Dearest Sisters and Friends,
A very happy and peaceful Christmas to you and to your families! Once again we are celebrating God’s most unexpected and simple choice to come into the world as a baby and to grow up in a warm loving family.
Following the first part of the Synod on the Family in Rome, Pope Francis invites us to continue to reflect on family life today. The family is the first place where we learn about relationships, love and trust. Christmas is a time for families and often makes us more acutely aware of any sadness, loss or breakdown of relationships. No family is without its struggles and difficulties. There may be relationship worries, financial troubles, bereavement or some of the many other problems that confront family life today.
Jesus entered into our history. He shared our journey. He came to free us from darkness and to give us light. This is incarnation. Incarnation does not mean that God saves us from the pains of this life but that God-is-with-us. For the Christian, just as for everyone else, there are cold, lonely seasons, seasons of sickness and seasons of frustration. The Holy Family shares our burdens. Mary and Joseph were real, human parents, faced with the daily challenges and joys that being a parent brings.
The story of the Holy Family is the story of life not always turning out the way you expected. It is the story of a teenage girl with an unexpected pregnancy. It is the story of an anxious father, confronting scandal, planning on divorce. It is the story of a family forced to become refugees, living as immigrants in the land that once held their ancestors as slaves. It is the story of a missing child, and days of anxious searching by his parents.
We see the Holy Family on the sorrowful road to exile, seeking refuge in Egypt. Jesus, Mary and Joseph experienced the tragic fate of refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease (Matt.2). Almost every day millions of families can identify with this sad reality, fleeing war and other grave dangers in search of security and a dignified life for themselves. Jesus allowed himself to belong to a family that experienced these hardships so no one would feel excluded from the loving tenderness of God.
The Holy Family stands beside parents anxious about their children, worrying for their welfare. They walk with immigrants and refugees separated from those they love. They comfort teenage mothers and single parents. They console the prisoner, the outcast, the bullied, the scorned—and the parents who love them. They offer solace and compassion to any mother or father grieving over the loss of a child. Many times during the synod Pope Francis appealed to the Church to accompany the human family along the rocky path of mourning and tears, which is also the pilgrim path of faith, hope and love.
Let us be drawn into the simplicity of the life led by the Holy Family in Nazareth as shown in our choice of Christmas card this year. It is not the usual Christmas scene of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem but rather gives us a glimpse of his life as a young child in Nazareth. Murillo’s ‘Holy Family with a little Bird’ portrays Jesus’ family life with Mary and Joseph as one of harmony, serenity and intimacy. Joseph seems to have taken time out from his work to play with Jesus, while Mary looks on lovingly. They are absolutely at ease with one another and enjoying this moment together. The Child, in turn, is playing with a puppy and a little bird clutched in His hand. The scene certainly lends itself to many symbolic interpretations, but the heart of the painting lies in this dimension of daily life filled with feeling and affection. It is a picture of an ordinary and yet intimate family group, serene and loving as they enjoy a simple moment of togetherness. This glimpse of happy family life calls other families to become communities of love and reconciliation, in which tenderness, mutual support and mutual forgiveness is experienced. This is incarnation, God-with-us. What aspect of the Incarnation speaks to you through this scene?
For many of us Christmas is a time of giving and receiving gifts. The greatest gift is that God’s love became incarnate and Jesus was born and lived among us. He shared our human condition and chose life within it. He also gave us the gift of others to show us how to love and what it means to be loved. He called us to ‘build bridges of unity’ so that our world may continue to be a place of beauty and wonder and that all may be led in the way of peace and harmony. At Christmas let us pray especially for those in the war-torn areas of the world today that they too may be touched by the gift of peace offered to us through the birth of God-with-us.
This coming year is also the year dedicated to consecrated life. Pope Francis asksconsecrated men and women to ‘wake up the world’ with a testimony of faith, holiness and hope. He urges us to let our light shine and to give thanks in solidarity with our fellow Christians whose vocations are different and complementary, all together making up the Body of Christ. He prays that this year may be an occasion for bearing vigorous and joyful witness before the world to the holiness and vitality present in so many of those called to follow Jesus in the consecrated life. As we listen intently to what Jesus says to us through the many people who know us, love us, challenge us and walk with us, how is Jesus calling us to be witnesses within the world in the years to come?
In the heart of the family at Nazareth the child Jesus flourished and ‘grew in wisdom and grace’ (Lk.2). With Pope Francis, let us ask Jesus, Mary and Joseph to enlighten, comfort and guide every family so that they may fulfil with dignity and peace the noble mission that God has entrusted to them. This Christmas let us celebrate and thank God for our families, friends and the community of Infant Jesus sisters worldwide. We pray especially for those who find themselves in any kind of danger, suffering or hardship at this time.
Kimiko, Maria and Noreen join me in praying that the unconditional love of God, the Word made flesh, may touch each one of you anew this Christmas.
With love and blessings,
on behalf of Kimiko, Maria and Noreen.