The Feast of the Holy Family – Year B: 31.12.23
9.00am Mass: Our Lady & St. David, Naas & 10.30am Church of the Irish Martyrs, Ballycane
The past few days can seem for some, slow to pass. Last Sunday and Christmas Day were seamless; one morphed into the other.
Christmas is always spent in the context of family. Jesus is born into a family. Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia reminds us “no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed” .
For the past number of years I have chosen to visit Naas, Sallins, Two-Mile-House on this feast-day. I come in the hope that you have had an enjoyable Christmas and to wish you every blessing as together we step into a New Year.
I do so, always, on this Feast of the Holy Family, because I believe family life is everything. It’s whats connects us to one another; it’s what gives us our looks, our appearance, our mannerisms. Family gives us a home to go to. Family centres us. Family roots us. Family is the heart of parish and Church.
No family as the earlier quote from Pope Francis reminds us is perfect. Let’s just check that out, is there any one here from a perfect family!
So as we begin to celebrate these sacred mysteries, on this the seventh day of the Christmas Octave, the eve of a New Year, let us together acknowledge our past, recognise our present and anticipate our future …
There is a statue, made of Italian marble, hidden to the side of the Cathedral sanctuary in Carlow. It represents the Holy Family and is reputed to be by the Irish artist, John Hogan, who came from Tallow in County Waterford. It’s one of my favourite works of art in the Cathedral, because it’s there I remember family. It’s there I pray for families. It’s there I pray for families in all their shapes and sizes.
Some scripture writers talk about ‘The Hidden Years of Jesus’; today’s feast is a celebration of those hidden years. What is understood by that term? The hidden years stretch from when the young twelve year got lost in Jerusalem, and was found teaching in the temple, until the age of thirty when he was baptised in the River Jordan by his cousin John.
So today’s feast covers eighteen years! Eighteen years in one day!! It was the years of gratitude as Jesus did what was expected of a son and was grateful to his parents for their support and love. We need to form this quality of gratitude in all our family, starting with the very youngest. I fear at times society is losing its sense of gratitude. Gratitude begins in the family. Remember the magic word we all learned in our younger days: ‘thanks’. Lets say thanks more often.
The Feast of the Holy Family presents us with the beauty of God’s plan for marriage and the family as a community of life and and love. There is nothing to beat the joy of family when everything is going well. We all know this. None of us are blind to the reality that family lives can be messy. Who to sit with? Who to visit? What to say? But even in its messiness, there is beauty. It’s in the family we learn to love and be loved. It’s in the family we learn to forgive and be forgiven. It’s in the family we learn to accept and to be accepted. It’s in the family we receive the gift of faith in baptism.
Baptism changed everything for Jesus, that’s why the recent Synodal document ‘A Synodal Church in Mission’ emerging out of the Universal Synod in Rome reminded us we need to do baptism better. In the words of the synthesis: “Initiation brings us into contact with a great variety of vocations and ecclesial ministries” . Everything hinges on baptism. Baptism is the gateway sacrament to every other sacrament.
Baptism also reminds us of the wider family, that we are all part of. But before we ever can be part of that wider family we need to be welcomed into our own family. They are the ones who know us best. Family is about relationships. Sometimes they work well; occasionally they can be raw around the edges. Family is the place where we are just ourselves, not what others see us as, or would like us to be. I heard a therapist recently on radio speak of one thing to be aware of as we reunite with loved ones over the Christmas/New Year is that there is a danger of reverting to character type, sometimes this is pleasant, often it isn’t. We can become the person we were all those years back, rather than the person we are, and siblings can do this to one another.
We need to pray for families and particularly those displaced, those who are fracturous, those who are homeless. Society is more aware than ever, as the Church is, of the difficulties experienced by those who don’t always share our understanding of family or marriage. I think of those who are same-sex attracted; those who live with gender uncertainty. I think of the many parents and grandparents I meet who only want the best for every one in their family. Pope Francis reminds us very recently again that we need to reach out in every way possible to ensure no one feels outside of the Church or removed from its love and embrace. As your Bishop I try to do this in many ways and will continue to do so. No one is beyond the love, the embrace of the Lord.
The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us Jesus is born into a family first and from there into our world. I think of the ceiling in a good friends home, there are apparently 123 tiles in place, but there is one missing. When we gather, as we do over one of these evenings, we often speak only about the missing tile, must fix it for next Christmas, usual promises made in good faith. If we keep fixated on the missing tile, we risk missing all the others that are in place. For all that irritates us around family, there is so much joy, goodness, beauty and love, lets celebrate family, on this feastday.
And next time you visit the Cathedral in Carlow, look out for that marble depiction of the Holy Family. Take a moment there to pray for your own family and to remember all families.