Many people (self-proclaimed experts) will tell you what makes a family bonded, healthy, well-adjusted, integrated, functional, and peaceful. What is interesting is that they hardly talk about what makes a family holy. Should not this be our primary concern as a Christian family?
Today’s Feast of the Holy Family invites us to look at what makes a family holy. There are profound truths about what makes a family holy contained in all the scriptural readings for today. But let me focus on the first reading.
In the first reading we heard the story of Hannah. Hannah was a barren woman – incapable of bearing a son. Remember that barrenness or sterility was considered to be a disgrace in the Biblical times. This theme of the “sterile woman” is very common in the Bible. Think of Rebecca, Rachel, the mother of Samson (not named) Elizabeth – all these women seemed incapable of bearing a child. But with the grace of God became pregnant and gave birth.
The Bible is trying to tell us, again and again: God works through the weakest and most despised. And what we consider suffering is for him the point of entry. That is a very important spiritual lesson we must take to heart. We go through life sometimes, if not oftentimes, thinking: “Why can’t I have what I want? Why is God not giving this or that?” Like Hannah, we experience ‘barrenness’ in various aspects of our life.
Very often it is precisely that suffering which is God’s point of entry. Hannah, the despised sterile woman, becomes a vehicle through whom God will intervene and act. The story of Hannah – and the other barren women blessed by God – shows us that God always turns things upside down. It compels us to look at the most difficult situations as, in fact, God’s point of grace.
Hannah gives birth to a son, whom she names Samuel – a name indicating that this child, from the beginning, is dedicated to God. True to her promise, after the child Samuel has been weaned, Hannah dedicates him to God – saying: “I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord… as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.”
Parents, do you acknowledge that your children are given to you by God, and, in turn, you have to give them to the Lord? Are you doing your best to help them to live a life of dedication and commitment to the Lord? That is what makes a family holy – dedication to God.
Once again, we see here “the law of gift” – something St. John Paul II taught us. Our being increases in the measure that we give it away. Giving away gives us more. As we receive the divine life as a gift, we must also give it as a gift. And as we give it, we receive more.
According to Bishop Robert Barron, the peculiar Biblical family value exhibited here is this: “The family exists, not for the benefit of the family members primarily, but rather for God and God’s purposes.” Hannah does not treat Samuel as a vehicle of her own advancement or as an object of her manipulation. Rather, she lets him go for God’s service.
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. With this in mind, let us go to the gospel reading…
To make the long story short… After losing Jesus, his parents see or find him in the Temple. It is fascinating how Jesus responds to his mother’s reprimand: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
That passage is translated in another version of the Bible (the King James version) as “Did you not know that I must be about my father’s business?” Hearing or reading this passage, I cannot help but ask a blunt question: What is your life all about? What is family all about? Is it really about God’s business? Is it about the ‘business’ of promoting God’s kingdom – a kingdom of justice, peace and love? Is it about the ‘business’ of incarnating or manifesting God’s love – through your generosity, kindness and compassion? Is it about the ‘business’ of making others experience God’ loving and healing presence through you – by being a living and credible witness of his goodness?
Your answer to those questions will lead you to find out whether or not your family is holy – or least, trying to be holy. 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. Help us to take to heart the law of the gift: that our being increases in the measure that we give it away. Give us the strength and courage to dedicate our whole life to You. Amen.