Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth
Just recently I watched a video which truly melted my heart. The story was of a married Christian couple in the US who, unable to conceive naturally, and desperately wanting to raise a child, enquired as to the possibility of adopting one of the many thousands of babies (‘embryos’) frozen in time as a result of IVF procedures. The video was in fact narrated by their daughter – now 15 years old – who movingly described her happy childhood and the gradual process of coming to know her early history, beginning with her conception in a laboratory and her being suspended in storage for more than ten years. As she spoke she was radiant with healthy self-love and self-knowledge. She refers to herself as a ‘Snowflake’ child – and her witness and that of others in her situation is giving added momentum to the Snowflake movement, raising awareness of this wonderful way to welcome life previously unwanted.
Adoption is extremely beautiful. For a husband and wife to choose a child as their own with the overriding motivation of showering them with love, of creating a home with them, a place of safety and refuge, peace and joy, is to be celebrated. In a sense, we are all adopted. All adopted into the faith of Abraham, and into the great Reward that was being prepared through his earthly descendants: that reward being Jesus Christ. The true Gift of Christmas, Who comes to raise our earthly identity to that of a heavenly identity.
We all yearn to belong. Whatever our state of life, our duties, gifts and responsibilities, we all need to know and experience that we belong somewhere – and with others.
Today the value of independence and of ‘doing it my way’ is more than ever promoted as the ideal state of life. But the reality of our need to belong cannot simply be brushed aside: because no individual, unique human person is brushed aside by God. God who honours every conception by breathing His own Image into the tiny developing life – even if conceived in a way outside His plan.
Family: is the place, above all, where the growing child knows without question their intrinsic worth; their identity as beloved child of God. Where they hopefully discover that they have, in fact, a heavenly Father and heavenly Mother as well as their earthly parent or parents.
Family is where the Gift of Bethlehem and Nazareth takes flesh here and now. Jesus Christ chose to be born into a family because the family was – and remains – at the heart of His Saving Plan for Humanity. He wanted to belong in a human family – so that in receiving Him into our own hearts and homes we would know our worth, our true identity. God’s taking on our humanity in the infant Jesus not only confirms the goodness of the human family, it directs it to its fulfilment and perfection: that the human family might take-on godliness!
We live, however, and despite our best efforts, in an imperfect world – and Almighty God is well aware of it! He chose to be born into a human family knowing that ‘the family’ would one day suffer the attacks and trials that it is going through right now. Simeon prophesied to Mary and Joseph that their Son Jesus was destined to be rejected – and so it is to be expected that his greatest gifts would also in time be rejected – the priesthood, the family, the Church itself. The answer to the attack against the family is not to abandon it but to deepen our commitment to it. God gives a very special grace and strength to those who do their best to enshrine Jesus Christ in their homes, marriages, and families, especially when circumstances are less than ideal. And in this our models are Mary and Joseph.
At the heart of the Holy Family’s hidden life in Nazareth was Purity, self-sacrifice, hard work, simplicity, joy, humble service, perseverance (and, above all…) prayer and worship.
Although Jesus was God, and so totally incapable of anything other than perfect love, He had to be taught and guided as He learned to show forth that Love in His words, gestures and actions. Imagine: the Son of God being taught to pray, sing and worship God by a humble carpenter and His young wife!
It is the privilege of every Christian parent to endeavour to form their children, over time, to grow in the likeness of Christ. And so prayer and worship have to be at the heart of life if a child’s true destiny is to be fulfilled. Pope Francis has confirmed the Tradition of 2,000 yrs by calling the family the ‘Domestic Church’. And rightly so. We come to Church each Sunday so that Christ’s sacrifice of perfect Love – made present in the Mass – is then made manifest in the home. And the family alive in the love of Jesus is the answer to a society so quickly losing its heart – and is the building-block of the New World of true peace and love.
It is a joyful but not at all easy duty to speak about the family. So many of us are from broken homes, or had traumatic childhoods, or, find ourselves separated or widowed, perhaps with few or no family members. In truth, wherever Jesus Christ is welcomed into a human heart there is family, because there He makes His home, with His Father and the Holy Spirit. In God’s loving plan the Parish and the Home were always meant to reflect and feed each other…whether the home is made up of one soul or a dozen or more.
Abraham’s openness to God resulted in the promise of countless offspring. In a life of prayer and communion with Jesus Christ, He will reveal to each of us our unique call to become generators of spiritual life. For those who live alone that might mean contributing to the life of the parish in a more active way than would otherwise have been possible, or in a life of profound prayer on behalf of the parish family and, indeed, the world. Simeon and Anna are forever held before us as an example to emulate.
Abraham did not live on earth long enough to see the fulfilment of God’s promise in all its glory – but from heaven he rejoices every time a soul comes to discover – or re-discover – God’s love for them.
Whatever our circumstances, let us resolve to welcome the Living Jesus into our hearts, and do all we can to bring his Love to life – at home, in the Parish and in the world.
DW, Fr Daniel Weatherley.