Holiness, Bishop McKeown stressed, comes from how people face and react to ‘unpredictable situations’ during the ‘hard rock of life’.
The Bishop was speaking on the Feast of the Holy Family on December 26.
He said: “The days surrounding the birth of Jesus were a confusing time as they stumbled from one unexpected event to another, without time to make sense of what was happening. No wonder that Mary had many things to ponder in her heart. So what does this feast tell us? Firstly, today may be the feast of the Holy Family - but it is also the feast of a wholly unusual family.
“There was nothing typical about Jesus, Mary and Joseph. None of the simple rules for Jewish families in the Holy Land applied. But their holiness came from how they faced the unpredictable situations that they all had to face. And, for all of our families, that is where holiness is won from the hard rock of life. Family and holiness never come neatly packaged and tied up with a red ribbon.
“Many of the great saints came from strange backgrounds and had chequered lives. Their holiness came from working through the often-painful realities that they had to face. So many of our families would not pass the test as perfect families. We are all scarred by the circumstances of our life. Holiness is closer to heroism than it is to apparent perfection. No family situation is beyond the grace of God. Don’t compare your family to somebody else’s. Be grateful for the graces that you have. It is in the reality of your life that love and forgiveness can be at work, whatever the obstacles.”
The Bishop also warned that many of the problems that we know from our neighbourhoods ‘are connected with a culture that prioritises selfishness’. “A market jingle that puts me and my wants at the centre of the world closes us in ourselves. The idea of faithful family relationships calls us out of a preoccupation with self and our hurts and challenges us to build bridges,” he said, adding: “A society which encourages and promotes long term stable committed relationships is a healthy society. A society that is not sure what it promotes and ends up facilitating transitory relationships is unhealthy.
“A philosophy which tells us to expect little will bring little of beauty to birth.”
The Bishop added that the Holy Family shows that there is something profoundly sacred about human relationships. “Any sort of semi-detached approach to profound relationships is terribly damaging for the partners and particularly for children who may be affected. When a society abandons the idea of the sacredness of the family, it does not offer freedom and joy. Rather, it lowers expectations and promotes lack of responsibility and maturity.
“As the old saying goes, the problem with free love is that someone always pays the price. The feast of the Holy Family invites us to see our families as beautiful and sacred, despite their scars,” he said.