Saturday, December 29, 2012

Feast of the Holy Family
Family Pictures on a Touchscreen

Picture: cc exfordy

Sisters and brothers, have you ever marvelled at the things you can do with a touchscreen? The kind that we find on a smartphone, an IPad or a tablet PC? I myself don’t use a touchscreen on a regular basis, but I’ve watched other people do so. And I’ve been fascinated. One moment you’re looking at a vivid image on the screen. And then, with a tap of a finger you can make the screen display a completely new and different picture. Or, you can remain with the same picture but, using your thumb and forefinger, you can make it bigger, or smaller. You can even make the screen display different parts of the same image. You can zoom in to focus on something in a corner, for example. Or zoom out to see more of the background.

Those of us who enjoy the luxury of playing with these devices on a daily basis probably don’t even think twice about it. But isn’t it a truly marvellous thing to be able to do all this? To change the way an image is displayed by simply touching the screen with a finger? And I’m not thinking only about the technology involved. Although it must be very interesting. What I find even more amazing is what such a device can do for us. Whether we realise it or not, the touchscreen gives us the power to look at a given thing–to look at life itself, really–from many different angles. To see familiar things in new and surprising ways. So that we can appreciate reality more deeply. And, hopefully, live life more fully.

I mention this because I think that our Mass readings for today do for us something very similar. Just as a touchscreen can help us to see ordinary things from fresh perspectives, so do our Mass readings display for us new ways of looking at something that we may think we already understand very well. What images come to your mind, for example, when you think of family? Where do families come from? What are they for? What does it feel like to live in a good family? Image and origin, purpose and feeling. These are some of the questions concerning family life that our readings help us to answer today.

I’m not sure, sisters and brothers, but I think that probably the first image that comes to most of ours minds when we think of a family is that of parents and children, and perhaps grandparents, all living together in the same household. And along with this image of the family, we also have a common view of how families come about. Their origin. We tend to think that families originate first from a decision that people make for themselves. We say, for example, that so and so is starting a family. As if a family is something that one can start at will. And if someone else decides to remain unmarried, we tend to think that such a person has no family of his or her own. And yet, when we turn to the images displayed on the touchscreen of our readings today, we get a rather different perspective.

Consider the story of Hannah in the first reading. Notice how, for long years, she had wanted a child of her own, but was unable to conceive. Much as she wanted to start a family, she could not. It was only after she had gone to pray at the Temple in Jerusalem that she finally gave birth to a baby boy. Whom she named Samuel. What does this tell us, sisters and brothers, if not that a family is not first of all something that one starts for oneself? A decision that one makes. A family is rather a precious gift that one receives from God. God is the Origin of family life.

Isn’t this why, immediately after Samuel is weaned–when he is old enough to survive apart from his mother–Hannah brings him to the Temple and dedicates him to the service of the Lord for his whole life? For Hannah, the child was a gift from God. So, he should live his life for God. But not only that, Hannah’s dedication of Samuel also implies a much broader image of family life than one that consists only of parents and their children. For if God is the child’s proper Origin, then the People of God are his proper family. And Samuel’s service in the Temple of God can properly be considered family service.

The second reading presents us with a similar picture, when it invites us to think of the love that the Father has lavished upon us by letting us be called God’s children. More than just children of our earthly parents, we are all children of God. And, as members of God’s family, we are all to love one another. To live our lives in service of each other. Whatever may be the colour of our skins, or the countries of our birth, or the languages we speak.

The second reading also goes on to indicate to us the purpose of family life as seen from this broader perspective. After telling us to love one another as Christ told us to, the reading goes on to say that whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him. More than just generating and nurturing children–as important as this is–family life is ultimately about living in God. Living in God by living in the love that God has shown us in Christ Jesus our Lord. The love that led Jesus to be born for us in a manger. The love that saw him give his life for us on the Cross. The same love that we celebrate at this and at every Eucharist.

And yet, this broad view of family life should not lead us to think poorly of our own immediate families. Much less to take them for granted. For many of us–though by no means all–living a life of love, living a life in God, will usually mean living together with particular members of an immediate family. With spouse, parents, grandparents, children, sisters and brothers. And living such a life means caring for specific members of such a family. Which leads us to the final question that our readings help us to answer today. What should it feel like to live a good family life?

The gospel provides us with an answer that is probably quite surprising. For it’s likely that we may think of life in a good family as being one that’s free from tension. As being more or less plain sailing all the way. And yet, tension is precisely what we find in the gospel. Here both Jesus and his earthly parents struggle to negotiate the tension between the obligations of the immediate family and those of the family of God. As the son of Mary and Joseph, Jesus really should have informed them of his intention to remain in the Temple. Just as it was only proper–at least at this stage of his life–that he should return with them to Nazareth and live under their authority. And yet, as Son of his Father in Heaven, it was also proper that he should be busy with his Father’s affairs. What is this sisters and brothers if not tension? But a healthy tension. A necessary tension. For we are told that, living in this way, Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men. It was precisely their willingness to live this tension courageously that made Jesus, Mary and Joseph a Holy Family.

This then, sisters and brothers, is what family looks like when seen through the eyes of faith. This is the image of family life displayed on the touchscreen of our readings. Sisters and brothers, how ready are we to allow our hearts to be touched by this image? How willing are we to live the reality of family life in God today?


  1. yes, as the only Catholic at home for many years - the tensions of belonging to the family of God and to my biological family is so real...

    yet,as a CHILD OF GOD, my DIVINE PARENT, i see with the eyes of faith that my personal relationship with God TRANSCENDS over and above all my earthly relationships.

    For GOD IS THE ORIGIN of our families and i came from God and to God i return at the end of my earthly life.
    Hence, it is only right that i give God the first priority over all my other relationships.

    May God continue to guide and lead us in HIS WISDOM to live our lives fully, according to HIS WAYS and WILL.

    May the LORD remain always our LIGHT and our LIFE.

    Pax et Bonum.

  2. Being the only Catholic in my family, it is a true trial for me. Despite of the trials that came along my path, I have been trying very hard to give way to them. Telling myself that these are the trials that I have to face to follow our Lord. However, each time when I am tested, I will definitely get rebutted. What can I do? After all, they are all my biological siblings. Because love is from God, and being a child of God, we must fulfil our Heavenly Father's mission. "Love your brothers & sisters, neighbors and enemies".

    Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God. As we welcome in the New Year 2013, I am putting all my hope, trust, prayers and faith in God, that He will shine his light and love to my family. To remove the darkness and unhappiness that has seeped into our door, but only bring peace and love to us.

  3. Even when a couple are both Catholic, family life is not without tension. My ex and I had a very tense relationship as we had differing views on parenting, importance of religion, studies vs. sports etc. Children were the fruit of our union, yet our disparate views really created a rift. Of course, this was not the only reason for the split.

    The image of the Holy Family, of Mary and Joseph & Jesus, is an ideal. However, it seems so unattainable. How can I ever hope to come close to Mary? And is it possible to find a man like Joseph, who would accept a woman who did not carry his child, and still marry her/not hold a grudge?

    I spend more time with the kids, so I hope that more of my values rub off on them. I do acknowledge that their father's influence is still strong, and they are starting to have a mind of their own as well. Parenting IS a responsibility, as we are caretakers of gifts of life from God.

  4. Our Blessed Mother Mary was a woman of deep faith.

    She was totally open and available to let God govern her life - she was fully dependent upon God and she DARED to TRUST GOD even in the most difficult of times - she humbly said Yes to God even when her Yes could have cost her her life, at her young tender age - given the culture of her time.

    for us, in this current day and age - 2000 years after Christ came to live amongst us - if we dare to believe that what God had done for Christ - that HE too would do the same for us - if we hold on to this conviction and focus on God, on what God can and will do for us - if we dare to trust Him, then, we would experience God in a personal and REAL manner, just like the Holy Family did.

    it is this FAITH and the COURAGE to DARE TO TRUST GOD - it is this that we are to learn from our Blessed Mother Mary - the perfect disciple whom God had first honoured.

    lets ask God for this grace to be open and available to God and His promptings in our lives, and to learn to be humble and obedient to God.

    Pax et Bonum

    1. Thanks be to God! Thank you for this valuable input. Our God is Almighty. "The Lord is good to them that hope in him, to the soul that seeketh him."

  5. Let us leave our worries and submit ourselves to His will. Pray for His strength, courage and wisdom to guide and lead us; in "Gal 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved meand gave himself for me."

    Peace be with you.


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