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This time of year young children in school make snowflake cutouts and post them on classroom and hallway walls. Snowflakes have always been seen as wonderful symbols of purity, symmetry and perfection.

But studies have been conducted with microscopic three-dimensional images of snowflakes that show us that snowflakes are very imperfect crystals with points that are missing along with frozen appendages.

The thought of imperfect snowflakes lingers with me as I ponder today’s Feast of the Holy Family. Images of the Holy Family are our idealized image of snowflakes – perfect, pure and idyllic. Mary is always sewing something or has a smiling Baby Jesus in her arms. Joseph has a lily in one hand and a carpenter’s tool in the other. And the boy Jesus is looking up to his parents, eagerly awaiting to obey their next command.

The Waltons of Nazareth! The traditional image of the Holy Family on century-old paintings and in statues seems to say: “See how peaceful and happy the Holy Family is.” That’s because Jesus, even though he was the Son of God, followed the Fourth Commandment: “Honor Thy Father and Mother.”

I am sure that many an exhausted mother has looked on this scene and thought: “It sure would be great to raise one perfect child with the help of a perfect husband who is a model of hard work, gentleness and consideration of others.” And many a frustrated father, feeling defeated and tired, has looked on this angelic scene and found it unreal and discouraging.

But when we put the four Gospels under a microscope, we get a more real and a more reassuring image. All of the Gospel writers, by their convenient silence, suggest an early death for Joseph. As Jesus begins his public life, the evangelists portray a large, extended family that Jesus had. Most of them are unsympathetic and downright hostile to Jesus’ vision. Mark writes that some of them thought that Jesus was crazy. And Matthew’s Gospel reading today (2:13-15, 19-23) does not portray a snowflake family, but a family constantly on the move for safety sake.

We are not perfect snowflake families. Even the Holy Family had its ups and downs. The Holy Family lived through strange journeys and dealt with disgruntled cousins who just didn’t understand. Today’s Feast is not celebrated for an Idealized Family, a Perfect Mom, a Perfect Dad and an Impeccable Child. A God Notice

Today’s Feast is for the 80-year old man who has never been blessed with children, yet who sits and brushes the hair of his 78-year old wife who is feeble and confused.

Today’s Feast is for a mother who sits in the visitation lounge of a hospital as her son is about to have a bone-marrow transplant. She stays with him night and day while her husband is at home. He is simply too afraid to be there.

Today’s Feast is for the single-parent struggling to do the best she can to raise her child.

Today’s Feast is for a mother and her little daughter. The child falls and skins her knee and runs to mom. Mom kisses her to make her better as the crying stops and a smile returns. What a wonderful healing this is that takes the pain away with a kiss!

Some years ago, the late Harry Chapin had a popular song called “Cats in the Cradle.” It was a ballad about the relationship between a father who spent his time and energy being successful and his son who wanted to share in his father’s life.

“When are you comin’ home, dad?’ the son would repeatedly ask. The father’s reply, “I don’t know when. But we’ll get together then, son.”

The boy grew to manhood and the father grew wiser. The father posed the same question to his son. “When are you comin’ home, son?” only to receive the sadly predictable reply, “I don’t know when. But we’ll get together then, dad.”

Chapin’s song and today’s readings remind us that the “then” may never come. None of us live in perfect families, but our families are still the most important treasure that we have.

Our family is still the only place where we can go and be accepted just as we are – bad breath, bad temper, Democrat, Republican, warts and all. And every time this happens, we discover that we belong to a Holy Family. A God Alert

How is your family special to you? How are you special to your family?

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