More than fifteen years ago, I facilitated a retreat in which, in one of the activities, I asked the participants to complete this sentence: I want my family to be ______________________________________. I asked for three answers from each of them.
The top three answers I got from that informal surveys are: I want my family to experience total well-being or to be healthy. I want my family to be always together in order to be happy. I want my family to have the things it needs to feel secure. Perhaps I need not explain those answers.
It is worth-mentioning that not included in the top three answers is the characteristic that the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph possesses: which is holiness. Nobody wrote, “I want my family to be HOLY.”
Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. This is meant to draw our attention to the elusive quality of holiness. What precisely is it that makes a family holy? We can find the answer in the Holy Family. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph show us that their life is not about them; it is about God. It is not about pursuing their own plans; it is about following God’s will.
Just like everybody else, Joseph must have his own hopes, dreams or expectations of his own life. However, Joseph is willing to set those things aside, in favor of what God is asking him to do – even if this would cost him. He follows God’s instruction to take Mary, who is already pregnant, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as his wife. After a few months, Joseph is instructed, in a dream, to take his family to Egypt. Then some years later, that same voice tells him to take his family to Nazareth. All this time Joseph is directed by a higher will.
The same thing can be said of Mary. Just like any other girl, Mary has her own hopes, dreams, and expectations of her own life. May sarili siyang plano kung ano ang gagawin niya sa buhay niya, kung sino ang pakakasalan niya, ilan ang magiging anak nila, paano siya magiging kapaki-pakinabang sa kanyang komunidad. But then she is visited by an angel and announces to her God’s extraordinary plan for her… and her life is interrupted. She sets aside her own projects in favor of God’s plan. Neither Joseph nor Mary understood completely what God was telling them and its great implication, yet, they surrendered.
And now consider Jesus… Jesus loves Joseph and Mary – no doubt about that – but his life is not finally about them or their desires. It is about the desire of his Father in heaven. His life about doing his Father’s will.
And that is why we hear him telling his parents in today’s gospel: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus begins from the earliest moments of his conscious life to listen to the Father, to follow his promptings, to do his will. Jesus directs his life, not to his own plan, not even to the plans of his remarkable holy parents, but to doing the will of God.
This is what it means to be holy: To realize that your life is not about you. It means to place yourself dramatically, radically, and totally in the hands of God. It means to make your life about the business of God, and not just about your own plans and ambitions.
This is the challenge to all of us: We must make our families places where the will of God is discerned and heeded. But how do we know the will of God? How do we turn our life over to God? How do we make our life really about God and not about us? Bishop Robert Barron offers a simple answer to this profound question: “Whatever is prompting you to greatest love, to greatest justice, to greatest truth and integrity, to greatest self-gift, that is the voice of God in you, that is the will of God.”
Let us pray that our family may be always directed by a higher will. Let us strive to make our family a place where God’s will is faithfully followed and where every member surrenders his or her life completely in the hands of God. With the help of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, let us make our family a holy family.
Let me say this again: Your life in not about you and your family is not about itself. The family is where the mission of each member is discerned and prepared for. Surrendering your life to God, including your own ambitions, dedicating your family to God’s purposes, doing the will of God, finding your respective missions – that is what makes a family holy.
Let us end with a prayer: Lord God, You want our family to be holy. Give us the strength and courage to dedicate our whole life to You. May our family be a place where mission is discovered and prioritized. Amen.