Celebrating the Feast of the Holy 'Dysfunctional' Family

Family time (missing one sibling here!)
Happy feastday of the Holy Family!
Give me one family which doesn’t have its problems...not even the Holy Family!
One of the blessings of having a community in Athlone is that I get to spend some extra time with my family over Christmas. It's great to catch up with people, see what Santy brought and just relax and celebrate the Christ-event.
With my own brothers and sisters, we have our differences because we are different! That said, I know each one of us would go to the end of the world for the other...as they say, "we have each other's back!. Similiarly I see the same in my extended family, people are there for each other in the darkest and saddest moments, for the life-changing and humbling moments of starting from scratch with lives and relationships. 2016 hasn't been an easy year but through it I have seen how life strengthens people through difficulties and brings out the best, brings out strength that people mightn't even think that they have.

For many though, the Christmas holidays seem to have a way of amplifying the dysfunction in every family. Sometimes we can laugh off the dysfunction. But most of the time, the pain is just too deep. People are tired and stressed after rushing around preparing and buying presents. Things may be said after a couple of Christmas drinks which hurt profoundly and linger long after the decorations and the Christmas tree are taken down. Now more than ever, children need real families and not virtual ones! Children are getting their life advice from a Google search browser, thus cutting off relationships with parents and establishing an independency which more than often descends into rebellion.

The big lie that too often gets told in the Church is that, if you love God and follow the rules, you will have a happy family. But the hidden truth in our communities and parishes is that people are living all kinds of damaged dreams in their families. Some of it can’t be fixed. Life is messy. Families are messy. Love isn’t always pretty. But there is goodness in all of it. You don’t get everything you want. Life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, but if you look and are open to receiving it, you will see graces and blessings that God has sent your way. Human love is not enough, but God’s love is more than enough for all. Grace covers the gap between the spirit and the flesh, our willingness and our weakness. Truth be told, Jesus came from a dysfunctional family too! Keep reading!

St. Joseph and the Child Jesus
In the readings before Christmas, we contemplated the heavenly Father's perfect love for the generations of imperfect people through whom Jesus traces his legal and biological lineage.
In today’s gospel, we see how Mary and Joseph even lost Jesus! As I said, no family is perfect! So remember this Christmas season, when dealing with your dysfunctional family, that you can do everything through him who gives you strength. Michael Card has a lovely song called ‘Joseph’s song’. There is something very authentic about it, as if it just flows from Joseph’s questioning but trusting heart. The lyrics are as follows:

"How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be.
Lord I know He's not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love
Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I've been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, How can I raise a king
He looks so small, His face and hands so fair
And when He cries the sun just seems to disappear
But when He laughs it shines again, how could it be."

Often in life, especially with regard to our family, we ask the Lord: ‘how can it be?’, ‘how does this sickness, death, problem fit into this plan of Yours?’...Joseph asks questions just as we do. In our family situations, we grow. We become who we are supposed to be. There is a cliche which is often quoted: "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family!" but Desmond Tutu goes one further saying: "You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them." This is true so as this New Year is just on the threshold, why not make an effort to reach out to your family to begin a new chapter full of  new memories for 2017?