By Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J.
I’VE ALWAYS HAD a special devotion to the Holy Family. The Sisters of St Joseph were founded with a tradition of modeling our lives on Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our founder spoke of them as our “created trinity,” our models for living our “yes” to God’s plan. During these past weeks, and especially on today’s feast, I’ve been looking upon the Holy Family in a new light.
The Church offers several Scripture options for today. I’ve chosen those found in my parish missal and especially in today’s Gospel from Luke. We know these “faces.” We’ve imagined ourselves in the “places” and welcomed them into our prayers during Advent and these 12 days of Christmas.
Genesis and Hebrews bring us back to the desert with Abraham and Sarah. We hear them promised offspring and blessings. They’re given life from what seemed lifeless. That life, however, comes with family struggles, pain and the ultimate test of faith regarding their son, Isaac.
The Gospel presents Mary, Joseph and their Son. They are Abraham and Sarah’s offspring. In the temple, they hear a blessing for their family and a foretelling that their lives would be pierced with struggles and heartbreaking challenge. Simeon and Anna, the elders who have lived through life’s pains, become for them messengers and models of fidelity to God’s plan.
Recently, I found my father’s passport from 1971. Tucked in it was a photo he had carried since 1949. It was a worn black and white Christmas scene of my family, my parents, my older sister, younger brother and me. We are seated by the tree, dressed in our best and celebrating the happiness of the day. As I treasure this image I include it in my thoughts today. It is a reminder that, although family photos might be, our lives and our families are not always “picture perfect.”
Most images of the Holy Family have a peaceful, reflective and strong nature which invites us to look more deeply at this couple and their story. Their “yes” to God was not followed by one “picture perfect” moment after the other. Their faithful responses speak to every moment of life, especially the lives of families who are enduring so much fear and pain. How they begin each new day and put one foot in front of the other are miracles in themselves.
The Emmanuel message in Jesus is that we are never alone. God is with us as we hold our hurting hearts, speak our questioning fears and do that which, at times, seems to be humanly impossible. As we and they daily grapple with questioning fears we try to hold on to the truth that suffering is not God’s plan for us. To be with us in that suffering is always God’s plan.
On Christmas Day I had the experience of attending Mass with the families at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers. This center is an amazing home for medically fragile children. They are held in the care of compassionate doctors, nurses and health care professionals and staff. Courageous parents have trusted and partnered with this team. They help us to “see beyond disabilities to discover life’s many possibilities.”
With love and pride the moms and dads prepared their sons and daughters to be in the Christmas pageant. They came in wheelchairs and on walkers, in the arms of parents, with oxygen and IVs and with the smiles, hopes and joy of children at Christmas.
They are “loved into life” by parents who once held different dreams and hopes for their children. They helped them come before the manger scene to honor Jesus. May they know that they are not alone, that God in Jesus is with them. May the “yes” and courage of Mary and Joseph help them every day of this New Year.
Readings for the Feast of The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14 or Genesis 15: 1-6; 21: 1-3
Psalm 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5 or Psalm 105: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Colossians 3: 12-21 or Colossians 3: 12-17 or Hebrews 11: 8, 11-12, 17-19
Luke 2: 22-40 or Luke 2: 22, 39-40
Sister Karen Cavanagh C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.