Today, the feast of the Holy Family is a good day to reflect on our own family life. The example provided to us by Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a good starting point because the Holy Family, like all families, faced the many perils and uncertainties of life and in their case the difficulties of becoming refugees in the face of violence perpetrated by Herod. The Incarnate God was to experience life as we experience it although without sin.
Sin, of course, and the related efforts of the evil one fertilize and nourish disharmony in the family and contribute to the dysfunction that many families experience. As a result, we all don’t experience family in the same way. Many suffer abuse or neglect in family life and experience the consequences of that over their lifetime. Some children however emerge from this environment with the determination to do better in their own nuclear families as they marry and raise children.
I personally experienced a happy and formative childhood with parents who loved me and guided me. I think that my younger siblings also experienced this although they had to put up with me as “big brother”. There was never any shortage of love although at times it was tough love calculated to bring out the best in us. I know though that some of my friends did not have this advantage and had to cope with life not having emerged from the same nurturing and loving cocoon.
Love is obviously the ingredient missing in some family scenarios. I’m speaking about love in the agape sense. This failure to love first experienced in the cradle often manifests itself in adulthood as siblings sometimes have nothing good to say about one another and parents and children are estranged. Hurts experienced, trifling as they may sometimes be, form a basis for continued enmity and whatever relationship there may have been is dismissed as irrelevant.
As always, there is a remedy for our hardness of heart when it comes to relationships. The remedy is to soften up our hearts and we can often only do this by relying on the grace that God provides to us. Of course we know this intellectually if we have accepted God into our lives but allowing God’s grace to transform our hearts is another matter all together and you can bet that there are forces at work to attempt to block our reception of God’s grace. Humility would seem to be the key here. We can only truly forgive out of a humble and contrite heart and forgiveness is often at the root of any real effort to soften our heart for we have been hurt and we need to get beyond the hurt in order to heal.
Most of us need to work on softening up our hearts whether or not we have experienced a dysfunctional family life. We all need to have soft hearts and hard feet rather than soft feet and hard hearts if we are to do the work Jesus has called us to do as his Disciples. The measure of our success will be the degree to which others see Jesus mirrored in our lives. May each of us truly resolve to be the hands, feet, voice and heart of Jesus as we move into the new year.