Family is our most valuable gift
Of all the images associated with Christmas, the manger is the most significant.
This scene is so familiar to us that sometimes we forget that it was not as idyllic as it is so often portrayed.
Mary was in labour and Joseph was frantically looking for a place where she could give birth. The only place available to them was a barn filled with animals, manure, clutter, unpleasant odours and lots of straw. It was dirty, damp and cold.
All that it provided was some much needed privacy. When Jesus was born he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lovingly placed in a manger on a bed of straw by his mother Mary. Jesus was born in utter poverty in less than perfect surroundings.
Simple shepherds were the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus. An angel appeared and offered them “good news of great joy.”
They were invited to Bethlehem where they would experience a sign of great hope. They were not disappointed that the “good news” was simply a family. The reason is that they found something extraordinary in the ordinary. Is this not what we are called to do today?
Family life seems so familiar that we simply take it for granted; however, it needs to be nurtured and appreciated. The family is the basic unit of society and “as the family goes, so goes the nation” (Pope St. John Paul II).
We know that families today experience many struggles and challenges. The “messiness of life” can seem overpowering at times and families suffer. There is also greater confusion regarding the meaning of marriage and roles of mother and father. A sense of stability seems to be more elusive as marriage and family life become more fluid in a rapidly changing world. If the foundation is not solid then how can the structure stand? Family life is foundational to building a culture that is rooted in tolerance, justice and love. This is why it needs to be protected and strengthened.
As Christmas approaches I would like to make two simple suggestions.
All would agree that time is precious. Families need to spend time together, especially in our busy world. Something as simple as sharing a meal is very important. Studies have shown that eating together can help to build and strengthen bonds between family members. Unfortunately, these same studies indicate that fewer and fewer families are eating meals together. This Christmas season make an effort to share more family meals.
I am a firm believer in the power of prayer and I believe that a family that prays together stays together. Why not make an effort this Christmas to go to church as a family. Pray before the manger scene and ask the Holy Family to intercede for your family. Joseph, Mary and Jesus provide excellent role models for all fathers, mothers and children. This simple scene reminds us that the Holy Family can help families in difficult times because this is what they experienced.
May we take some time this Christmas to contemplate the extraordinary in the ordinary. The tradition at Christmas is to exchange gifts. What an incredible gift we have been given in the family. It is fragile and should always be handled with care because when it breaks the consequences are significant.
May struggling families be strengthened and wounded families receive healing. May we all grow in our appreciation of something we are all a part of — an extraordinary family. That is “good news of great joy.”
Published first under the title: BISHOP: Family is our most valuable gift. St. Catharines Standard, Friday, December 23, 2016