Family life gets a little messy at times. Did I say “a little”? Often families need only wait an hour or two for the next mind-boggling challenge to greet them!
I suspect that many families are reluctant to call themselves holy. Isn’t stress a little too tightly woven into their lives to coexist with holiness? However, Pope Francis certainly does not think family life and holiness are mismatched.
Holiness “is not about swooning in mystic rapture,” he observes in “Rejoice and Be Glad” (“Gaudete and Exsultate,”), his 2018 apostolic exhortation on holiness in today’s world. “Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others,” he said (Nos. 96, 141).
“God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships” in our lives (No. 6). That sounds like good news for families and many others.
Pope Francis likes “to contemplate the holiness present … in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families” (7).
Mary, Joseph and Jesus were a family, and they were holy. But they were not one to the exclusion of the other.
When the church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family during the Christmas season this year, we hear in Luke’s Gospel of the profound anxiety Mary and Joseph experienced when they discovered while returning home from Jerusalem after Passover that the 12-year-old Jesus was not in their caravan, as they thought he was.
Returning to Jerusalem, they located Jesus in the Temple after three days. He thought he ought to be there, he said. But upon finding him, Mary exclaimed:
“Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Lk 2:48).
“Anxiety”? Sounds to me like a real parent talking.
Apparently, a focus on holiness need not point away from our actual lives’ predicaments and emotions. The Scripture readings on the feast of the Holy Family underscore family-life virtues and realities.
What is a family or a home? The American poet Robert Frost famously wrote in “The Death of the Hired Man” that a home is “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
That phrase, repeated so often, accents the sense of belonging attached to a home, the sense that one cannot become a stranger there.
Creating such a home isn’t easy. It isn’t impossible either, Pope Francis thinks.
His apostolic exhortation expresses concern that lifestyles nowadays often tend “to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others” (No. 146). Wouldn’t this tendency block from view many of the ways holiness and family life intertwine?
Pope Francis affirms that “God is mysteriously present in the life of every person.” So “we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life” (No. 42).
Accomplishing this in a family may prove more than a little difficult, especially when a family member experiencing a tough time seems always to be inwardly unreachable.
Will holiness then call for remaining on the outlook for signs that God is at work in this person? Might it call for peacemaking efforts too? “Building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill,” the pope comments (No. 89).
Be aware, too, that holiness does not demand “putting on a dreary face.” He writes, “The saints are joyful and full of good humor.” And “though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit” (No. 122).
“The common life, whether in the family” or another community, “is made up of small everyday things. This was true of the holy community formed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Pope Francis writes (No. 143).
He adds, “Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details” (No. 144). For, “a community that cherishes the little details of love … is a place where the risen Lord is present” (No. 145).
Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.