“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary inspires us to follow her example as we reflect on all that has happened in the last year and study these insights in the light of our faith in Christ as we embark on the New Year. Holy Mary, Mother of God…pray for us!
During this holiday season I am amazed – even with all the challenges of COVID-19 – at how many people creatively reorganize their schedules and events to accommodate the many family events that happen during this time of the year. Many people spend long hours on the road, sometimes celebrating Christmas two or three times with different branches of the family tree.
For some people this time of year can be a mixed blessing. The stress of traveling with uncertain weather, compounded with the hectic expectations of the commercial side of the season, can sometimes lead us to view Christmas as an exercise in frustration. This frustration is particularly true when we add the unique issues that are part of our own family.
All of us are part of a family. Some big, others small, some scattered across the globe, others spaced along a couple of city streets. In our extended families there are people we can’t wait to see, and there may even be some who are difficult to get along with for a conversation. Within our families there is usually a mixture of joy and sorrow, peace and discomfort, calm and chaos.
Yet like it or not, God has planted us within these groups of people to help us find our place within the larger world. Our families help define who we are, how we experience life, and what our dreams and hopes are for the future. With all their strengths and weaknesses, our families help us understand the meaning and purpose of our lives.
The fact that we celebrate the family of Jesus helps us realize that God is present within our families, too. The “Holy Family” was not perfect. Hardship and persecution followed them before and after the birth of the baby Jesus. They struggled and suffered like every other family, celebrating the joys and sorrows that accompany us all through life.
The struggles of the Holy Family help us see that the journey of our own families is not an easy one. Yet we can take hope that just as God was present to them, so too will the Lord strengthen us.
The feast of the Holy Family can remind us all that God truly walks with us in our own families. Within the blessings and limitations that exist in our families, we recognize God’s loving touch – shaping our lives and helping us see the “Holy Ones” that God has placed in our midst.
We often think of angels as something out of a Precious Moments collection: cute, sweet and gentle. Yet the image we see in the Scriptures is often startling and overwhelming…after all, angels are always saying “Be not afraid!” when they show up.
Gabriel greets Mary and reveals the astonishing news of God’s plan for our salvation: Mary will be the mother of God as the Holy Spirit conceives a child in her womb. This is how the savior of humanity will enter into the world, taking on our likeness in all things but sin.
But note this: Mary had to respond. Although she was specifically chosen by God and prepared to become the mother of the messiah, she still had to give her consent. Her freedom to choose was essential in the plan of salvation. Why? Because the Almighty has not created us to be robotic slaves but free souls, souls that seek to grow in wisdom, courage and love.
God initiates the action, but he does not force us to act. Rather, the Lord invites us to respond so that we will grow, becoming more and more the persons we were meant to be.
This Christmas consider what the Lord is inviting you to do. Reflect on how God is working in your life and how you are being prompted to develop your life in new and powerful ways. Say yes to Jesus Christ, and see how the Lord will change your heart to become like his.
Big or small, far-flung or close to home…we all come from a family. Sometimes our families are in better/worse places, depending on emotions, finances, relationships, illness, death, and a multitude of challenges and blessings that life can throw our way.
And while no family is perfect, every family provides opportunities for us to grow. Whether it is getting along, practicing forgiveness, being patient, working together, or dealing with the idiosyncrasies that are part of every human group…there is no place like family for teaching us lessons that are part of our journey to become the best version of ourselves.
The Holy Family faced plenty of blessings and burdens. Here are a few of the blessings:
Encounters with the angel Gabriel
Choirs of angels singing and rejoicing
Visits from distant Magi and nearby shepherds
The brilliant light of the Star as a sign from God
But, then, there are some real burdens:
Explaining Mary’s pregnancy (before marriage to Joseph)
Fleeing for their lives from King Herod’s soldiers
Refugees in Egypt – far from family
And one day…Mary will stand before the Cross of Jesus
Clearly, this family is unlike any other; yet together they faced situations that are similar to many even today. They knew what it was like to be grateful for what they had, and they knew what it was like to face suffering and pain.
But there’s two points I want us to hold close:
They did it together
God was with them
What’s true for the Holy Family is true for our families! We have opportunities to work together, cooperating and uniting to strengthen the bonds within our families – and when we face challenges we call upon the Lord to give us the grace and strength we need to put faith into family, hope into our homes, and love into our lives.
May this season give us plenty of opportunities to work together with God’s grace in our families – the place where we have been located by the Lord to practice our “homework for holiness” as we journey through this life.
Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel offers us a powerful example of discipleship as she says “May it be done!” Her words inspire us to accept the Lord’s invitation today as we carry out our tasks in service of Jesus.