When speaking of saints Thomas Merton reminds us that all you have to do to become a saint is to want to be one. Being a saint is simply to become the best version of who you already are. And I can think of no better image for a Holy Family.
But are we always that best version? No and we’ll fail miserably at that from time to time. We’ll be grumpy and short tempered sometimes. We’ll be impatient with spouses and children and pets. We’ll fall short of both obligations and expectations. We’ll even hurt those closest to us.
I tend to have a lot of patience for many people. I work with college students and am a spiritual director for many people. Patience is part of the gig. But why then, do I have so little patience at home? I get quick tempered with my wife some days, feeling irritated at every little thing she asks. I can’t stand the randomness of the dog barking. Some days I wonder what I’d do with a crying baby , if I had one…and for those of you with children, I can understand how sleep deprived and cranky you can become.
Ok, but while we can understand these frustrations, they are not just peachy keen either! They are far from the best version of ourselves. They make us a less “Wholly” Family and cause divisions and harm. So we have to do something about this.
The first thing I find that recently has been helpful to me is the opportunity to find some time for quiet. Even just 15 minutes. I drive my wife to work in the morning and then have some time to come back home and eat and cultivate that habit of silent prayer time. The house is silent and the dog is usually curled up and asleep. I can do my examen over a bowl of oatmeal and fruit, actually chewing an appropriate amount instead of gobbling something down in a rush. I might even have more time to just sit and be. I end up relaxed and able to give those frustrations to God and make it easier for me to be patient throughout the day.
When I don’t have formal time to do this, I need to do the mini-version. In the car, in my office, walking on campus, wherever I can steal a few seconds for an aspirant prayer for God to give me strength and patience.
The upside of all of this is that it’s contagious. I find that calm and patient people often attract the same. Parents especially will notice that the calmer they appear, the calmer their children are, even in an emergency. Both my mom and dad were great at this in my younger years. I came home after having the point end of a football punted into my eye one afternoon in a schoolyard touch football game and even though it looked horrendous and I needed to be hospitalized, my parents stayed calm. My mom said things like “Oh it doesn’t look that bad, come sit over here and dad will come and take you to the doctor.” I never got that scared about it and I very nearly could have lost my sight in that eye.
And Jesus himself serves as the model for this for us in the Gospel. Mary and Joseph are like us, frantically searching for Jesus in the caravan. (Ever lose a kid in a mall?). When they find Jesus, he calmly says to them, “Didn’t you know that I would be in my father’s house?” But then Jesus also becomes obedient to Mary and Joseph. There’s the realization of human weakness by God. And in that we see calmness pervade this Holy Family, so much so that the gospel writers don’t even write anything of note about them throughout Jesus’ childhood.
Perhaps Jesus can have that same calming effect on us? And maybe that’s why we come here. Like Hannah in our first reading, can we be overwhelmed with gratitude for our families that we come to this place to give that thanks to God? And for those of us who may have experienced family life that hasn’t always been good, can we come here in search of healing, forgiveness, a calmness in our storm?
Yesterday, we laid to rest a parishioner, named Viola, Vi for short. Vi sang in our choir and she always had this serenity about her, even in the midst of chaos. She worked with many people in harm’s way as a social worker, prisoners, troubled teens, mentally ill folks and became the calm in the storm for them. But she really loved being that calming influence on her family and they appreciated that about her. In that calmness was a vitality of life that was given to others and helped them all become the best person they can be.
Can we all learn from her example? Maybe we can’t be the one who is ultra-calm all the time, but can we look to others for that serenity and can it help us become better people? Can we look to Jesus and take those moments of peace when we need it each day? And in a world where we often see chaos and distress, can we believe that God can offer us everlasting peace no matter how chaotic things might become?
If we can do that, we might just be a Holy Family. And that might be enough to unite all of us to one another….and to God.