(from Dennis R. Clark's Sunday Morning Reflections)

Today we celebrate the feast of a family we've come to know as the "Holy" Family : that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and perhaps other children as the Scriptures suggest on more than one occasion. The celebration of a family invariably raises questions about what a family should be and should not be. How wholesome and realistic our ideas of "family" may vary greatly. That should make us take a closer look at today's Gospel to see if there are any clues as to how God intends families to work.

The fact is, there are clues! Today's Gospel tells us that after Joseph and Mary searched frantically for their lost Son and found him debating issues of religion in the Temple with the elders, Jesus went home with his parents and "progressed steadily in wisdom, age and grace." The key phrase here is "progressed steadily," which means he kept on getting better. It also means that on any given day Jesus wasn't as good, as wise, as well put together, as he would be later on. Jesus was, in other words, less than perfect! He made mistakes, like wandering away from his parents in Jerusalem, scaring them half to death. It also means he learned from his mistakes, though not always right away. How fast did Jesus learn things? Today's Gospel says he "progressed steadily" : not by leaps and bounds but steadily! It's not an exciting process, as all parents know.

But don't think that Jesus was the only one in this "holy" family who progressed one step at a time. Remember the Gospels tell us that Jesus was Mary's firstborn. That means that Mary & Joseph were first-time parents and made the common mistakes that all first-time parents make. They had to learn parenting skills by trial and error. There were no Dr. Benjamin Spock books or "Parenting for Dummies" books back then. All they had was the same learner's permit that all parents have: the permission to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them so they won't keep repeating those mistakes over and over.

Who grants these "learner's permits?" The family itself does, though not just any family. It must be a family with big enough hearts to look squarely at their own faults and admit them, while at the same time looking beyond these faults to understand the heart of a sister, a brother, a parent, a child, a spouse and realize that we're not finished products. We are still : each and everyone : works in progress.

Every family is a work in progress, unfinished and prone to faults and mistakes. But a real family admits these faults and tries to improve. When we do make progress, it is oftentimes at a snail's pace, not a greyhound's! We understand that family life is a process of growth in wisdom and grace, a growth frequently interrupted by setbacks: we proceed two steps forward, then one step back. Put bluntly, God intends us to be occasions of grace in each other's lives. Joseph, Mary and Jesus were themselves works in progress and they became graces in each other's lives, so today we call them "the Holy Family" and celebrate them. Their time together as family was cut short by life circumstances beyond their control. Our time together as family also is limited and passes far too quickly. Treasure your time. If we treasure it, we are more likely to die without regrets. Today we honor this Holy family, but we also honor and celebrate our own family and all the families we know. We have our learning permits. We make mistakes. God realizes this. God understands that we are works in progress, families under construction : your family, my family. God wants us to understand that too!

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