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                                                        New York, December 30, 2018.

                                                        The Holy Family – Feast

                   REFLECTION by f. Luis Casasús, General Superior of the Idente Missionaries

1st Book of Samuel 1,20-22.24-28; First Letter of John 3,1-2.21-24; Saint Luke 2,41-52. 

During one of my last visits to one of our Provinces, I had the great joy to note that a considerable number of the participants in our Motus Christi spiritual retreat were ex-Muslims. Their main reason for accepting our Faith was literally that looking at our sisters and brothers, they found a true family. This is a joy, but not a surprise: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34-35).

Family is important not only as the basic unit of the human society but more so as a divine construct. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes: I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name (3:14).

We are all fruits of families; even that child that was born and abandoned in the waste bin by a senseless and desperate mother is a member of a family, though a discordant and dysfunctional one. Love begins at home and so it is with other realities like hatred, rancor, strife, anger, and others. In essence we can say that the family as the early learning center is the root of all good and evil.

When we read in the Gospel the genealogy of Christ (Lk 3:23–38), we find wicked kings, a prostitute, and unfaithful people…and Judah, the most insignificant tribe, was chosen to be the one whom the Messiah would come, so too God will choose the weak, the lowly and the unknown and ordinary people of society to be His instruments of salvation.

Teachings of parents at home, first than education given by teachers in school have much influence on children. They emulate how their parents express their feelings of happiness, anger, sadness and joy. They also imitate the movement and intonation of the seniors in the family. When we see a child losing temper or speaking wrongly to an adult, we know that he must have learnt this from his parents. Today we know that the fetus starts to learn to listen to the parents’ conversations, even their quarrels. The fetus exerts some kind of reaction inside the mother’s womb and it affects development after birth. Both teaching by example and teaching by precept have significant influence on our next generation.

This is why dysfunctional families produce children who are not capable of relationship when they grow up. As adults in life, they are unable to sustain a proper relationship. Hence history often repeats itself as their marriages also end in divorce.

In the middle of the night, a young boy wakes up in a hospital bed. He feels very frightened and very alone. He is suffering intense pain: burns cover 40 per cent of his body. Someone had doused him with alcohol, and then had set him on fire. He starts crying out for his mother. The nurse holds him very gently; hugs him; whispers to him that the pain will go away sooner than he thinks. However, nothing that the nurse does, seems to lessen the boy’s pain. He still cries for his mother. And the nurse becomes confused and even irritated. Because it was his mother who had set him on fire.

It seems that the young boy’s pain at being separated from his mother, even though she had inflicted such cruelty on him, was greater than the pain of his burns. This deep attachment to the mother makes separation from her the worst experience a child can undergo. When children are growing up, the regular presence of parents is a constant assurance of safety for every young child.

 The family, no matter what its shortcomings, is the basic human connection. Parents are the first teachers of love. It is from the parents that love is taught, or caught. Their attachment to the child shows the child that he is worthy of love. And it also shows the child how to love. But, as you know, there are flaws in every human relationship, and in our human nature. This is why it is important for us to offer our members of the family, living and dead, our forgiveness.

There are many attempts today to redefine the family but they do not reflect God’s plan for the family. There are no perfect families, just as there are no perfect marriages. As human beings we are all imperfect. When relationships get tested, we may be hurt and offended. When expectations fail, we may be disappointed and frustrated. When promises get broken, we may end up crushed and wounded.

It is no exaggeration to say that the greatest threat to the world today is the destruction of the human family. The Second Vatican Council called the family as the first and vital institution for the up keeping of the Church and society. Nowadays, we see a breakdown of families the effect of which can be seen within the families, community life and society. People are struggling with the problems of individualism, relativism, materialism, rationalism, and secularization. This constitutes a great damage to the individuals, families, society and environment at large. To avoid such an extreme situation, we have a Holy Family as a model family which will rescue us from such destruction.

Families are part of God’s plan. Every child has a right to enjoy the security of committed love and consistent example, both of a man-father and a woman-mother. God might have asked Jesus to come to this world as an adult, but He did not. He asked Mary to bear Jesus, He called on Joseph to marry, love and protect Mary and to be the mystical father of Jesus. God demands that each child have the gift of an authentic family life.

Our Triune God, who is a Family in Himself, chose a human family to come into this world to bring salvation to humankind and this is what we especially celebrate during Christmas. This family is called holy because it loved God above all and the members were ready to do the will of God at all times. They appreciated, and celebrated the presence of God in their family.

The Holy Family is not only the model for all natural families, but for religious families as well. This has been stated many times by our father Founder. Why this is so? Because the bonds of the Holy Family were not merely based on respect of the law, or the efforts they made for living in harmony. They trusted in the divine wisdom and in His plans: Remember the former things of long ago, that I am God, and there is no other. I am God, and there is no one like me. From the beginning I foretell the outcome, and from long ago the things that have not yet been done. I say, ‘My decision will stand, and I will do whatever I please’ (Is 46: 9-10).

One of the keys for the success in their mission was the way they listened to one another. This is something remarkable, because their lives were full of surprises, unforeseen circumstances, changes of plans and persecution…but they were not victims of rush and superficiality, the main obstacles to organize a community, whether familiar, religious or other nature. This is the diagnosis of our father Founder.

A man was driving up a steep and narrow mountain road when a woman, driving down from the opposite direction, opened her window and shouted: Pig! Thinking that she was calling him names, he immediately leaned out his window and angrily shouted back: You too! As the man rounded the next corner, he crashed into a huge pig in the middle of the road and he nearly lost his life. If only we would listen…

The main reason for being victims of rush and superficiality is that we are too busy to listen. Let us not be naïve, to be busy means not only to have much work to do, but to continuously ruminate about our personal concerns, ideas or urgent requirements. We try to avoid further concerns that suck down our energy and the problem is that we do it unconsciously. A father came home from a tough day in the office and said to his wife: I’ve had a bad day. Please, if you have bad news tonight, keep it to yourself. To which she replied: Alright, no bad news; now for the good news. Remember our four children? Well, three of them didn’t break an arm today.

We have to learn to listen not only to what one says but also we have to try to understand who our partner is. Mary knew her Son better than any other human being, and she no doubt treasured in her heart and memory the things he said and did during the hidden years. Do I know my brother? Do I know about his family, his health, his classmates, his favorite teacher, his fears, his needs and interests…?

When a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee, Jesus had not yet done any miracles. He was beginning his public ministry. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Mary said to him: They have no more wine. Mary knew her Son, his mission, his gifts, his time: Do whatever he tells you to do.

There is no greater joy in life than to know that the members of my family are making a difference he lives of others, serving and loving God and our fellowmen. The parents’ task is to discern with their children to answer to the voice of God by giving life to others, whether physically or in spiritual, moral and material support.

Listening is a great gift we can give to another human being. To be listened to, to be heard, is to know that someone else takes me seriously. That is a redemptive act, a powerful strengthening of unity. Why was Zechariah struck with dumbness while waiting on his child? Probably, more than a punishment, it was the way chosen by God to teach Zechariah to listen well, to contemplate what was going on around him. When we speak, we are not listening, we are not observing what is going on. Zechariah learned a lot during those nine months, and when he did speak, it was nothing but joy because he knew who was coming.

Listening does not only refer to words, but we also have to listen to the silence of our neighbors. It has been said that nobody is truly married until he understands every word his spouse is NOT saying. Yes; often it is what is not said that conveys the important message: A person who never speaks about his/her apostolate will probably have a serious vocational conflict.

Here are some examples of inappropriate listening or answering:

* Some people respond only by saying what they disagree with, making them quite disagreeable. Ignoring what others say, dismissing it, shifting easily to another conversation.

* Blurting, bluntly speaking without mincing our words, is a specific kind of spontaneous speech that has negative repercussions. Some spontaneous speech is positive, like an unexpected compliment or humorous statement. But blurting represents a remark made in haste we wish we could take back. Blurting most often refers to angry remarks. Blurting also includes inappropriate witticisms or jokes.

* Chronic protagonists. Some people tend to bring the conversation back to him/herself. What you say just invites this person to talk about himself. If you mention that one of your children has been ill, the response might be: I was sick yesterday too. This response could be fine if it’s followed up with: What are your child’s symptoms? The problem comes when every conversation ends up being all about me; a sign of narcissism.

* Others act like a goalkeeper: They are always ready to say no or but... Instead of listening to learn, this is listening to negate. Their implicit and permanent message is: You are wrong; I am right; you only know a little part of the truth.

Uttering words sometimes gives us the illusion of confidence, or of being in command. Some leaders and some religious superiors see themselves as the expert in the room, who has to give answers, but that interferes with our communication, creating a gap. We need to be able to put aside our individuality, if we want to meet the other, especially the younger ones. The glass has to be empty, if you want to pour in some new wine.

When Jesus was 12 years old and remained in Jerusalem, His Mother said: My child, why have you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been looking for you. And the reply of Jesus was apparently confusing: Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Yet, no further words were exchanged, but Mary stored up all these things in her heart. Joseph did not say anything in that moment.

When you meet a man/woman of God, you recognize that it was his or her silence and gaze that hooked you rather than his or her spoken words; a silence that took you in, that made you feel welcomed, understood, accepted without judgment. Not because of the person’s words, but because of the silence, the deep listening, were you able to have insights into your own life, and to give new meaning to your own experience. This happened between Jesus and his parents and this is why He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.

Similarly, Saint Joseph’s silence enabled him to listen to the voice of God through his dreams and gave a chance to Mary to treasure, meditate and ponder the will of God before putting it into practice.

The Christian way of listening can be compared to how the dog licked the sores in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. (Lk 16: 19-31). No one was willing to step into Lazarus’ world except the dog. Lazarus’ sufferings made all of us too shameful to face. It quietly listened to Lazarus’ grievances. Just like licking its own sores, it licked Lazarus’ sores. It saw Lazarus and stayed, just to compensate for his abandonment, to make him feel something more than rejection before he left this world. The feeling of acceptance and respect allowed Lazarus to view himself from a new angle, and this new perspective on life let him see Abraham.

The Feast of the Holy Family has a special relevance today. Nearly a century ago, Pope Pius XII wrote:

The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends and to seek a foreign soil.

A final remark: Marriage is an invitation to share in the fullness of God’s love in a very real way. Sharing in the love of God entails therefore that a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one body; this is why is called a sacrament.

Your brother in the sacred hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Luis Casasús

General Superior