On this First Sunday of the Christmas Season every year, the Church invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph. It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the quality and nature of what it means to be part of a family for ourselves. Our first reading today, from Sirach, addresses some of the many relationships that are implied in the simple idea of “family.” Some of us might find ourselves reflecting on family from the perspective of being a spouse or a parent. Others might find themselves reflecting on what it means to be a child, either as an adult with aging parents or as a young person experiencing no small frustrations from time to time as we navigate our way through life under the watchful eyes and care of those who love us and look out for us. Some of us will find ourselves considering family from the perspective of being a sibling, or an aunt or an uncle, a grandparent, or even a great-grandparent. Some of us consider our families from multiple different perspectives. How we experience family and how we live into the reality of family in our lives is certainly shaped by the perspectives we hold.
Beyond the ties of blood and kin, there are also families of our own intentional choosing that may be the focus of our reflection. I know of a group of veterans who gather together for the major holidays throughout the year because they have chosen to be family for one another, who would otherwise be alone in the world. Groups of students far from home form intentional bonds of fraternity and support. Akin to this, among priests there is a bond that holds us in relationship with one another, born of common experiences across generations and cultures. Some of us gather with and form deep ties with people with whom we share a common cultural or geographical bond. Clusters of Irish, Nigerians, Indonesians, Salvadoreans, Koreans, etc., find themselves drawn into relationships born of being so far from their own home, and recognizing that while we have made new homes, our old ones continue to be precious to us. Many of us find ourselves part of intentional communities - families of our own choosing - as well as being part of families of kinship.
In the letter to the Colossians today, Paul reminds us that we are bound to one another as a family of faith, and that the priority, or guiding principle of our shared life, is our discipleship of Jesus. Paul usually writes about ideals when the communities he has nurtured have displayed themselves as falling far short of both his (Paul’s) expectations, and of their own expectations. Nonetheless, Paul exhorts the family of believers to rely on the faithfulness of God in Christ Jesus and to endeavor over and over again to model our lives on the life of our Lord and Savior.
When I consider the family of faith that we are here at Lourdes, I confess I find myself moving between delight and joy and anticipation and hope. I always keep an eye to what our family might be and is becoming, but I am also very mindful of who we are and how we are with and for one another as a family of faith. We, all of us, choose to be here. We choose to gather in this place rather than in another place. We choose to gather with this people, rather than with another people. Those who have made Lourdes their spiritual home, are also choosing to be part of our spiritual family. Perhaps we might want to take some time in our reflections to consider what it means to be part of a family, to really consider why it is that we make our spiritual home here at Our Lady of Lourdes in Northridge? I imagine, that like most family relationships, we don’t give too much thought to our Lourdes family and what it means to be part of it. We are as likely to take our parish family for granted as we are to take members of our actual and chosen families for granted. But what does it mean to choose to be part of Lourdes? What is it that I am choosing to be a part of? What are the benefits I enjoy from being part of this particular family of faith? What are the responsibilities I adopt in choosing to be part of this family of faith? How well do I do my part for the smooth living of our family life as a community? How inclined am I to let other members of the family carry my load?
Speaking about every aspect of the life of our parish family in a brief column is not realistic. I confess that as the Shepherd, or “spiritual father” of the community, I do struggle with the sin of pride as I see people going about their business living as faithful disciples of Jesus and showing it in how they get involved and make a difference in and for the parish and the community at large. I have to observe that this past year saw us turn a page into a whole new chapter of growth and exciting life here at Lourdes. In September, after more than three years of preparation, we added a Spanish-language mass at 1:30 on Sundays. The whole parish family is benefitting from this initiative, and our Spanish-speaking families are thoroughly enjoying praying among us in the language with which they were first introduced to God.
There are so many opportunities for participation, and people who take advantage of them, here at Lourdes, that I can honestly say I never cease to keep you all in my prayers before God. As the “father” of this “family,” I confess my pride, and as a proud father, I have no shame in admitting that I still want so much more for the family as it continues to grow and to develop, becoming all that God wants for us, as a family of faith. May God who has begun such amazing work among us, continues to bless us, and see this work through to its fulfilment.