Feast of the Holy Family

His name was Brother Vincent a Canadian citizen.  When I first met him he was in his early 60’s and the Director of the Boys Town Orphanage in Singapore. A position he held since its affiliation with Boy’s Town. As teenager he was in Singapore when the Japanese overran the island in early 1942. Vincent along with all those captured was sent to Changi Prison – one of the most notorious Japanese POW prisons.    He resourcefully learned to survive the hardships of Changi Prison and he began to help other boys survive by gathering them together.  At the end of the war those kids had nowhere to go and young Vincent continued to care for them.  He arranged for communal shelter, sought donations for food, clothing and education.  Eventually an affiliation with the famous Boy’s Town was made and permanent housing, educational and vocational training facilities were constructed for orphaned boys of Singapore. Brother Vincent was an amazing individual.  If you had ever had a chance to talk with him about his life and experiences, you would have been as fascinated with this humble man’s love for his boys – his family as he called them.  Yet if you really talked with him, you would have found out that of all the brave things he did, of all the young men he helped, of all the good things he did in his life he missed his own family terribly.  He never knew what happened to them after the fall of Singapore. Maria lost hers also.  When I first met her she was a machine operator in one of the manufacturing plants I was managing.  She was an immigrant from Germany who had lived in the United States for almost 50 years.  She had numbers tattooed on the inside of her arm, given to her by German camp she was sent to as a young girl.  She like Brother Vincent had many tales of survival and the hero’s who helped her survive.  Yet she also had a deep sadness given to her by her captors because of their daily abuse and cruel treatment of all the Jews in the camp.  She & Vincent had seen death and witnessed first hand how terrible we can be to each other.  Yet her deepest sadness was that she lost her parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts.  Maria was the only one in her family who had survived the consecration camps.   She confessed to me one day how she missed everything about growing up in a family. On this day, when we in the church, we celebrate the holy family we are given a model of love and commitment to follow.  Yet because of their uniqueness in God’s plan, Jesus, Mary and Joseph were truly “holy” in all aspects of their being.  Because of this, we can easily conclude they could never have been less than a perfect family. So is this holy family the ideal we should strive for in our families or is it an impossible standard?  Scripture tells us much about how we should be and do as families.  It tells us to honor parents, not to nag our children, to take care of our parents in their old age.  The proverbs are full of wisdom about raising children, about interacting with siblings and how husbands and wives should treat one another. So why can’t we just follow what scripture tells us about family living? I believe two things make this hard for us. First we know that we are sinners and those we live with are sinners. Second, we know someone in an instant can inflict some life changing pain on us and our families- as it did for Brother Vincent and Maria. We also know that it is often someone is within our own families who inflicts that deep pain. We have all experienced families where the parents have abdicated their responsibility as parents.  We have witnessed first hand or through others the terrible abuse parents can bring upon their children or children on their parents.  We have seen families abandoned because one spouse or both were more focused on seeking their own pleasure. How can families live up to an ideal when they live in homes where satisfying self is more important than loving one another?   The answer is not found in looking at the “Holy Family” and thinking if we were just that holy, that patient, that tender, then all would be well.  The answer is not trying to emulate them and in making a new years resolution to live that way within our families. But the answer is found in today’s second reading – “forgive as the Lord has forgiven you” (Col. 3: 12-21).  We should strive for this one aspect of being holy and that is to forgive as we have been forgiven.  We can be like the one we follow – if we do what Jesus did.  We can be Christ not by striving to become pious but by forgiving.  We can become holy by seeking forgiveness instead of holding onto our anger and seeking to repay an eye for an eye.  Paul in Philippians (Phil. 2:3-4) tells us to put others before ourselves and to look to their interest rather than our own. In short he says to us to put on the mind of Christ. If we do put others before ourselves, then we can work through the tensions and trials of living together.  If we put on Christ – we will become patient with the quirks and irritating habits of those we live with.  We can then become more sensitive to be forgiven when we offend and forgive when others offend us – even if they are not seeking forgiveness. If you talked with Brother Vincent and Maria in depth you would find their homes are filled with peace, joy and a love they share with everyone.  They truly lived as Holy Families not because of their past experiences but because their lives were transformed by forgiving those who destroyed their families.  Their lives were changed by the message of Jesus Christ. We are constantly offered that same chance to be transformed by the power of God’s love found in Jesus Christ.

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