B Cycle – Feast of the Holy Family 20
I do not know about you but growing up Catholic my first recollection of this feast was me thinking it is an impossible model to emulate. We are talking about Mary, who from her own conception was shielded from the stain of original sin. Mary who was especially prepared from birth to fulfill her role in salvation history. We are talking about Jesus the Son of God, who knew no sin and who always did only the Father’s will. My dad would have loved that quality in me, but he never experienced it. We are talking about Joseph, also specifically chosen by God to be the one to raise the child until the time came for him to usher in the Kingdom of God.
There is nothing in my early childhood that could compare to the Holy Family. I was one of eight children and my parents were typical parents of their generation. The only thing my family had in common with the Holy Family was we lived in a small town where everyone knew you. My father believed his role as a father and husband to put food on the table, clothes on our bodies and a secure place to live. My mother’s role was that of a homemaker. As children we were not raised as today’s generation of parents raise their children. We were not affirmed; we never saw affection given to anyone. We understood discipline and were taught right from wrong, although I seemed to prefer doing what was forbidden. That tendency of mine had me expelled from Catholic School after the fourth grade.
We grew up poor and we went to church as a family for a while but by the time I was 13 my father and mother stopped going to church. I kept going to church because of a fear of hell, not out of a love of God. No, for many years I could relate to the Holy Family nor could I ever imagine my own wife and children having anything in common with them. In fact, all I ever saw in my life was deficiencies that kept reminding me how far I was from God. Yet I knew after I married, I wanted my own children to know and experience love and know that a father’s love and a mother’s love was unconditional. Anne’s family life was like mine and as we started life together, we wanted a family that would let them know how special they were and how loved they were. Just as God constantly reminds us of how special and loved we are by Him.
What Anne and I did not realize was God has a plan for our lives or how that plan would be revealed. In that aspect, each of us is very much like the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph had their lives all planned out and were on a path to fulfill those plans when God intervened.
That God has a plan for you is the first and basic lesson each of us can learn from the Holy Family. God does have a plan for each of us and is constantly trying to get our attention to reveal that plan to us. That is a spiritual truth given to us by God himself in the scriptures. Ephesians 2:10 says, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works he has prepared in advance that we should live in them.” Yes, Mary and Joseph were special, and we should and do honor them, but we too are very special in God’s eyes and we have been created for a very specific purpose in God’s kingdom.
Four months after our marriage, Anne and I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Vatican II reforms were taking place. We joined St. Ann’s Parish and it was there we discovered we are all called to live our Christian beliefs not just attend church. God desires more of us than just to show up. The community of St. Ann’s did more than just show up. They understood the more God desired to give them and understood they could not hold back their response to God’s love and presence. Their belief in God, faith in God and trust in God was as visible as Mary’s and Joseph’s was visible. Their faith made us realize we were deficient, and their level of faith was something we desired but did not know how to obtain. We wanted the more they had but found it beyond us to attain. We were cultural Catholics and St. Ann’s community was filled with people who believed and were willing to express it and live it.
This is another lesson we can learn from the Holy Family. God has more he wants to give us and more he wants us to give him. If we would just begin to listen to God, we would discover God’s desire to open our eyes, touch our hearts and minds is the same desire God had for each person created, Mary and Joseph included. If we would begin to listen to God, to open our hearts to follow his will, we like the Holy Family can and will have an intimate relationship with God making it easier to say as each member of the Holy Family said, let it be done to me according to you will.
Anne and I together began a journey to discover the God who offers us what we could never earn, intimacy with God. At that time, Anne and I only shared our Sunday experience with each other, but we never shared our desire for the more God offers us. The people of St. Ann’s showed us how possible that was to attain. You do not have to be conceived without original sin, or to be sinless like Jesus, all you must do is say yes, let it be done according to your will and trust God’s desire for us is greater than ours for Him.
Mary trusted God even as she had trouble understanding how she would become the Mother of God. Joseph certainly had doubts and was going to divorce Mary quietly until he was told in a dream to believe and not fear. Even Jesus prayed for the cup to pass and still he yielded to God’s will.
One final lesson we can all learn from the Holy Family is by following God’s plan for our lives we will become models ourselves. Models like the people of St. Ann’s who by their lives show me what is possible if we let God speak to our hearts.
Absolute trust in God, not in ourselves, is the only way to attain a life that is worthy of the calling we have received. The feast of the Holy Family is our story, every child’s story, every parent’s story. Everyone who is willing to look beyond the obvious to discover the God who desires to be our Father can become a member of God’s Holy Family.