They came as a couple. Some with children and grandchildren leading them. Others carrying babies and toddlers pulling them into the pews. There was a couple celebrating their 46th Wedding Anniversary, some recently married and yet others single. There were couples of mixed marriages and migrants. They carried with them family photos, crucifixes, wedding rings, all accompanied with decorated candles, long and short, white and coloured. As they renewed their marriage vows led by the parish priest, Fr Martin Arlando, they smiled in the presence of attentive children and crying babies. This was the scene at the Renewal of Marriage vows during the Holy Family Mass held at the Church of Divine Mercy, Penang on the Feast of the Holy Family on 30th December, 2016. For those who were single or lost loved ones Fr Martin invited them to renew a spiritual vow with the absented one. The children were also asked to pray over their parents to bind them closer as a family.
The theme of the Feast was “Be Alive in Christ: Love, pray and love as one.” In his homily, Fr Martin remarked that the most prominent symbol of Christmas is the Nativity scene. It appears to be central to Christians and without it is like taking away the word “Christ” out of “Christmas”. Fr explained that the first Nativity scene was staged in 1223 by St Francis of Assisi who had asked permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals, an ox and an ass, in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio, as the local chapel was too small to accommodate everyone. He then invited the villagers to come and gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem”. This was a reminder that the saviour of the world came in such humble and heart-warming circumstances.
In the modern context, Fr Martin reminded everyone as a family, to focus on Jesus at all times. He related a story of a catechist who was preparing a nativity play. She asked her children to write to tell her “Who do I want to be at Christmas?” While compiling the answers, she was amazed at this following answer. The child wrote, “At Christmas, I want to be the TV in my house. It has a special place in the house and I will have my family around me. I am heard without interruption and have the company of my father after work even when he is very tired. My mother will also be with me even when she is sad and my brothers and sisters will not fight with me and spend time with me and I can make them happy. I want to be the TV in my house.” We are all called to be like the Holy Family who have love for one another. Mary and Joseph had each other and God was with them. At Christmas, God became man to be with us.
In closing Fr Martin explained that a porcupine has a body of quills. But even so in winter, they will come together to cuddle up for warmth to survive to hash weather. Similarly, as a family we need to come together especially during hard times to support one another. Even though there may be pain and discomfort, we will persevere as Jesus will be there to help us bear the pain. Fr invited the congregation to have the nativity scene not only in our homes but in our hearts and make our families like the Holy Family. To show the face of Jesus to one another in our families with thanksgiving, love and understanding.
Dr. Ivan Filmer
31st December 2016.