One of the most inspiring sights at Christmas Masses is to see families gathered from all over for one purpose, to be together for Christmas.
I use the term “families” in the fullest sense.
Artificial ideals of families are often presented. A century ago a husband and wife might have a dozen children. When I was a child most families had at least four children. In the last couple of decades parents with two children has become more common and in more recent years partners each bringing their children evidence a new form of family.
But perhaps all of these family forms fall well short of presenting a helpful definition of family. Any definition suggesting that numbers (great or small) are part of the ideal is clearly inadequate. Also the absence of a parent due to early death or for another reason is a reality that many healthy families suffer and grow through.
So what is it that makes a healthy family? Is there a helpful definition?
Perhaps Jesus is giving a clear lead in this when he seems to downplay his own biological family and emphasise a new form of family: “whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother”. Mark 3:35
Pope Francis in his homily on the feast of the Holy Family last year gave a helpful lead: “How important it is for our families to journey together toward a single goal.” Let us link this with the definition of family given by Jesus: those who journey together towards God are true family. In fact we can add that in the Eucharist we actually become blood sisters and brothers. We (especially Catholics) use the titles Father, Mother, Sister & Brother for many who lead us in faith. To call another friend or parishioner “brother” or “sister” is a profoundly intimate and respectful gesture.
Many Christians discover that other people who strive for the single goal of life with God (now and eternally) become their closest friends. Jesus calls this relationship of faith, family. We continue to honour our parents, and share a profound link with the other children of our parent(s), but on this feast of the Holy Family let’s take a moment to also thank God for those who while not our legal or biological family, provide us with the ultimate experience of family by journeying alongside us as we strive together towards the same goal.