Feast of the Holy Family. Fr Duncan Campbell helps us to see how differences between generations can only be overcome by learning to respect the unique vocation in Jesus Christ each one of us is called to.
This Feast of the Holy Family can help us see that families can be holy. We must find all the help we can, to work out how they can be. We have this very strange story of the boy Jesus playing truant. His mother gently reproached him, and received a gentle reproach herself. ‘You didn’t know me. You wouldn’t have needed to look for me.’ We are into one of the main problems of family life, the incomprehension of parent for child.
Let’s think this all out carefully. Jesus is God. The name his parents were told to give him, Jesus, is known to almost everyone in the world. We keep it in its original, precious, Jewish form, but in English it means ‘God-saver’. God was living in a family home. The neighbours didn’t seem to notice. They were astonished when Jesus suddenly began to preach. We are told scarcely anything about his life then. There were ‘family stories’ handed down to us: the announcement of his conception,his birth in Bethlehem as new born baby, having to be placed in the animals’ feeding trough, astonishing visitors, flight into Egypt as asylum seekers, settling in safe obscurity in small-town Nazareth. The hidden years can be very significant and helpful to us. Ordinariness can be very holy. It’s the way we all live. We can and must learn holiness there. God-Jesus ‘lived under their authority’ as parents.’ His mother stored up all these things in her heart,’ meekly, without any resentment at all at her scolding by her son, in fact benefitting from it and helping us to benefit also. He ‘increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.’
We find help in words written by his servant Paul, and words said by Jesus himself, in what we call the ‘blessings’, in the solemn, ‘sermon on the mount.’ Paul wrote of love as ‘always patient and kind, never jealous, boastful or conceited, never rude or selfish, taking offence, or resentful, taking no pleasure in others’ faults, but delighting in the truth, always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and endure whatever comes, and does not come to an end.’ He wrote of the results, or ‘fruits’, of this Holy Spirit, being ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, truthfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Joyous and impressive things for us all to look out for, especially in families. Life however has a darker side, and this, even, or especially, in families. Jesus tells us to be ‘poor in spirit, meek, mourning, hungering and thirsting for justice, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, and suffering persecution.’ This is God’s programme for the world, His ‘Kingdom’. We find inspiration and courage and competence thinking so. Families can talk together about it. The main trouble in families is the distance that can grow between children and parents. I suggest that Jesus’ truancy was meant, and was recorded, to raise this issue, and help here. Children have to find life, and love, where, and how, they can.
We are all mysterious, difficult to understand and live with. There is a key to it all, in the idea that Jesus brought to us; the idea of ‘vocation’. Jesus is Vocation himself, called to do his Father’s will. We all have vocations. We must follow them, each in our way, the way made for us. Children have vocations to find. Parents may have found, or dreadfully may simply never have sought or found any. To follow a vocation is to do things as God wants. Our wishes and behaviour, seen as mere whims and wishes of our own, are rightly resented and resisted, by both parents in children, and children in parents. It is very difficult to see and respect childrens’ vocations, and not the mere whims and wishes they well might be! It is difficult for children to see and respect the vocation of parents. They may, when they become parents themselves, but much later, too late. We don’t learn from others, in our terribly ‘fragmented’ world. It must be, it can be, ‘unfragmented’ by Love, as Jesus and Paul understand it.