For centuries we have heard it being said in various ways that the family is the ‘nucleus of civilisation’, the ‘basic social unit of society’, and that strong and stable families are the ‘bedrock of a strong and stable society’. I don’t think any of us would want to dispute this since much of who we are is derived within the context of the family. Though there are no perfect families, families do define our identity to a certain extent.

Given that family ties are important to many people, in a season like this, under normal circumstances, many will go back to their families not only to celebrate Christmas but also the year-end. True to our Asian identity, the family often includes uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws, and surely many others. The concept of an extended family naturally expresses a sense of inclusiveness that does not require much thinking.

However, this year things are a little different. Family gatherings are limited, overseas family members cannot return home, extending a handshake or a hug done cautiously, while lunches, dinners and even opening presents are moving online. These are things that many of us are not accustomed to and somewhat makes the season distant, impersonal, and even homesick. It is in this context that we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family this year and it is not going to be easy for some.

Looking through the Gospels, there is practically nothing to go by in order to give a fuller picture of the Holy Family except for the facts of the sojourn in Egypt, the return to Nazareth, the presentation at the Temple, and the incidents that occurred when the twelve-year-old boy accompanied His parents to Jerusalem.

We are told that the rising “breakdowns of the family at the end of the past century prompted the popes, especially the far-sighted Leo XIII, to promote the observance of this feast with the hope that it might instil into Christian families something of the faithful love and the devoted attachment that characterise the family of Nazareth. The primary purpose of the Church in instituting and promoting this feast is to present the Holy Family as the model and exemplar of all Christian families.”Today’s Gospel records the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the highlight seems to be Simeon recognising Jesus as the one bringing salvation to God’s people. This takes place in the temple at Jerusalem and symbolically, it shows the continuity between God’s promise for a Messiah and the fulfilment that comes about with the birth of Jesus.

Looking in from the outside it may seem that Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple is for the purpose of a religious requirement, but the deeper reality is that they were persons of faith. Even though Mary and Joseph’s lives were thrown into confusion with the events that led to Jesus’ birth and even turbulent immediately after the birth, they were rooted in their faith, allowing God to unveil His plan, even though Mary and Joseph did not fully understand.

At a time when everything around us seems confusing and turbulent, the Holy Family of Nazareth offers us not only a model of faith but also an invitation to make our ‘basic unit’ the focal point of encountering God. For over eight months, our homes have been ‘the church’ for us – the centre of our faith activities and experiences. Celebrating Mass in the TV room is certainly not the same as going to Church but God still comes to meet us because our families are little churches in the large Church and the celebration of the Eucharist always transforms the heart of the family, even when we are gathered in front of the TV – these “little churches” are the bedrock of a strong and stable Church.

Everything has not been the same in these past months, including our faith expressions and experiences, but in the family life of Mary and Joseph, we see God is truly at the centre. It is their faith that gave the Holy Family the energy which allowed them to face difficult challenges. Let us hold on to our faith for God will deliver us from this confusing and turbulent times. Perfect or imperfect, stable or unstable, strong or weak, functional or dysfunctional, let us entrust our families today to the prayers of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the true model of a Christian home, an icon of faith and love. May our families, the little churches, be the nucleus in transforming of our civilisation – here and now, today not tomorrow.“If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.” – Mother Teresa

Feast of the Holy Family (27 Dec 2020)