The Holy Family Year A
Theme of the week: May our families be holy families, filled with forgiveness, respect, gentleness, understanding and love.
We are in the Christmas season. This is a good time to reflect on our relationships with our loved ones, especially those closest to us – my spouse, children and parents. Our Church teaches that my relationship with my spouse is a foreshadow of my heavenly union with Christ; while the Fourth Commandment commands that I treat my parents and children with honour and love. So I ask myself: do my relationships with those closest to me reflect the love of Christ? If not, what must I do to truly bring spirit of Christmas in my relationships with others?
The literal text of the Fourth Commandment states “Honour your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12, Deut 5:16). We must be careful not to take this or any other Commandments at their literal meaning, or we risk taking the narrowest interpretation, missing the full meaning of the Commandments. The First Reading presents us a fuller and more encompassing interpretation of the Fourth Commandment. In the First Reading, we are taught honouring our parents does not just mean obedience to our parents, but it also means lending our parents dignity and respect in their old age. In fact, the term “honour” in verse 4 has been interpreted as “comfort” in some ancient text. As typical of the writings of that male-dominant age, the passage is laden with reference to the father. Interpreting in today’s context, we should extend the same honour and respect to both our parents. Observed faithfully, this commandment is the foundation of a holy family dedicated to the ways of the Lord.
We are all flawed in our own ways. When you take a number of flawed people; throw them in the same household; add sins to the mix; what do you get? It is not surprising that many families experience constant conflicts, frictions and disharmony. It takes the grace of God to see beyond the flaws of those closest to us, and realise that they are God’s gifts to us. Especially when they are in their weakest and when they are most plagued by human flaws, if we allow it, these are moments when the grace of God can flow into our relationships. These are moments for us to emulate Christ’s unconditional love. For without the grace of God, sins beget sins. For example, when my child disappoints me with his/her behaviour, I react in anger. This drives resentment in the child, who in turn vent the negativity on a sibling, who in turn vent it on another person. The result is a string of broken relationships rippled through our household and beyond. Sins beget sins.
The Second Reading provides some practical tips for us to break the vicious cycle of sins in our family, so that we may build a God-fearing holy family.
- That we should forgive each other just as the Lord forgives us (verse 13). Doing so brings us closer to the Lord.
- That we should do everything in the Lord’s name (verse 17). Doing so reminds us that we are His people.
- Verse 18-21 expresses bias of the time, expressing the husband’s dominance over his wife; and parents over their children. A more encompassing interpretation would require each party to treat the other the same way – with respect, gentleness, understanding and love. As Paul teaches in Eph 5:21, “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
It is often said that the family is the smallest church, the church that is closest to our hearts. Inspired by the Scripture text of this week, let us reflect: what kind of church is my family? Is my family a holy family, where every member experience forgiveness, respect, gentleness, understanding and love? This is not easy in the modern family, constantly facing busy schedule, financial pressure and work pressure. It was not easy for the Holy Family either. Let us take inspirations from the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.
As if the pressure of virgin conception, travelling while heavily pregnant, and having no room in the inn to give birth weren’t enough, the Gospel describes the story of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. Immediately after baby Jesus was born, the angel told Joseph that King Harod was trying to kill the child. So, “Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt” (verse 14). In so doing, the evangelist quoted from the Old Testament verse of Hos 11:1 to emphasise that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Jewish age-old prophesy. Jesus going to and returning from Egypt traced the path taken by the Jewish people, during their exile and return (at the time of Joseph and Moses respectively). The Egyptian Exile is a period when the Jewish people underwent a spiritual journey, during which they prospered, rejected God, suffered, and were finally reconciled to God. Viewed in this context, many of us would find parallels in our own lives. Jesus is the embodiment our aspirations, sufferings and deliverance. Let me take His grace and spread it in my family, so that my family too may be a holy family. Amen.