For most of the history of human civilisation the term family has been used to speak of a community of love: parents and children, with a complex and diverse range of relationship connections through blood, legal contract and friendship ties.
In the “western” world family was often defined as a household of wife and husband with their blood children, but in fact this was a concept more visible in theory than in practice.
Many of the families that I knew as a child embraced children who were adopted, grandparents raising their grandchildren, and extended families sharing the responsibilities of raising children and supporting elderly parents who were sick or struggling.
Even more-so today, families that have been damaged or broken through death or divorce are renewed with new relationships of love.
For most, these new families have formed after much struggle, grief and pain. Thankfully God is good at writing straight with crooked lines, and for those who are able to look beyond the pain new life is waiting.
Jesus was raised in a family of love which doesn’t meet the narrow understanding of nuclear family: this without even taking into account the active role of the Holy Spirit in the virgin birth of Jesus. Healthy families have always been “extended” and include not only biological relations but friends and those who are in need.
The ministry of Jesus institutes a new form of family. God is now Our Father and even (in the intimate language of Jesus) our “abba”, our papa and our daddy. Now we are literally the children of God. We speak of Mary as our Mother, and our sisters and brothers are those who look to the one Father.
Jesus shocks those who tell him that his family have arrived to see him. He seems to ignore his visitors responding instead “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
And the ultimate is that we are united in the Eucharist in a way that makes us blood relatives. Such a renewed family life brings hope to all who struggle with exclusive human definitions of family life.
Tensions, struggles, break-down and even break-up of family relationships is the greatest of human agonies. All of us have experienced at least a taste of this pain in our families of origin and in the families we are part of today. Too often our generous and well-intentioned efforts to resolve tensions and to bring healing seem to come to nothing.
As Pope Francis reminds us:
“The perfect family doesn’t exist, nor is there a perfect husband or a perfect wife… It’s just us sinners. A healthy family life requires frequent use of three phrases: “May I? Thank you, and I’m sorry” and “never, never, never end the day without making peace.”
People of faith will be able to live with the ambiguity of imperfection in our families, and while doing all we can to live out our desire for healing and reconciliation where necessary, will realise that in the end some tensions can only be resolved by God and in God’s time.
We are able to live with this perspective because God’s definition of family is much broader than our own and Jesus our brother continues to provide us with brothers and sisters who then become for us a new, deeper and eternal family of faith.
Take a couple of minutes for this reflection now:
- Call to mind a family member with whom you experience tension.
- Invite the Holy Spirit to enter every aspect of this relationship, bringing healing, forgiveness and a new experience of love.
- Be still and silent for a few moments, perhaps one minute, simply resting with your renewed desire for healing and reconciliation in this relationship.
- Consider whether a practical gesture of healing is useful and timely today, perhaps an email, written note, phone call or text message. Remember write, speak and act ONLY in ways that you are confident the Holy Spirit intends.
- Ask Jesus to free you from all hurt and lack of harmony so that you can enter 2021 without this burden and with a renewed desire for the harmony and peace the Holy Spirit of Jesus can bring.
A parishioner recently mentioned that he had a prayer that he prayed every day as a father. I asked him for a copy and yesterday, just in time for today’s Feast of the Holy Family, he called in with this copy for me. You might like to use it: