Holy Family: Chosen Families, Families of Origin, and All of the Above

When you look up our readings for the Feast of the Holy Family this Sunday, you will see a variety of options, which, to me, is reflective of the diversity of ways people live family life today.

One reading presents ideals of family life that’s full of traditional gender roles. Another encourages us to “bear with” each other and “put on love,” good advice for any family. One of the options for this passage from Colossians tacks on the “wives, be subordinate to your husbands” part that always raises my hackles. Then we get to the Gospel – just one reading to choose from – and it’s the story of Jesus lost and found in the Temple. He’s fulfilling his destiny as the Son of God but nearly killing his parents from worry in the process. The pressure of raising God’s only begotten child!

As I wade through these options, I see how we’re given lots of lenses through which to examine family life. Some of our families may be traditional. Some may be unique. Some of us think about family as the one we’re born or adopted into, the one we were raised in. Others think of the people gathered around us in love and friendship, a chosen family connected by relationship rather than by blood.

I am lucky have both kinds of families. By God’s Providence (or dumb luck) I was born into a good family. I didn’t feel called to get married and have children of my own, but I love being with my family of origin, my four sweet nieces, and my extended family. I also have my religious community, a family of sorts. We didn’t exactly choose each other – we each chose this life and then sort of fell into it together – but we deepen our relationships with each other as we move together in our common mission. And it’s not just about us either; we draw others into the fold – our friends and relatives, coworkers, associates, neighbors. People think that celibates don’t have an instinct toward family life, but I think we do. There’s something in us that seeks to bring other people together with us, and we love them as family.

I first learned about chosen families from the students and staff at LGBTQ Center at the University of Cincinnati, where I used to minister. They told me about the people they gathered around them for the sake of support and community. Their chosen families celebrated together, grieved together, and supported each other. Whether they were born into families who accepted their sexual orientation and gender identity or not, their chosen families were very important to them.

If you look around, there are chosen families in other contexts too. My parish is a tight-knit community. We are a pretty motley crew, but we are a family, and we belong to each other. Other religious groups are like this too, as are groups of friends. Our God Space small groups are like that, I hope. Chosen families don’t discount our families of origin; they widen our circles of love and belonging.

And look at Jesus himself. He grew up in a family with a long lineage – recall that list from early in Advent (Mt 1:1-17). However, he sends his relatives packing and chooses instead to call his followers family, some of the scrappiest, most questionable people around (Mt 12:46). The Feast of the Holy Family is technically about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, but I think it extends to his chosen family too. And the chosen family of Christ today is still full of some of the scrappiest, most questionable people there are!

If you go to Mass this weekend, I hope you hear the most inclusive readings that are our options, and whatever your family situation – blood relatives or chosen family or all of the above – I hope it’s inclusive too. I hope it gives you the feelings of love and belonging that God has for you. And, of course, if you are looking for a community, you are welcome to come and belong at God Space! J

By Sister Leslie Keener, CDP

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Photo: My CDP sisters and I having dinner, El Rio Grande, Newport KY, 2018