This Sunday the Church celebrated the feast of the Holy Family. This little family fulfilled perfectly what God intended a family to be from the very beginning, a community on earth that was completely filled with God’s love.
I strongly believe that, of all the things that families do, sharing love is the most important. Our own families are less than perfect, but they can still communicate acceptance and love. Some families, however, do fail very badly in communicating love and acceptance, which causes some of the deepest and most painful wounds that people carry. This is the essence of a broken or dysfunctional family – a family that does not know how to love. This dysfunction comes directly from the parents, because the mother and father need to be the first ones to love and to teach their children how to love. Many parents have never learned to love, or never had a very great capacity for love, and the lack of love causes a deep wound. This wound remains even if people have learned to work around it, and it limits our own capacity for love.
For everyone who carries wounds from their childhood, it is very helpful to realize that no family is perfect. Every person has had things from their childhood to deal with, to forgive, and to overcome. No parents, even the best, are able to love in a way that is pure and completely unselfish. The Good News of the Gospel is that the love we long for comes to us from God, through Jesus Christ who is born in Bethlehem. Healing from the hurts and sufferings in the past begins with recognizing that we are loved by God, that God loved us even before our parents did, and that God wanted us to exist even when our parents were not so accepting. The Bible, our own experience, and the witness of the saints can help us to see God’s love and to accept it.
An important part of accepting God’s love is forgiving our parents for the times they hurt us, and for the fact that they did not love us more than they did. Forgiveness does not mean that we need to tell them about the times they hurt us, or write something in a letter, although sometimes that is helpful. Forgiveness is really between us and God; letting go of the right to be angry over how we were treated and asking God not to hold it against our parents. Forgiveness is so important because as we forgive our capacity for love grows and also changes. By forgiving we begin to love as God has loved us, and so our way of loving is no longer an imitation of our earthly parents but becomes an imitation of our Heavenly Father.
Sometimes it is hard to see and recognize God’s love. God knows this and so He has given us many visible examples of love. His own Son, Divine Love incarnate, is our clear example of how God loves. The holy mother of Jesus, Mary, radiates God’s love in a very motherly way. I am convinced that, after Jesus ascended into Heaven, she did not stop being a mother but instead adopted the infant Church and she became a mother to every Christian. Her love helps us to see what a mother’s love is meant to be. When it is truly a father’s love that we are lacking, St. Joseph is willing to adopt us as his children, just as he was the foster father for Jesus. Every year I appreciate more and more the beauty of this Holy Family, and ask for their help in learning how to love.