The word family has many meanings and connotations. There is the traditional nuclear family understanding. There are those whose definition of family has been changed by tragedy and sickness. The word is used as a metaphor for other groups of people. We speak of a “parish family”, or the “family of nations,” or in my own Dominican community the “Dominican family.” Regardless of how we understand it, the Holy Family provides a model for what it means to be family.
There is an often quoted statement from Saint Thomas Aquinas, who we celebrate today. Aquinas is really the most gifted theologian in the history of the Church. But toward the end of his life, he was saying that all he had written was just so much straw. Some take this to mean he did not value or appreciate what he wrote. However, truth be told, he was comparing what he wrote with his mystical experience of God and compared to this mystical experience of God, what he had written, his attempts to clarify, seemed like so much straw. What we are reminded of today is what Aquinas knew so well; there is nothing better than our relationship with God.
What do you do when you receive unexpected and shocking news about the death of someone you care about? Or maybe learn about a serious illness that you have or someone else has? The temptation, perhaps especially on the part of a priest, is to give a simple solution, or an easy answer. The suffering, evil and death we experience does not lend itself to easy and simple answers, if the answers are in fact going to help us. Rather, we have a God who entered into our suffering and evil, and provides us a relationship with him and others.