A wise man once said, “A flute without holes is not a flute. And a donut without a hole is a danish.”
Okay, maybe he was more of a wise guy! But the truth behind that statement is that in order for something to truly be what it is, there is some essential element that makes it so. Birds have feathers; trees have leaves; and Chinese food always comes with a corny fortune cookie.
But today, as we continue to celebrate the Christmas Season with this Feast of the Holy Family, I want to ask the question: “What makes a holy family ‘holy’?” Our readings focus on the virtues of the members of a family, and we presume that by living out these virtues we approach holiness. However, is that what being a “holy” family is all about?
While we commemorate the Holy Family, is there anything that we all can take away for ourselves from this feast?
First, we need to remember what it is that we are celebrating. Christmas is not just about the birth of a Baby in Bethlehem. Christmas is about the Incarnation – the incredible mystery that God – infinite, eternal, all-powerful – actually became a human being, born in time, as a tiny baby in Jesus Christ. The Incarnation is at the center of our Christian mystery, because through it, Jesus is now available to us for encounter. The stories of this season underscore this fact.
Recall the Christmas stories – we probably only heard the one about the shepherds hearing the angel’s greeting and going to see Jesus lying in a manger. However, other Christmas stories tell us of Jesus being born to Mary and Joseph; or “the Word becoming Flesh, and dwelling among us.” We will hear of the wise men who come and present gifts to the newborn King of the Jews. And today, we have Mary and Joseph presenting Christ in the Temple, and Simeon and Anna embracing the Lord.
Christmas is all about the encounter with Jesus that is the beginning of the Christian journey. We must meet Jesus in order to be Christians, and this encounter must change our lives. Consider Simeon, who “came in the Spirit to the temple.” He recognized God’s promise fulfilled in that Baby, and he gave great thanks to God upon meeting Jesus.
Anna, who “never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer,” saw Christ and also gave thanks. Then, she went and would tell everyone she met about that encounter.
Jesus is the experience. Jesus is the life-changing encounter that must be part of every Christian’s life. He is what makes a Christian a Christian.
Now, back to the original question: What makes a holy family “holy?” Is it a good father? Is it a holy mother? Is it both of them together? No. In this day and age, an intact marriage at the heart of a family is more and more rare. Life happens. Things break.
But even a so-called “broken” family can and should be holy. So, what makes it so?
Jesus in the family is what makes a holy family. Today is the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It is the presence of Christ that makes that family holy; and it is the presence of Christ that makes our families holy. The incarnation makes this possible, because Jesus has come down and shared our experience of humanity – of loss and joy, of pain and happiness, of life and death. He is able to enter our families – enter or lives – and make them holy.
It is the encounter with Jesus that we first celebrate at Christmas that makes all the other mysteries of our Christian life real and meaningful. Only Christ can do that. When we recall today the gift of the Holy Family, let’s give thanks along with Simeon and Anna that we too can have holy families.