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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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Rose Philippine Duchesne: Born in Grenoble, France, of a family that was among the new rich, Philippine learned political skills from her father and a love of the poor from her mother. The dominant feature of her temperament was a strong and dauntless will, which became the material—and the battlefield—of her holiness. She entered the convent at 19 and remained despite their opposition. As the French Revolution broke, the convent was closed, and she began taking care of the poor and sick, opened a school for homeless children and risked her life helping priests in the underground. 
<p>When the situation cooled, she personally rented her old convent, now a shambles, and tried to revive its religious life. The spirit was gone, and soon there were only four nuns left. They joined the infant Society of the Sacred Heart, whose young superior, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, would be her lifelong friend. In a short time Philippine was a superior and supervisor of the novitiate and a school. But her ambition, since hearing tales of missionary work in Louisiana as a little girl, was to go to America and work among the Indians. At 49, she thought this would be her work. With four nuns, she spent 11 weeks at sea en route to New Orleans, and seven weeks more on the Mississippi to St. Louis. She then met one of the many disappointments of her life. The bishop had no place for them to live and work among Native Americans. Instead, he sent her to what she sadly called "the remotest village in the U.S.," St. Charles, Missouri. With characteristic drive and courage, she founded the first free school for girls west of the Mississippi. </p><p>It was a mistake. Though she was as hardy as any of the pioneer women in the wagons rolling west, cold and hunger drove them out—to Florissant, Missouri, where she founded the first Catholic Indian school, adding others in the territory. "In her first decade in America, Mother Duchesne suffered practically every hardship the frontier had to offer, except the threat of Indian massacre—poor lodging, shortages of food, drinking water, fuel and money, forest fires and blazing chimneys, the vagaries of the Missouri climate, cramped living quarters and the privation of all privacy, and the crude manners of children reared in rough surroundings and with only the slightest training in courtesy" (Louise Callan, R.S.C.J., <i>Philippine Duchesne</i>). </p><p>Finally at 72, in poor health and retired, she got her lifelong wish. A mission was founded at Sugar Creek, Kansas, among the Potawatomi. She was taken along. Though she could not learn their language, they soon named her "Woman-Who-Prays-Always." While others taught, she prayed. Legend has it that Native American children sneaked behind her as she knelt and sprinkled bits of paper on her habit, and came back hours later to find them undisturbed. She died in 1852 at the age of 83 and was canonized in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog It was important for some saints to vanish from view, to “decrease” so that God could “increase” in the scheme of things. Many saints actively fought promotions. If obedience required embracing them, they found other ways to remain lowly.

 
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