A few years ago, I was in Philadelphia during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States during World Meeting of Families (kind of like World Youth Day for families!) At an evening prayer vigil, before a multitude of pilgrims gathered from across the globe, our Holy Father said one little phrase that I hope I never forget: God chose to enter into our world through a family.
That may sound like basic Christmas 101, but in fact it’s revolutionary! God could have entered our world any way He wanted. He could have descended from the heavens amid trumpet blasts. He could have been born into a palace as a powerful monarch. He could have entered our world as a scholar in an academy. Fast forward a few centuries and God could have been engineered by top scientists or manufactured in a high-tech factory.
And yet, God did not enter the human scene through any of these means. Instead, the little family of Mary and Joseph in the modest town of Nazareth is the path by which God chose to enter our world. What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about our own families?
Family is not accidental. God inscribed family into our humanity since the very first moments of creation. God is a Trinity of Love, and He creates us to be like Himself: “Let us create humankind in our own image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26-27). And so the divine family of the Holy Trinity creates humankind to be like God: a communion of love that gives life! Just as the divine love shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the source of life for everything that exists, so too God calls human love to be a source of life: “Be fruitful and multiply!” (Genesis 1:28)
Indeed, God creates us to live together. He does not create us as isolated individuals: He brings each of us into the world through our parents. Whether our experiences of family are good or bad, our families are a deep and irreplaceable part of who we are. We need only look at how deeply an orphan’s life is marked and affected by the absence of his or her parents to see how crucial family is for all of us. How do we see ourselves as members of our own families? What importance does family have in our lives, in accordance with God’s plan for us?
Family is the first place where we receive love and learn how to love in return. Family is a school of love where we are called to love unconditionally. We do not choose our family, but we grow by the love we give and receive in our families. In families, we learn to forgive, we learn to get along, we learn to cherish one another, we learn to love selflessly and gratuitously without counting the cost. Family is a little icon of the Trinity where God comes to dwell in the love we have for one another.
This year, as we celebrate God’s birth in a human family at Christmas, so many of us are far from our family and loved ones. We feel the pain of distance. Some of us suffer loneliness. How can we see God present and alive in the bonds we have with those we love, no matter how close we may be at this time? How can we give thanks to God for the beautiful experiences of family that we have had throughout our lives and reach out to our family members by whatever means we can?
So often we can forget to see God in our families. We can think that God is far away because He doesn’t care about us or because our families are not perfect. But God cares for us as a tender, loving, forgiving Father. He does not wait for us to be perfect in order to be active and involved in our lives! If that were the case, God would be an absentee Father for all of humanity! Instead, God meets us where we’re at. He comes to give us His blessings and graces. But He also comes to bind our wounds, shed light in the darkness, and redeem what needs to be restored. How can you let God be more and more present and alive in your family? Where is God already at work and how can we better cooperate with His plan of love for each and everyone of us?
God came into the family of Mary and Joseph in order to bring His love to all of humanity. How can our families be places where Jesus dwells more and more, so that we can share God’s love with one another and the world?
Julian would be happy to hear from you, with any questions, insights, or suggestions you may have regarding this blog series. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julian Paparella is a theology student at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Rome. Born and raised in London, Ontario, he has worked in pastoral ministry in Montreal and Paris, especially with young people. Julian strives to communicate our faith in a way that resonates with everyday life, helping people to better experience God today. He is engaged to be married to Marion.