The picture of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is very familiar to many Filipino Catholic families. When we look at their stampitas or images, they seem to be so perfect and holy. Yet such depictions are far-off from how the gospel of St. Matthew pictures the birth of Jesus.
Joseph plays a central role in the story of the birth of Jesus. He was a man of action and humility. He takes Mary to be his wife although she was already with child. And when Jesus was born and his entire family was threatened by King Herod, he leads his family away from harm’s way going as far as Egypt. Even today if you go to a pilgrimage to Cairo in Egypt, the tradition of the place where the Holy Family lived as refugees is still there. After the threat to their life is over, they go back to Judea and to Nazareth.
Part of the Holy Family is their relatives on Mary’s side like Elizabeth, Zechariah and John. They all appear and reappear in the life of Jesus. His other relatives even thought Jesus was out of his mind so they came to take him away!
The point of this feast of the Holy Family is not about extolling families and family life only. It is more so to remind us that Jesus was part of a human family like most of us. Added to that, he was deeply affected and shaped by his family. This shows to us the importance of our family background. This is also a reminder for us how high a calling family life is. Those of you who are parents should check what kind of formative experiences you are providing in your own families. It is not enough to provide food on the table and roof over their heads although those are truly important. We must also, as a family, nurture their minds, hearts and souls. Lest we forget, it is in our families that children first discover who they are. To guide them in this discovery is holy work.
Today’s celebration invites us to appreciate and recognize the treasure which is the family. Perhaps this is a good time to see how well we are supporting and taking care of the treasure of being in a family. Even though not all our experiences of family are good and fulfilling, most of us see its importance and essential role in our community and the church. Unfortunately, many Filipino families today are broken families either by choice or painful circumstances. Some have either one or both parents working abroad, far from the children. The social impact of such arrangement is devastating. We are in fact already feeling and seeing its effects. Cases of teenage pregnancies, drug use, materialism, lack of focus, misplaced values and priorities, even suicides, are just some to name a few.
We are challenged to care for the treasure we call the family. The message of Christmas is that we are given a savior who was born in a family. The family is the important place where real change, whether for good or bad, can take place. A Catholic family is called to create holy families. Because it is in the family that the gospel of Jesus begins.