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The Holy Family, not the Perfect Family

On this Feast of the Holy Family, Bellator Society is delighted to share with you a beautiful homily reflection by Fr. Stephen Elser, friend of Bellator Society and son of Bellator Contributor, Angie Elser.  We are so thankful for their Holy Family.


Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, where we honor the fact that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, chose to enter into this world within the context of a family.

One of the things that has always stuck out to me about the Holy Family is the fact that we as the Church call them the “Holy” family, and not the “Perfect” family. If you think about it, they would be the ideal candidates to be the perfect family, right? Jesus and Mary have no sin (neither original sin nor personal sin), and St. Joseph is one of the greatest saints in our Church.

So why are they the Holy Family, and not the Perfect Family?

I think it’s because, even though their family was the closest to perfection as any human could get, they still had their own problems and hard times. For example, we hear in Matthew’s Gospel about how they had to flee to Egypt to escape from the threat of King Herod. Surely that wasn’t a “perfect” situation. If we look later on in the life of Mary, she had many sorrows she endured while accompanying Jesus in His earthly life. Surely, those weren’t perfect situations. And one of the best examples is the finding of Jesus in the temple. Surely, it wasn’t a perfect situation to forget about the child Jesus and leave Him behind in the temple.

Perhaps the most important reason for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to be called the “Holy Family” (and not the “Perfect Family”) is that the Holy Family can provide a true model for us in our own families. None of our families is perfect.

All families come in different shapes and sizes, and there is no way that any of our families can be perfect. However, our families can be holy, and the Holy Family can be a model for us as we strive for holiness in the family. Pope Francis comments on this very fact when he says,

“I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfill their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. [The Synod’s reflections show us that] there is no stereo-type of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems” (Amoris Laetitia 57).

In this way, we are called to have holy families, not necessarily perfect families. So how can we achieve this goal? How can our families become holier? I think we can turn to Pope Francis for the answer. In a Wednesday audience he gave in May 2015, he commented on three phrases that can help us to be better in our families.

First, there is “May I?”

Pope Francis tells us,

“Let us not forget that. Before doing anything in your family, ask: ‘Do you mind if I do this? Would you like me to do this?’ This way of asking is well-mannered indeed, but it is also full of love. This does so much good for families.”

In this way, it is important for us to play an active role in our families. To wait around for our family members to do things for us can make us prideful and lazy. I think it’s better for us to have a sense of service in our families so that the holiness of our families can increase (after all, Christ himself was a servant and we are to model ourselves after Christ).

Second, there is “Thank you.”

Pope Francis comments,

“We must become firmly determined to educate others to be grateful and appreciative: the dignity of the person and social justice must both pass through the portal of the family. If family life neglects this style of living, social life will also reject it. Gratitude, however, stands at the very core of the faith of the believer. A Christian who does not know how to thank has lost the very ‘language’ of God.”

Isn’t that something? To give thanks is akin to the language of God! To have a disposition of giving thanks helps us to speak the language of God fluently. And how wonderful it would be for us to speak this language of God in the context of our families! If we become more thankful within our families, we can help our families grow in holiness.

Third, there is “I’m sorry.”

Pope Francis writes,

“Granted, it’s not always easy to say, but it is so necessary. Whenever it is lacking, the little cracks begin to open up — even when we don’t want them to — and they can even become enormous sinkholes. … A house in which the words ‘I’m sorry’ are never uttered begins to lack air, and the flood waters begin to choke those who live inside. So many wounds, so many scrapes and bruises are the result of a lack of these precious words: ‘I am sorry.’”

In this sense, it is important for us to recognize our own responsibilities for the problems that arise in our families, and we are called to seek forgiveness from our family members for the wrong that we do. As our Holy Father said, asking for forgiveness can be a very difficult thing to do, but it is very necessary if we desire to have holy families. Additionally, it’s important to forgive those family members that have offended us, which can also be difficult. However, in order for our families to grow in holiness, it is crucial to have this understanding of forgiveness in all our family relationships.

“May I,” “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.” These three phrases can help us to have a holy family, after the example of the Holy Family.

As we honor Jesus, Mary, and Joseph under the title of the “Holy Family,” let us ask God for the grace to incorporate these three phrases, these three dispositions into our own families. Although we aren’t supposed to have perfect families, we are called to have holy families, following the example of the Holy Family. God bless you all and Merry Christmas!


Fr. Stephen Elser is a priest for the Diocese of Little Rock and pastor of St. Paul the Apostle (Pocahontas, AR), St. John the Baptist (Engelberg, AR), and St. Joseph the Worker (Corning, AR). His mother is Bellator contributor Angie Elser, and he is an avid musician, playing the piano, saxophone, and organ


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