I think last Sunday I promised you at some point a part 2 of my family tree. What better day to give it to you on the feast of the Holy Family, when we are invited to think about the Holy Family but also our own families too.
For the past 40 years I have a brother who has been engaged on assembling our family tree in both sides. His interest, he says, is finding out how these two families came together, my father and mother’s families and he set himself the task of tracking their path, the road that they have taken. In many ways they are completely different families and yet at one point they cross and come together, now in our lives and in the family we are now. How, he asks, did that happen or come about?
As you can imagine there are some surprising things that come to light in that research, skeletons that come clattering out of the cupboard. My maternal grandfather joined the army at 14/15 although he said he was older. He fought in the World War but earlier had been a soldier in Afghanistan with the British army (the more things change, the more the stay the same). His father had been a policeman but died on a stakeout having spent a whole night in a waterlogged basement and caught pneumonia.
Both families stayed in the East end of Glasgow. Marriages very often end up being people in the same street or very often in the next close. There are lots of early deaths, especially of women and of course children.
At one stage a part of the family find themselves in an d out of the poor house and in the records the health of each child and adult is documented. There is. an individual who throws herself in the Clyde,. There is someone who has five different names, not just different spellings but 5 different names (I am not sure what that was about). There are some members of the family who are detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
What a strange thing it is to look at the different paths that a family takes. There are things that happen in family life that you never think it will survive, crushing poverty, death and illness, terrible misfortunes. Strange unexplained coincidences. There are people who stand out in family life who keep things together in ways that are simply heroic, they step up to the mark and rescue situations. There are people of simple and profound holiness and courage in their life that inspire others who are weak.
What we often find out is that family life is the place our life is built upon and around. For good or ill those first key relationships turn out to be the key relationships of all our lives – mother and father, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins. Our life can revolve round them.
Its true too that some of our best moments can be in family but some of our worst moments can be in family life. The greatest arguments, the greatest disappointments, the greatest hurt can take place in family life just as the most sublime moments of joy can take place in family life.
Sometimes family life can be our refuge from the problems of the world but sometimes it can also be a battlefield of conflicting views, rivalries and jealousies.
There is no such thing as the perfect family, if we think that then we are bound to be disappointed and to be ill advised about what family is meant to be. There is no family that doesn’t have problems and no family that has not had problems. There is no family that is perfectly secure in its relationships with one another. There is no family which has not hit the rocks.
If that family history which I mentioned to you says anything, it tracks the ups and downs of family life. How families misfire. How they stumble. How they are overtaken by great tragedies and yet survive.
We feel that there is always the hand of divine providence. That mysterious wind that fills the sails, that wind that once was an east wind and turns into a west wind and takes us in a direction we didn’t expect to be travelling. That wind that takes us away from the rocks and guides us to the wide seas.
That mysterious grace of God, that opens new doors when old doors close.
There are definitely challenges in family life. Couples trying to love each other, parents trying to care for children, children tring to love parents. Looking after the elderly or sick in family life. Surviving financially in difficult times. Growing expectations of what people expect from life. Changing ideas of what family life is. There are different models of what family is and that is ok too, still trying to be a family
But we will meet the challenges with the grace of God. That is what history tells us, families survive, perhaps bashed, cut, knocked about but they survive and becomes stronger.
The Holy Family survive despite everything that is thrown at them. They survive being refugees, homelessness, violence, living as exiles. That mysterious grace is in their life. Even more so with the son of God in their midst shines out.
The human family is an extra special place to meet God. We might wonder where he is but he is no further from us than in this group that we are assembled amongst and whom we number amongst. In the travails, in the joys and challenges of life God is right there with us. In the messiness, in the hurly burly of life, God is right there
That family tree that my brother has assembled runs into 5000 pages of information. In a moment of time, these two families who might have known each other from a distance come together. It is as if 2 roads come together. There is that interweaving of life in an out of each other. God is in that mysterious process that brings people together and bind them closely with one another because in it end it is all about the mystery of love.