(Image: Vatican News)
The Catholic Church today celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. Unnoticed by many, this significant occasion reminds us of the model family, Mary, Joseph and Jesus. In Nazareth, one of the key lessons taught and learned is the lesson of family life, which was first begun by the Holy Family on the nativity.
A paragon of love, the Holy Family is a reminder of our own families and innumerable other families who, in our struggle for life, have to take inspiration from Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
Celebrating the feast of the Holy Family two decades ago, Pope John Paul ll pondered: “Looking today at that Holy House, our thoughts turn to the many families of our time who are in difficult situations. Some of them suffer from extreme poverty; others are forced to seek opportunities in foreign countries what they unfortunately lack in their homeland; still others find within their own families serious problems caused by the rapid cultural and social changes which at times overwhelm them. And what can be said of the many attacks on the family institution itself? All this shows how urgent it is to rediscover the value of the family and to help it in every way to be, as God wanted it, the vital environment where every child who comes into the world is welcomed with tenderness and gratitude from the moment of his conception …” (Angelus, Dec. 31, 2000)
As the world is devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, reaching 1,759,830 deaths as of Dec. 26, we think about civilization’s nucleus, which is the family, society’s most basic unit. The family bears the brunt of the destructive consequences this pandemic brings to humankind.
The dark night of the pandemic, manifested among other things by separation of family members caused by lockdowns, illnesses, deaths, seems endless. It is all the more obscured by natural and human-made disasters occurring in various parts of the world.
Beyond human comprehension is the answer to the question of why God allows such untold human pain and suffering to happen. The depth of the suffering makes us recall and imitate Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, to wit: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as You, not I, would have it." (Matthew: 26:39)
Reflecting on the relevance of the feast of the Holy Family, a Sri Lankan nun, Sister Bernie de Silva of the Holy Family of Bordeaux, said: “We look on our own families in gratitude for what we have received. The family is a place where we feel at home with one another and with God. Before the pandemic, parents and children were busy with work, with new gadgets, etc. One great thing that this pandemic has brought on many families is that it has made them see what they have missed. Families are now able to spend more time together, inventing creative ways of togetherness, doing simple things in extraordinary ways. They find time to pray and seek God in their helplessness. The example of the three persons in the Holy Family is very relevant. This time, all are called to take care of the other.”
Asked about his personal memory of the feast of the Holy Family, Father Julian Gregorio Oyales, a secular missionary Filipino priest who hails from Bicol and is based in Guatemala, said the relevance of the feast “touches me to the core of my missionary commitment.”
“As a growing lad from Bicol, our grand family of 10 siblings would suffer from typhoon devastations during this time of the year, which is supposedly a time of joy. I cannot forget that in the late 60s, a super typhoon literally wiped out our house to the ground. From then, we never had a house renovated until my ordination to priesthood on December 29, 1984,” he recalled.
“The good thing that the incident brought to our family was that we were deeply united during the feast of the Holy Family. We prayed together and stayed together even if our house, a symbol of identity and protection, was always threatened by typhoons, and even to this day by Rolly and Ulysses.
“Here in Guatemala, most of the poor are victims of unequal distribution of wealth.”
Today, as we think of our own families, let us likewise remember the thousands of other families whose loved ones died of the coronavirus. We should never forget the health workers who cannot even see their own families because they need to take care of the sick and dying.
How can we not remember the breadwinners who lost their jobs and must sell whatever are left of them in order to feed their families? How can we turn our back to the many people who have lost their homes due to disasters brought about by environmental degradation?
Let us pray for the farmers, the source of food on our table, whose plants are being destroyed by nature’s wrath. They are all part of God’s little ones, who too, should be part of our bigger family, of our larger community and of the greater society.
On this feast of the Holy Family, we kneel in supplication to the Child Jesus, whose birth we celebrated on Dec. 25, to bestow upon our families the love and unity that will bring us together in these trying times, enabling us to surpass life’s vicissitudes; to the Blessed Virgin Mary, for her to intercede for the countless families who are being torn apart by the pandemic, by war and violence, by human rights violations, by the wrath of nature; and to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, that as a carpenter he may teach us to rebuild all the physical and spiritual brokenness of our times.
On this day, let us contemplate in the words of Pope John Paul ll: “To gather round the Bethlehem grotto contemplating there the Holy Family enables us to appreciate the gift of family intimacy in a special way, and spurs us to offer human warmth and concrete solidarity in those unfortunately numerous situations which, for various reasons, lack peace, harmony, in a word, lack ‘family’.” (Angelus, Dec. 29, 1996)