, divine or not, whether he thought that one through!
So with the Holy Family I hope now being a bit more humanized, we now build on that foundation to point us to what, despite sore thumbs and burned dinners, the Holy Family did do perfectly. And that was to love. As Saint Paul puts it, they ‘put on love; that is the bond of perfection.’ Love in direct imitation of God Himself, love made as perfect as could humanly be expected, love which would fulfill Jesus command to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. A kind of love which is an example to all of us.
Now there are many, many people who think they know how to love, and maybe are even trying their best, but from a Christian point of view, love must be ordered to two things: praise and glory to God, and the salvation of souls. The first is defined by the first part of the Golden Rule: to love God above all things, and the second, by the second part of the Rule, that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. This command is clearly embodied in the Holy Family.
So that means no excuses, we all have a responsibility to try to love as Jesus has commanded us to do. Domestically, and translated into real-world practice, it means honoring our marriages as a holy sacrament each day of our married lives. It means taking seriously the imperative to bring our children up in the practice of the Faith. It means mirroring Jesus, Mary and Joseph in our own homes at all times.
We hear about the so-called ‘priest shortage.’ We must remember that priestly vocations do not grow on trees; they are products of good holy Catholic families. There is no doubt that the shortage, only expected to grow more critical over the coming years, is a direct result of the fall-off of the practice of the Faith in so many Catholic homes. So, we should not only be praying for vocations; we should also be praying for a resurgence of the Faith amongst the many who have fallen away. If that was to happen, the vocation crisis would take care of itself.
So, today, as we celebrate this great feast, let us examine our own family life. What are we doing to make our own families holy families? Are we bringing our children up in obedience to what the Church has asked us to do? Do we teach them to love God and to obey his commandments? Do we imitate Jesus, Mary and Joseph within our respective roles in our own families? Look always to them as a guide, and let each day help each of us to be a little more perfect in our ability to love as God loves. By constantly practicing the Golden Rule within and through our family lives, as did Jesus, Mary and Joseph, not only can we be assured of our own salvation, but also the salvation of those whom we love. Jesus calls us to be holy, and to strive to love as perfectly as possible. It begins with our human families, and leads to membership in the ultimate family to which we have been called: the family of saints in heaven.