Holy Family – Wholeness in Families

I celebrated Mass in Kilmovee this morning on the Feast of The Holy Family.  Sharing here the words used …

A good number of years ago there was a video produced that was meant to accompany a Sacramental Preparation Programme for First Confession and First Holy Communion.  I remember one bit of it in particular – a story told by an actor.  I can see his face but cannot remember his name.  He told the story well.

It was a story about a family – father, mother and son.  The grandfather came to live with them.  He was old and feeble.  His hands were shaky.  When he’d sit at table with the family during meals, quite often he spilt or splattered his food.  This used to annoy his son and daughter-in-law a lot and they’d correct him for it.  One evening, when eating his dinner, the old man’s hands shook more than usual and he knocked the plate over onto his lap.  The food spilt and much of it ended up on the floor.  This was too much for the family so they took him from the table and put him sitting in the corner.  They got a wooden bowl and tipped his food into it.  From then on, that’s where the old man sat and ate while the others sat at table.

One evening when it was dinner time, the old man was in the corner and the parents at the table but their son was not in the house.  They called for him to come to table but there was no response.  They went outside to look for him and found him in his father’s shed.  He was on the ground with little bits of timber gathered around him.  “What are you doing?” his mother asked, “it’s time for dinner, we’ve been calling you.  Did you not hear us?  What are you doing there”.  The little boy looked up at them, holding two bits of timber together and said; “I’m making a bowl to feed you and daddy out of when you get old”.

Silenced, they returned to the house, brought the old man from the corner, placed his food on a plate and, from that day on, they ate as family.

It was a stark story and maybe it’s that starkness that stayed with me.  There was something being said about example in the home and acceptance, in the family, of successes and failures, weaknesses and strengths.

I remember receiving a phone call from my mother about eight years ago.  It was very early on a Friday morning – maybe three or four o’clock.  She told me that she and my father were in Dublin, that they had just collected new cars and were on the Naas Road on their way home “Daddy”, she said “is following me”. (She often called my father “daddy”).  I wished her a safe journey.  On that particular Friday morning, my mother was in hospital in Sligo and had been there for a few days.  I left down the phone, saddened and frustrated that she was so confused.  Maybe angry too, that her confusion had woken me.  Certainly it took me a long time to get back to sleep.  I understood what had happened but didn’t understand or accept the confusion behind it.

Later that day, as I celebrated Evening Mass in the Cathedral, my mind went blank.  I could not, if my life depended on it, remember what I had just said.  I looked to the congregation and they looked at me.  I’ve no idea how long that gaze lasted but eventually I looked at a woman near the front and said “What did I just say?”  She told me and I picked up the line and continued.  People laughed, maybe thinking I was joking but I had absolutely no idea where I was in the Mass.  As I took off my vestments in the sacristy, I thought to myself that’s how my mother felt this morning.  I realised, maybe for the first time ever, how easily the mind can play tricks on us and throw us into confusion and uncertainty.  I never saw her confusion the same again.  Maybe I needed that moment to open my mind, eyes and heart to her reality.

You see, I think that’s what this Feast Day is about.  It’s something to do with drawing strength from one another and being there for one another.  Families are the best support we have but they can be places of tension too.  Tensions uninvited, weave their way into the home and family and can cause terrible distress.  I believe the Holy Family is calling us to rise, whenever and wherever possible, above these tensions – even if that means accepting them, so that we can make the most of life for others and for ourselves.

Stick with one another.  Maybe there are sons or daughters going through a “phase” where there’s little, if any, communication going on.  It might be difficulty between a couple or trying to cope with sickness, old age or infirmity.  Try to be there with and for each other as much as possible.  Pray with and for each other.  Fr. Peyton (The Rosary Priest) used to say “The family that prays together, stays together”.  He wasn’t wrong.

Finally, let us put our trust in the Holy Family and look to them for inspiration and direction.  May we rejoice with them, wonder with them and always seek to be guided by them.

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