An Ideal Family: Reflection on the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus

Feast of the Holy Family, December 26, 2021, at Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-Cathedral, Abuja. Homily by Archbishop I. A. Kaigama

Readings: 1 Sam. 1: 20-22, 24-28; Ps. 83(84): 2-3, 5-6, 9-10; 1 Jn. 3: 1-2, 21-24; Lk. 2: 41-52

The liturgy today invites us to reflect on the family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus as an ideal family. A similar invitation was made by Pope Francis to celebrate grandparents and the elderly each year on the 4th Sunday of July, coinciding with the feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s parents and Jesus’ grandparents, Saints Joachim and Anne.

The family is a natural institution deeply rooted in the plan of God. In the first chapters of Genesis we read that, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “in creating man and woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution” (CCC 2203).

Our families should be places where children learn norms and values for the formation of character (love, respect, prayer, hard work, honesty, concern for other people, etc.), like Jesus did under Mary and Joseph. Hence, the duties of fatherhood and motherhood have to be taken seriously, bearing in mind that the failure to fulfill one’s obligations or responsibilities to one’s family could attract serious consequences. For example, Eli was punished by God for the sins of his sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Their sins had both family and social consequences. From a personal or family angle, the Bible reports that they were both killed in battle, their father also died and the wife of Phinehas went into premature labour. The social consequence of this parental neglect is that the people of God were defeated in battle and the Ark of God was captured by the Philistines and taken away (cf. 1 Sam. 2: 12-36; 4: 1-22).

What distinguished the Holy Family of Mary, Jesus and Joseph was their relationship with God and with each other. They too, had their peculiar family challenges and had their fair share of social difficulties, but because they showed great faith in God, they were able to overcome. They were poor, non-influential members of society and even homeless. The decree of a census by the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus forced them to leave for Bethlehem where Christ was born, not in the comfort of the inn, but in a place reserved for animals. The cruelty of King Herod to kill the infant Jesus also forced them to flee to Egypt, exposing them to many dangers. But through these trials, they placed themselves in the hands of God and united in faith, they were able to find solutions to their problems. Families must be united in faith and purpose to surmount the challenges of everyday life.

The Christmas holiday affords families to come together, to have common meals, exchange gifts, share experiences of life and do things as a family. However, for some, this experience is not the case. Some family members are separated by force, owing to kidnap, internal displacement as we saw yesterday in Yimitu in the outskirts of Abuja, where displaced persons from Borno State have been living under very difficult conditions for seven years (their “church” made of sticks, is their consoling rallying point).

More than ever, the institution of marriage is being attacked and threatened by countless societal vices and modern day ideologies. Pope John Paul II was attentive to the plight of families and thus said in the encyclical Familiaris Consortio: “The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and rapid changes that have affected society and culture” (#1).

The family remains the first school of love, morals, seedbed of Christian faith and solidarity. A praying family becomes a happy home and a domestic Church, which produces a vibrant and morally upright society.

Our first reading today is an admonishment to families to keep their faith in God despite the challenges of family life, and to endeavour to bring up their children in the way of the Lord. In the passage, Hannah is presented to us as a woman of prayer and faith in God. Her ardent supplications and trust in God brought her conception and the consequent birth of Samuel. She fulfilled her promise of returning the child to God to be dedicated to His service forever. Some families today face the same challenge of childlessness. On account of this, they have decided to seek divorce; others have been pushed into a state of despair and agony, while others have completely deviated from the faith by choosing other gods, even though Psalm 16:4 says: “Those who choose other gods increase their sorrows.” (Story of my sixty-year nephew and an elderly catechist who both died without a child, but remained happy and faithful to God).

St. Paul in the second reading shows us how the family should love and preserve the family bond. He tells husbands to love their wives and treat them with gentleness; the wives to respect their husbands as they should in the Lord. Children were admonished to be obedient to their parents and parents must be careful not to drive their children to resentment or frustration (cf. Col. 3:18-21).

Dear brothers and sisters, there are no perfect homes but there are successful families; such successful families often put on love, patience, kindness, forgiveness and compassion.

The Holy Family of Nazareth was not without trials, temptations and difficulties. They had their sorrowful moments but they kept their faith in God: the flight to Egypt when Herod was planning to kill the infant Jesus few days after his birth (cf. Mt. 2:13-15); the twelve-year missing Jesus was found only after three days in the company of the Jewish Rabbis discussing religious matters (cf. Lk. 2:43-49); the crucifixion of Christ in the presence of his mother (cf. Jn. 19:25-29), were all trying times for the Holy Family. In all the family faced, they did not distance themselves from God and from one another. They faithfully trusted in God and aligned towards His will.

Our special thoughts and prayers are with the parents and relatives of the rising numbers of those kidnapped from their homes, on the roads, schools or elsewhere by terrorists and bandits. We implore the intercession of Mary and Joseph for their safe and unconditional release to their families. Government at all levels must continue to give priority to initiatives that address the worrisome development of the nation’s kidnap-for-ransom crisis. The attacks on children in schools threaten the right of the child to education and risk a generation of illiterate children especially in northern Nigeria. The sad events of the abductions in Girls’ Secondary School, Chibok; Dapchi Girls’ School, Yobe; Government Science School, Katsina; College of Forestry, Kaduna, Good Shepherd Major Seminary, Kaduna, etc, must not be allowed to repeat itself elsewhere. I am using Leah Sharibu as a reference point. We implore God to come to the aid of all those detained under hostile and inhuman conditions.

We continue to implore God’s grace upon every family to live like the Holy Family, united in love and fraternity, training up children in the way they should go, so that even when the children are old they will not depart from it (cf. Prov. 22:6).

Today, we pray for all families facing hard times and difficult setbacks. May they experience in a special way inner healing and renewal, and may they find strength to remain united in love, praying together always, and respecting one another.

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