The Holy Family - Christmas 2015

‘Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you.’


This very special feast, following immediately after Christmas, firmly concentrates our minds on the real humanity of Jesus and the life of that human family of which he was part, Jesus, Mary and Joseph –the Holy Family, a source of inspiration  for all family life and the affirmation of the importance of family life not just for  the Christian Church but for Society as a whole.  The contemplation of the Holy Family as we look towards the Crib may indeed be a source of inspiration, however  that contemplation has to be grounded in reality, the very real problems facing families today, all those things that threaten family life as we have come to understand it from our study of the scriptures along with 2,000 years of teaching and tradition, and those other more material realities, family poverty and homelessness, realities that we thought we had seen the last of with the creation of the welfare state, child poverty in increasing rather than diminishing, and more families than ever in the UK have to rely on food banks; as many of us sat our bloated bodies down in front of the TV, after the usual festive meal 1in 4 families did not have a Christmas dinner at all !

May be talking about the Family on this special feast day is something best avoided, the picture before us one that is too pious, painting as it does a scene of perfect peace and harmony; even if it was shared with the animals in a stable, all is calm, the gentleness of the Holy Mother and dear old Joseph looking on and marvelling at the beautiful son his spouse has given birth to!

The celebration of Christmas for  quite a few families will have been far  from the idyllic portrayal of family life we like to conjure up at this special, what we call ’family time’. Indeed for some, family life is rubbish, ’pants’, I think is the in word, all Christmas does is open up festering sores and let out some of those o so petty resentments, especially when fuelled by an excess of alcohol!

And yet the birth of this baby Jesus, any baby in fact, is a sign of hope, a stake in the future, a looking forward—the opportunity for reconciliation, of putting things right, burying the hatchet—perhaps before the season is over there is someone we need to make our peace with, [we might even need to make our peace with God, the celebration of the birth of OUR SAVIOUR a reminder that we still haven't availed ourselves of the sacrament of reconciliation, Confession! ]

During the coming months, in this Year of Mercy, we will be returning to the theme of the Family time and again—Family life is at the very heart of the Christian life, the family of the Church and our individual families, where we live out our faith as expressed in what the Church teaches us are family values, those values which tell us how we should behave and how we should treat each other.

How different is the world we now live in from the one many of us grew up in, yet Christmas is still a time for Family even if somehow the old feelings we used to experience are not quite the same! How times change reflected in the Christmas message of one media savvy Bishop (the Bishop of Leeds) who urges us to

rediscover the true meaning of Christmas,  not by coming to worship the Christ Child slumbering  in his  crib, not in our exchange of gifts or even sharing a festive meal together either, no he says rediscover the ‘true meaning of Christmas by watching TV together’. Goodness what surprise, can you remember, those of you who grew up after television was invented, when all you wanted to do was watch the television, blow the relatives; the days when even  the ‘Sound of Music’ was new !Remember the cry of the old ones- Switch that television off—its Christmas!

Well says the Bishop of Leeds the message of peace and goodwill is just as easily honoured by watching our TV screens, whether one is watching a carol service from a distance or viewing the latest relationship catastrophe in East Enders, the telly still has the power to bring us together. As the Bishop says ‘far from distracting us from the true meaning of the festival, watching television helps bring families together—a shared experience like that of the shepherds or Magi - I think that is stretching it a bit far, not everyone shared the same enthusiasm as the characters of the Nativity who together worshipped the Christ Child; it’s not quite the same, the family settling down in front of the tele for ‘Downton Abbey’ or  ‘Call the Midwife’, maybe we ought to seek the views of those wonderful people on ‘Goggle Box’!

 However the Bishop  may have hit the nail on the head when he says, ‘in an age where people live surrounded by mobile phones and tablets (he doesn’t mean pills) the simple act of joining with others to watch the same screen can itself help restore people’s relationships’, adding that ‘in a world where everyone under 40 has to be surgically removed from their mobile , the screen on the wall or in the corner still has the power to get people to sit together and watch together.’ Yes ‘in a world of instant news, multi– platform viewing, privatised experience and customised catch up, let’s hear it for the telly at Christmas.

 As one of BCC’s screen writers (East Enders)  concluded in the Radio Times, the telly still has the power to bring us together and give us the perfect excuse to ditch our personal devices and enjoy a digital detox– enthusiastically declaring ’live for the Now with the people who are with you’ .. ’for all those lucky enough to have someone with whom to share the remote this Christmas, put down your mobile phone.. And live in the moment– you may be surprised!’

You know reading all this on my i-pad before Christmas, (for I have a News app that I can view at any hour of the night). I felt a kind of nostalgic warm glow coming over me, why not put on that ‘onesy’ and snuggle up with the grandchildren on the sofa and watch tele together, a bit of a wishful thinking on my part I suppose, but I think the Bishop does have a point , certainly his message makes one think—look at the state of our families today, what’s happened to family life, the instability many families face through break down and break up, What is the Church saying about it, what should she be saying about it in a secularising Society which would rather we keep our beliefs to ourselves  - Yes the Holy Family has much to teach us, not a remembrance of times past, but our hope and inspiration for the future.!!!!!