In a few days, we will be celebrating Christmas.
For many of us this holy day is centered around our families. While God is always at the center of all things, the focus on family is absolutely appropriate. Our Lord was not just incarnated into a world, but into a family.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “In creating man and woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution. Its members are persons equal in dignity. For the common good of its members and of society, the family necessarily has manifold responsibilities, rights, and duties.” (CCC, 2203)
The family is not some incidental accident of human culture, but something deeply ingrained in our nature. By “our nature” I do not simply mean our biology. Family is built into our very souls.
The family is so important that we look at it as the “domestic Church.” It is the place where the faith is taught and nurtured. Not only that, but “The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another. The family is a privileged community called to achieve a ‘sharing of thought and common deliberation by the spouses as well as their eager cooperation as parents in the children’s upbringing.'” (CCC, 2206)
Why did God put us into families?
Because He wanted to teach us about real love.
All of us know that our families know us in a way that no one else ever will. There is an intimacy of every-day life that is almost impossible to communicate to anyone else outside of that family. They see us at our worst, our sickest, our messiest, our cringiest, our most embarrassing, and every other state. There is very little hidden when living in a family.
Growing up, I was the weirdest child. My family has got the goods on me. And I’m sure your family has got the goods on you.
And when living in close quarters, friction is inevitable. Sometimes the people who annoy us the most, who disturb us the most, and who hurt us the most are members of our family. That closeness makes every wound more painful.
But that is part of the lesson of being in a family: families forgive each other.
Now, I am not at this time referring to issues of abuse, crime, or addiction. While the underlying principles laid out in the article are still the same, these extreme problems require more nuance and expertise than I am able to offer here. This article is talking about the pain, rivalry, and drama that is common in the typical family.
As a family we are stuck with each other. People break up with their boyfriends and girlfriends. Sometimes friendships drift away and die. But forever and ever, my mom is my mom, my dad is my dad, and my siblings are my siblings. Nothing can change that. We are bound by blood.
This bond of blood is a reminder of the unity that we all share. We are connected. This permanent bond reminds us that no matter how much we hurt each other (again, abuse is a separate case), we are called to forgive. If I am in a fight with my brother or sister, they remain my brother or sister. Unlike romantic partners or friends, I can never deny the reality of my family. This concrete reality forces me to understand that if there is hurt and injury between us, then it must be reconciled or there is something unbalanced in my life.
In the Holy Family, only St. Joseph was a fallen man. Though he is a better man than I will ever be, I am sure there were times that Jesus and Mary had to forgive him for his faults. They lived in our reality of family.
That is why Christmas should be a time for family. In that little town of Bethlehem, we see the permanent family bond: one not only of blood, but of love. This is especially the case with St. Joseph. He has no bond of blood to Mary or Jesus, but he commits himself fully to them not as a romantic partner (at least in physical sense as Mary is ever virgin) or as merely a friend. He is a member of the family.
And this bond is a foreshadow of heaven. In heaven, all of our rivalries and hurts can and must disappear. Heaven is a place where all is forgiven, not only by God, but by us. We cannot enter heaven if we hold on to any of our grudges. We must forgive each other out of love. And this is what life in the family has trained us for: the eternal love of our eternal home.
So this Christmas, let us reach out to our families. Let us put aside our hurts and embrace each other in love and forgiveness.
And if we do so, then this Christmas may we reflect the Holy Family and give to the world tidings of comfort and joy.
Copyright 2021, WL Grayson