by Fr Martin McCormack SDB
Christmas is above all, a family feast. I have very happy childhood memories of family gatherings. All this has changed for me in recent years-first with the death of my father and the selling of our family home and secondly with my mother moving into a nursing home two years ago. This is the story of many families.
Coming back from Swaziland for Christmas and
Visiting my mother a few days ago and looking around at 60 elderly people reminded me that family is found in many different places.
Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten
I work in an African country where orphans abound. Where both parents are dead. Where 35% of the country family system is headed by a child.
Speaking about the Holy family maybe off putting for some of you listening to me. Family maybe a far cry from the ideal presented in the gospel.
Someone said how could we be expected to imitate the holy family?
One was a saint, the other was God’s mother and the third was God himself. They were so out of the ordinary what could they teach us? That the Holy Family was different there can be no doubt.
But let’s not forget that Mary and Joseph has their own problems and difficulties to face..
They had the problem of finding a stable where Mary could give birth.
They had the immediate problem of protecting their new born baby from the murderous intentions of Herod.
The shadow of the cross was already beginning to form over the crib of Bethlehem when they heard Simeon’s chill prophecy that the child Jesus was destined for the fall and rising of may in Israel.
There isn’t a family in any parish or community that doesn’t have some kind of trouble. No family escapes. Suffering takes different forms and different degrees of severity but at some time or other it knocks at every door.
I don’t know what troubles your family.
I do know that family needs support,
Forgiveness and compassion,
and my prayer for you in whatever situation you find yourself right now someone will listen and offer support. That someone will reach out to you.
That is what I am trying to do daily in my ministry, be a father, a mother, a brother to the many broken and hurt people I meet.
Rod Stewart said:
You go through life wondering what is it all about but at the end of the day it’s all about family.
May we support each other in our various families this coming year.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Genesis 15:1-6,21:1-3
The word of the Lord was spoken to Abram in a vision, ‘Have no fear, Abram, I am your shield; your reward will be very great.’
‘My Lord,’ Abram replied ‘what do you intend to give me? I go childless…’ Then Abram said, ‘See, you have given me no descendants; some man of my household will be my heir.’ And then this word of the Lord was spoken to him, ‘He shall not be your heir; your heir shall be of your own flesh and blood.’ Then taking him outside he said, ‘Look up to heaven and count the stars if you can. Such will be your descendants’ he told him. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified.
The Lord dealt kindly with Sarah as he had said, and did what he had promised. So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the time God had promised. Abraham named the son born to him Isaac, the son to whom Sarah had given birth.
The reading from Genesis recounts God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah who were childless at the time. But the LORD who makes stars can give Abraham countless descendants. It should come as no surprise that in due time Sarah gave birth to Isaac and a family and a nation was born. The reading from Sirach focuses attention on the fourth commandment: Honour your father and your mother. To honour means to mark and appreciate what our parents have done for us. The honour in our hearts finds expression in our words and gestures. The challenge for us today is to consider the implications of recent changes to the very nature of the family in the West. Can we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family and remain untouched by what is happening to contemporary families and marriages? Where do our mutual responsibilities lie?
LORD, Adonai, you are Love. When we love our parents, we are on the road you opened for us from the beginning. Love heals. Love allows good things to happen. Love is the heart of family life. Acts of love come from you and return to you. Bless our parents today. Bless our grandparents and all who have gone before us. Let your face shine on them and your loving smile embrace them. With Jesus, Mary and Joseph to guide and inspire us, help us to cope with contemporary challenges to marriage and the family. Help us witness to family life and show your love to the coming generations. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 105:1-6, 8-9 or Psalm 128:1-5
The verses chosen from Psalm 105 celebrate the covenant God made with Abraham. They support the reading from Genesis. They also encourage us to place God firmly at the centre of our family and personal lives, constantly seeking his presence in the unfolding of reality. Psalm 128 celebrates the extended family. Where there is wholesome respect for God and his word, human relationships stand a better chance of being well ordered, balanced and harmonious. Those who genuinely honour and respect God tend to be less self-centred, more considerate of others. They tend to appreciate the blessings that come to them. They respect and support their neighbours and the planet.
LORD, Adonai, we remember your infinite goodness and beauty. Hear our songs of gratitude and praise! You are faithful to your covenant forever! Today we seek your face for our families. May your peace and kindness bless them today! May our families be grounded in your loving grace! May we witness to your kindness everywhere, especially in our homes, parishes and neighbourhoods! Through your Holy Spirit, empower us to live thoughtful and benevolent lives. Make all our families strong with your love today and every day. Like the Holy Family of Nazareth, may every family honour the forces of goodness and integrity for the sake of a caring world! Amen.
2nd Reading – Colossians 3:12-21
You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.
Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
The verses from Hebrews 11 focus attention firmly on the centrality of faith in the lives of people like Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. Faith allows us to take God at his word when he makes promises for the future, promises fulfilled in Jesus whose own birth and family of origin we celebrate with joy today. From faith springs hope. And hope helps us to be resilient in the face of the challenges that negatively impact so many families today. Did you notice how the passage from Colossians begins by inviting us to clothe ourselves with or put on a set of virtues, most especially love? There are echoes here of our rising from the waters of baptism and putting on new clothes. There are also echoes of what we took off before the Holy Spirit touched us with transforming fire. Husbands are challenged to love their wives, wives their husbands, and children their parents. Both husband and wife are invited to shake off negative attitudes and reactions, the kind that frustrate children and drive them to resentment.
Lord Jesus, come to us in our homes and families. How grateful we are for the touch of your love. Fill our hearts and homes with true wisdom and sincere compassion. Help us bear with each other with gentleness and patience. Teach us how to forgive each other and rise above our differences and quarrels. Teach us the way of love. More than ever today the family is placed at the centre of the struggle between love and all that is opposed to love. May your message find an honest home among us and may all things work for good among us! Amen.
Gospel Reading – Luke 2:22-40
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, – observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord – and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:
‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’
As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected – and a sword will pierce your own soul too – so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’
There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
Apart from the stories about Simeon and Anna and their impact on Mary and Joseph, today’s gospel focusses attention on the growth of the Christ-child to maturity and wisdom in the warmth of his family. As a fully human child, Jesus, like all of us, had to grow physically, mentally and spiritually. And the best way to do that is as a cherished person in a loving family. That is how we understand the perfection of Jesus who reveals the wholeness appropriate to each stage of human development. Look at your family with appreciation today and pray for all children to be nurtured and cherished, surrounded by peace, warmth, love, tenderness and care. Then pray blessings on your own children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and all the other members of your own family, and those of your neighbours and friends. Touch them with blessing.
Lord Jesus, may the bonds of love be strong in all our homes and families! May our families be places where children blossom and grow into wholeness and integrity as you did! Help families live together from the springs of kindness and mutual understanding. May the prayers of Mary and Joseph inspire us with resilience and wisdom, with courage and perseverance as we face the trials and tribulations of life in worlds tinged by darkness! May the prayers of Mary and Joseph help us bear the soul-piercing swords of injustice and inequity as they did! Lord, send helpers to families driven into exile! Bless families trapped by war. Bless families touched by tragedy! Send helpers to families caught in the traps of poverty. Bless sick children everywhere. Help homeless families find homes. Amen.