This week, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As I ponder this celebration, I reflect on how much the concept of family has evolved over the years. In my grandparents’ generation, most Catholic families had more than five children. Some even had twelve or thirteen! In my parents’ generation, families had fewer and fewer children. Among my friends, most have two or three.
Moreover, as a result of divorce, remarriage, and adoption, many families today are what we call “blended.” Instead of resembling a Norman Rockwell painting where all is homogenous, today’s families may look like a poster for the United Nations. We can no longer only define “family” along bloodlines. A friend of mine described it like this after his father had died:
“John, remember the Gospel story where Jesus asks, ‘Who are my brothers and sisters and mother? Those who do the will of my father are brother and sister and mother to me.’ That’s how I feel. Family is not flesh and blood. My real family is my friends who are supporting me during my grief.”
I would venture to say that we can “create” our family. There is no “normal” family. The Gallup Poll version no longer exists (if it ever did). In fact, during the time of Christ, Jesus’ family was abnormal—most Middle Eastern families had many children, not just one. And if they had an only son, he would need to get married to carry on the family lineage. So you might say the Holy Family was going against conventional tradition.
As an only child whose parents are deceased, my family has become my parish. While I have several cousins with whom I am close, my extended family includes the staff of my parish and other friends who have invited me to become part of their families. I am very grateful to be a part of these other groups because they allow me to be me.
On this Feast of the Holy Family, we pray for the sanctity of family life. It does not matter whether we are a part of a traditional family structure or one that is more unconventional; all families should strive to treat one another with respect, love, and understanding. May each of us continue to take as our model the witness of the Holy Family, by seeing each person we encounter as Christ himself in disguise.