Family life — trials, tribulations and holiness

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.

Our readings today were chosen to illustrate the points of contact between the family histories of Samuel and Jesus. Both readings are set in the annual family pilgrimage. In the first reading Hannah declares to Elkanah how she wants Samuel to be dedicated to the Lord. In the Gospel Mary realises that Jesus belongs to God when he says, “I must be in my Father’s house”. The sacrifice required of Hannah and Mary is asked of every parent — to give the children God has given us, back to God. In doing this we trust, as John teaches us in the second reading, in the love the Father has bestowed on us so that we may all be called God’s children.

During this holiday time, families spend more time together. Freed from the responsibility of work, those families lucky enough to go on holiday often go on their own ‘pilgrimages’.

I recently went on a ‘traditional’ pilgrimage to Ngome, the site of Our Lady Tabernacle of the Most High, one of three Marian apparitions in Africa. It was my first visit to the shrine and I was very impressed by the visible fruits of the Spirit within our group.

They too made a pilgrimage, walking various distances to obtain water which would then be blessed and taken home. In a way, they were preparing for the new year, not just the celebration of a new year, but a spiritual preparation for what the new year might bring. They dedicated themselves anew and returned with holy symbols that would protect, encourage and support their faith in the coming year.

There was plenty of time for Eucharistic adoration. The sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist were freely available. I was struck, however, by the laity who stood up in the bus to share their faith with one another, in a sense ministering to each other. This is something, I suspect, they long to do but are unable to given the structure of our weekly Eucharist. I realised that it was not so much the destination as the journey which was important for them. And the opportunity to share their faith their trials and their hopes with each other.

In our journeys through life our families are important. What they do or don’t do has an effect on each of us. Everyone is part of a family, even though there is no such thing as a ‘perfect family’. In the first few years of Jesus’ life, Mary and Joseph were refugees in a foreign country. Mary gave birth in less than normal circumstances and Joseph had to be persuaded to stay with her. Does that sound like a family without trials? Yet, they persevered and remained holy.

When we bear with one another and imitate the compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience of Christ, we too can become holy.

Let us see in all families, even in our own, the graces and opportunities to be holy. Let us not judge those who are different but recognise acts of kindness, humility, gentleness and patience as they show us that we are in the midst of holiness.

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia. @mcharlesworth
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