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Bible Reflections View Comments

It's OK if Your Family Isn't Perfect
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 29, 2013
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A lot of mental and emotional interference takes place when we hear these readings. Some focus on the line from the Letter to the Colossians about wives being submissive to their husbands. Parents and children exchange looks at the line, “Children, obey your parents in everything.”

We tend to be either cynical and dismissive of this feast or we over-idealize the idea of family. People with unpleasant memories of an abusive or dysfunctional childhood resent the notion that all families should be just like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Paul tells the Colossians to forgive one another, but we know some people might not yet be at a point in their healing where forgiveness is possible.

When we hear the phrase “Holy Family,” too often we think of something that’s “holy card” perfect. Instead, if we look with eyes of faith, we will see in the deeply sacred, graced-by-God reality of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus a hint of our own families. The scripture readings for the feast keep us grounded in an awareness that God knows family life is both essential and complex, always very real. And we know from elsewhere in the Gospels that Jesus understood that the concept of family went beyond blood ties to include those intimate communities that sustain us as adults.

The section of Matthew’s Gospel chosen for today’s feast recounts the story of Joseph being told in a dream to take his wife and infant child to Egypt to save the boy from Herod’s massacre. Matthew summarizes this in a few terse lines after the fact and with a good dose of Scripture fulfillment built in. The reality must have been terrifying for the young family. It brings to mind scenes from the news of families of refugees fleeing war, genocide, and famine.

When we hear of the messages Joseph receives in his dreams, again we imagine the serene scenes portrayed by artists, with the words of the angel twining into Joseph’s ear as he sleeps. But I suspect it has more in common with the young father tossing and turning during the night, caught in the stressful tension between work responsibilities, the insistent nighttime needs of a growing infant in the next room, and the juggling of too many things.

Family responsibilities ebb and flow at different times of our lives. Young families have the concerns of infants and children and all that entails. Caring for elders is part of many people’s lives. At times the two coincide, creating what’s become known as the sandwich generation.

One of the most touching lines in the reading from Sirach is, “My son, take care of your father when he is old;... Even if his mind fails, be considerate of him.” Several friends are among the countless people caring for parents suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It’s an almost overwhelming responsibility and through even the most difficult times, it’s obvious they’re doing it because of the great love they have for their parents. It’s easy to lose touch with that love in the day-to-day grind of the mundane and even distasteful tasks of caring for helpless human beings.

We need to celebrate this feast not as some seemingly unattainable goal for mere humans, but as a sign of the obstacles we can overcome if we truly place ourselves in the arms of a loving God who is Father and Mother to us all, and in whose sight we are all part of a holy and sacred family.


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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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