Families: holy and unholy, perfect and imperfect

Readers of iBenedictines’ predecessor, Colophon, will know that neither I nor the community to which I belong really ‘like’ the feast of the Holy Family. It’s a fairly recent addition to the calendar and often sentimentalised. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were hardly an average family, so not much use to us as role models, unless we are prepared to live with a constant feeling of failure because we can’t begin to emulate their perfection.

The fact that we don’t like a feast or find it difficult is, paradoxically, all the more reason for thinking about what it has to teach us. Maybe if we could drop the ‘role model’ idea for a minute we might see more clearly, because it is not the perfection of the Holy Family we need to aim at but its imperfection.

Jesus grew in stature and understanding, just as Mary and Joseph grew in understanding and obedience. The key words, I think, are ‘growth’ and ‘understanding’. Mary gave her consent to the angel without realising all that would be asked of her in the future. She grew as her vocation grew, constantly renewing her initial acceptance of her role as Mother of God. Joseph obeyed the angel, only to find that one obedience demanded another. Jesus himself seems not to have understood all at once what his Sonship would entail. He had to choose obedience to the Father step by step, had ultimately to accept death on the cross. For all three, it was a process, a perfecting of their lives.

In the messiness and imperfection of our own lives, that is a tremendous encouragement. None of us lives in a perfect family; many of us don’t live in families at all; but each of us can learn and grow through our experience of ordinary, everyday life. The Holy Family of Nazareth prepared the way for the Holy Family gathered around the cross on Calvary. We too have to make a similar journey, perhaps with many false turnings on the way but always with the same end in view. As we draw closer to Christ, we hope that we shall be made holy, not as members of his family but as members of something more wonderful still, his Body, the Church.

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3 thoughts on “Families: holy and unholy, perfect and imperfect”

  1. Thank you for this post. It answers my silent hesitations and longings for understanding.
    Holiness is a journey. We are all on the path. With Godde waiting for us at the end ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. It’s the ordinariness of the holy family that speaks most to me. If they were a truly consistent perfect role model of a family they would not have been human. And I for one could not be encouraged by them. One of the amazing aspects of the incarnation to me is that God entered this world in vulnerability to be nurtured by people who must often have got things wrong, like any parents. You don’t have to be perfect to be used by God for his holy purposes.

  3. So agree with you about family ๐Ÿ˜‰
    The whole concept is so sentimentalised in the Christian church in the West, and this can be very unhelpful …

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