Archbishop Eamon Martin has acknowledged that this Christmas has been a sad and difficult time for many families who have been separated from their loved ones by the coronavirus and the associated public health restrictions. The archbishop was speaking as he celebrated the Feast of the Holy Family in St. Patrick’s Church in Pennyburn on Sunday.

He said, “Someone said to me the other day “sure isn’t Christmas all about family?”  But we are all conscious that this year, with the restrictions, there has been much sadness and disappointment in many families that loved ones have been unable to travel home.  Many of the usual family “get-togethers”, customs and visits have been curtailed or disrupted completely, or gone virtual, or simply treasured and stored away again in the memory until next year, please God.

“At the heart of the Christmas season the Church has placed today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Of course all three have their own individual special days throughout the year in the Church’s calendar, but today they are placed together – in their “bubble” (so to speak) – so that we can think of them as a unit, a household of love.”

The archbishop went on to share some of the history of the Feast of the Holy Family. He said, “Today’s feast is not that old in the Church’s history – it will be a hundred years next year, 2021, since Pope Benedict XV declared it as a feast for the Universal Church.  But devotion to the Holy Family of Nazareth goes back centuries and the Coptic Christians in Egypt can trace it back to the earliest days of Christianity – probably because it was to Egypt that the Holy Family fled, like refugees, from the threats of King Herod.

“In the prayers at Mass today we are encouraged to make the Holy Family of Nazareth a model and an inspiration for our family.  Not the easiest thing to do, I suppose, for we know so little about what the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was like.  Apart from the Christmas stories we get only fleeting glimpses in the Gospels – like today’s Gospel story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, or the one about the time the Holy Family went up to Jerusalem when He was twelve years old.  Otherwise we have to rely on our religious imagination to fill in the gaps.”

Reflecting on the lives of the Holy Family, the archbishop said we have to be careful about bubble-wraooing them. He said, “No doubt, like ourselves, they had family routines, customs, favourite pastimes – I wonder what their home looked like? Sometimes the Holy Family has been presented in devotional literature as an idyllic, heavenly, picture of perfection.

“No doubt the Holy Family was unimaginably special!  But to speak realistically of the Holy Family as our model, inspiration and guide, we have to be careful about “bubble-wrapping” them completely – we need to know that they experienced not only the joys and happiness of being together as a family, but also some of the struggles, “ups and downs” and painful daily realities that ordinary families have to live with and through.

“Clearly the Holy Family’s experience of fleeing into Egypt for fear of their lives must have helped Jesus, Mary and Joseph to build a shared resilience and inner strength as a family; there is also no doubt that Mary and Joseph must have had to draw on deep faith, courage, and trust in God to cope with the many unanswered prophecies, puzzles and questions surrounding Jesus – first as an infant, later as a child, and then as a young man beginning to grasp God’s plan for His life.  No wonder, as the Gospel puts it, Mary found herself “pondering all these things in her heart”.  Perhaps one of the key inspirations that emerges from the life of the Holy Family is the need for serenity in modern families – as the prayer of that name puts it: “…Serenity accept the things we cannot change; Courage to change the things we can; And, Wisdom to know the difference”. Those three gifts of serenity, courage and wisdom are much needed in our families this Christmas – jostled as we are with the ongoing Covid19 crisis.”

Concluding his homily Archbishop Eamon said, “Our families share uncertainty about the future, weariness with the ongoing restrictions, confusion of changing messages, nervousness – fear even – with talk of new waves and new variants of the virus.  Sadly since the beginning of the pandemic many families among us have had to carry heavy crosses of separation, sickness, grief and loss, worries about employment and finances, or simply missing those comforting family rituals of being together, visiting, and being close and present to each other in the normal way.

“At Christmas time, especially, families of faith can find consolation, good news, hope and promise in the wonder of the Christ-child, born into a human family, to be our Saviour.  Faith with wisdom, courage, trust and serenity guides our journey as families through uncertainty and the unknown.  Just as a loving parent takes the hand of their frightened child, so we firmly grasp the hand of Him who has made us, Who redeemed us and saved us, and Who journeys with us every step of the way.”

ENDS