Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Holy Family

This past Sunday was the Feast of the Holy Family on the Catholic liturgical calendar. In recent years, Molly and I have taken on a certain 'devotion' to the Holy Family. I mean, on a completely basic level, we aspire to holiness for our own family, so there's a certain 'identification' there - here's a holy family; we want our family to be holy; let's pay attention to them. I mean, if you can't take some lessons on family life from Jesus, Mary and Joseph, whatcha gonna do?

Our priest, in his homily Sunday, made what I thought was a very rich, deep point - that, when Christ came to earth in human flesh, he didn't fall out of the sky in armor, riding on a horse; he didn't duck into a nearby phone booth, like Superman; he was born. Born of a woman, and, more to the point for the feast at hand, born into a family. The Incarnation itself happened in the context of a human family. . .

. . . It can seem a bit daunting to measure our family against the standard of Jesus, Mary and Joseph - we aren't saints (and, if you lived with us, you would know just how saintly we really aren't). When I look at our family, the whole concept of 'holy family' and what it might look like applied to us, can become painfully, almost mockingly, abstract. It's hard to see it happening in any kind of 'concrete' way, and sometimes I come close to despair that 'holy' and 'my family' would be utterly oxymoronic if referred to each other.

And yet, even Jesus, Mary and Joseph were fully and completely human, with human lives and human challenges, and their sanctity - their holiness - lies in how they met the challenges they faced, not in the absence of challenges.

And so, for me, might it be that holiness lies not in living so virtuously that nothing bad ever happens to me or my children, but rather in responding virtuously - with goodness and truth - to the things, both good and bad, that do happen to me? And in loving my children when they screw up (like Jesus, who 'while we were still sinners, died for us'). That is holiness on a very earthy, down-and-dirty level. But more and more, it seems to me that that's the holiness I need to pursue.

Lord, have mercy.


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