Today’s readings: Ecclesiasticus 3, 2-6.12-14; Colossians 3, 12-21; Luke 2, 41-52.
The feast of the Holy Family was instituted by Pope Leo XIII at a point in time when the old model of the rural family was being substituted by a different model in the wake of an industrialised society. From a pastoral perspective the Church was worried that the traditional values that had always been the fabric of the family were at risk.
We need to come together as Church and society today to see what is really worrying about the family, avoiding superficiality in our judgements and refraining from remaining in denial in our diagnosis and in the therapy proposed. Speaking of the local situation with honesty, much of our preaching on the family still sounds miles apart from real life situations.
A realistic diagnosis is still lacking, and worse still, we persist in remaining in denial about it. Hence, we do not have an effective therapy. There is no point in proposing family models, in addressing issues that pertain to the family as a unit, unless we focus first on what makes life meaningful and what makes us capable of building healthy and faithful relationships.
We are still too obsessed with the sexual aspect of family life and of relationships. Little do we realise that before the issues about sexuality and contraception, there are underlying more basic issues that pertain to life itself rather than family life in particular.
In the two recent Synods of Bishops in Rome focusing on the family, and in the subsequent document by Pope Francis The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), there was a good start at radically rethinking the family and at seriously revising our approaches to finally give priority to pastoral worries over doctrine. But since then, things seem to have very wrongly settled down.
Widely differing perspectives in our diagnosis of the family situation and on the right therapy called for seem to be peacefully co-existing alongside each other to the detriment of a truly and comprehensively pastoral approach. There is still too much confusion in the area that puts the Church in a very bad light, making it irrelevant even to many of those opting to celebrate their marriages sacramentally.
The family, today as never before, is constantly caught in the crossfire between tradition and innovation. Considering its basic role in our life and growth as humans, it continues to be a major challenge for us all to wisely discern what are the constants of the family we should conserve and what is transient.
In today’s gospel, St Luke metaphorically depicts Jesus at 12 years of age staying behind in Jerusalem when his family was there for the annual Passover feast. Jerusalem was a homecoming for Jesus. It was there that he reached the climax of his life and where all the old promises found fulfilment. It was in Jerusalem where Jesus really belonged.
In our pastoral strategies, we cannot speak sensibly of broken marriages without first having a deep grasp of the broken belonging that so many experience in life. If on the level of personal experience true belonging is missing, it becomes hard to truthfully belong to a family. We cannot dream of an ideal family unit that ignores or bypasses the extent to which its components are in constant change in the way they live, think, and believe.
The family is a human construct that gives us identity and on which our own humanity depends. The family is sacred because it is the wellspring of those ordinary virtues St Paul today lists in the reading from Colossians. For this reason, and in spite of the constant transformations under way, the family, even as an institution, needs to be protected for our own personal good and for the good of society in general. It remains the bedrock of the most ordinary virtues which if not transmitted in the family can hardly be found elsewhere.
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