I was born and raised as the first of four children in a typical American home in North Jersey. I don’t know much at all about what we call the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – I think it’s true to say that nobody does. What we say about that family is largely conjecture drawn from the little that we know about them from their later and last years. But I do know a lot from the imperfect home of my origin. What I learned and experienced there has offered me insight into what Jesus and Mary and Joseph very likely were to each other.
The one incident that always comes first to my mind occurred when I was 16 years old, a car-crazy kid who couldn’t wait to drive. On a Sunday afternoon, I took my father’s car on a brief jaunt, no matter that I was unlicensed. I struck another vehicle, badly injuring the elderly woman in the front passenger seat. We drove our cars to my home, no police having been around to take over. With the very kind Jewish stranger who had been driving the damaged car my father quietly settled the financial issues involved. He said not a word to me – no scolding, no anger or humiliation, no punishment, no threats. Never a word from that afternoon until the day he died 23 years later.
To understand what this has meant to me, you have to know that my father was a lifelong alcoholic, whose disease never came under management or control. My now-deceased sister said to me a few years ago, “When you consider all the pain and suffering we endured with Dad’s curse and Mother’s reaction to it, don’t you think that it was love that pulled us through and saved us?” She said, “I mean the love they had for one another, the love they had for each of us children, despite the hell that we were all going though.”
Of course she was right. What else could it have been?
Who knows what personal problems the Holy Family might have struggled with? We have at least a couple of hints in the Gospels that there were times of stress, worry, confusion. One was when Jesus as a pre-teenager was lost for three days in Jerusalem, where his parents feared he may have been kidnapped and sold into some kind of slavery. I know that my mother could never have survived those days had that happened to her child. The panic would have killed her. And then there was the advice given to Mary and Joseph later on when Jesus was becoming known as an increasingly popular and challenging, though unorthodox, preacher: “Why don’t you consider putting him away? Don’t you realize that he’s crazy?”
What was conversation like at their table? It could not have been all pious sweetness and light. There was too much going on in their lives that could not be ignored.
I cannot imagine that his boyhood indiscretion was the subject of parental nagging for the rest of his life, or even that it was ever mentioned except possibly in the context of love. They might have said now & then, for example, how his reunion with them that day was one of the greatest joys of their lives. However Mary and Joseph handled the incident, and perhaps a few others like it, they must have done it in such a way that Jesus was encouraged to think over the decisions of his young life and to develop gradually into the secure, self-possessed, clear thinking, highly motivated human being that he became.
We all need such compassionate acceptance, and we are all capable of giving it. Now that our Christmas gifts have been unwrapped, and some of them successfully exchanged for the right size and color, let’s resolve to give one more: the gift of allowing everyone in our lives to be the best they can be, to accept their flaws as fully as we welcome their virtues, to hope that we’ll get the same charity from others (especially from those persons who know us best!), and to enjoy the greater peace that this will bring to all.