Over the years I have heard mothers and fathers say the same thing, that nothing or no one can really prepare you for being a mother or a father. I think what is meant by that is that it is such a demanding thing, such an absorbing thing and such an all consuming thing – it takes all your time, all your energies and all your abilities. I think also that it is a thing which is learnt on the job, people might give you all sorts of advice, but really it is in the middle of doing it you find a way of doing it.
But as well as being the most demanding thing it is also the most rewarding thing. The toughest and most hard-hearted of people become starry eyed when it comes to their children. Just this last week during the nativity plays in our schools it was easy to see parents hearts swelling with pride as the see their children shuffle onto the stage as a sheep, or deliver a single line, or sing a song. They children have been receiving an oscar, so proud were there parents of them.
Today at Mass we hear of 2 individuals preparing to become parents – Mary and Joseph. We can see it doesn’t really get off to a good start. Mary is with child and they are not even married yet. It is all about to be called off until Joseph receives a message in a dream. When he wakes up, the story tells us that he takes Mary to his home as his wife.
Everything about the birth of Christ is precarious, it is on a knife’s edge, it could go one way or another. Mary is not married and is with child, they have to take a long and perilous journey to where the child is to be born, he will be homeless, he will be hunted down and he will live in exile. You cannot help but say it is exactly that, precarious.
We can say that these prospective parents are not going to have it easy. But there is something that we know about them, that they are more than up to the task. It will not matter that they have to travel a distance to have this child, nor will it matter where he is born, they will do everything to protect and look after this child – Herod will not kill this child and no dangers of exile or being a migrant will harm this child, because they are there to protect, safeguard and look after this child.
God chooses well when he chooses Mary and Joseph. Like any parent they will bring this child up well. But we can imagine that there is in them virtue beyond virtue, grace beyond grace, kindness beyond kindness in them. They embody the best of what the human race can offer this child. In that quietness of their home, in the hiddenness of their family life at Nazareth there burns a fire which every family would long to have, the quality of that pure love.
If it is true that we are created to love, then the love of a family surely has a special place in God’s plan. Here is a place to be loved and here is place to learn to love.
It’s not easy to be a mother and father. Lest you think that Mary and Joseph have it easy, think again about the story of their lives. They are not like a royal family with servants to do their bidding, protected and sheltered from the cold winds. They know the dangers, the troubles, the worries of bringing a child into the world more than most. They know homelessness, hunger, violence and despair. This is the shadow that is cast over many families in the world live and barely survive.
When we think of Mary and Joseph we think of their guiding hand, their wise words, their prudent judgments, their ability to laugh and cry, their prayer and their great faith and love of God – these were things that the eyes of Jesus saw and learned from.
Everyone could be a parent in life but the real thing is to be a good parent. The great worry that many parents have is that they are not a good parent – lives are so busy and the demands are so great, people are pulled this way and that. But I think it has ever been thus. ~Ask Mary and Joseph to teach you to be good parents and to make and model your family on their family.
I was much taken by watching the nativity plays at the school this year. The story is so familiar to us, the songs and words we know. But it is as if what lies behind the telling of this story is the desire always to place it at the centre of our lives.
There it was children, parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles, teachers and priests, putting this story at the centre of our schools life, our families life and our parish’s life. Is that not what the feast is about.