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John 19There is usually, though not always, a display of pictures or now a days a video. One thing that strikes me as a visitor to this family gathering at the funeral home is how similar these montages of life capture in pictures is between all of these different and unrelated clans.

While they all seem to have the same big moments you can just sense that each individual and family story is unique.

A little over a week ago I was at the funeral home and was doing prayers for my good friend and mentor Deacon Vern Bechard. Many of you know Deacon Vern and Mary Lou who have been members of this parish family for over 5 decades.

There was a slide show that depicted a family with 8 kids which eventually grew to include many grand and great grandchildren. Vern’s oldest son shared his deep respect for his father and what a blessing it was for all the family to be at his bedside when he died.

I wanted to tell you this story because Deacon Vern played a major role in my own journey to the diaconate and most important in my “choice” or at least my agreement to get involved in ministry to ex-convicts.

It was a Sunday, like any other Sunday, and we had come to church and as creatures of habit we sat in our usual seats in the front row by the tabernacle.

Deacon Vern was the homilist and he told a story. At the time Vern was a volunteer chaplain at the centre for young offenders. He shared how he had met a young man there who had just been arrested and his parents were waiting to see him for the first time since his arrest in the waiting room.  Deacon Vern was not there to fix anything but to just help this family reconnect at a very difficult time.

Years later when it came time for me to pick a ministry, the Director of Deacons at the time, the late Deacon Bert Cambre, “suggested” that I might want to get involved in working with ex-convicts.

Deacon Vern’s story from many years prior kept coming back to me and I eventually said yes to this invitation but I pondered, and I continue to ponder, many things in my heart about this calling.

One jarring aspect of walking with men and women who have spent considerable time in prison is that every so often they let you into their family stories.

The 1st person I met as a part of this ministry was a man named Don. I remember that day he got into my car and we were off to have a hamburger which was the 1st meal I ever shared with a bank robber.

Don was an angry young man in many ways. It turns out he grew up in a violent home. His mother was a mean drunk and drug addict.

After a few months he told me of a powerful memory he had as a child of about 8 years of age. It was like a dream. He was being held in these big hands and he had a feeling of safety and security he had never known before.

Suddenly he awoke gasping for breath. He was later told that his mother had almost choked him to death and that he had lost consciousness for a period of time.

I wanted to tell you this story and I have many more as examples of how families are not always what they seem.

But I suspect you already know that to be true.

In our gospel today Mary and Joseph present Jesus at the temple to fulfil the Law of Moses. Eventually they return to Nazareth where Jesus grows in wisdom. We know they venture to Jerusalem when Jesus is around 12 years of age. We also know Mary and Jesus would experience and grieve the loss of Joseph.

Perhaps the most significant event in the history of the Holy Family takes place right at the end of Jesus life on this earth while he is on the cross. This scene only takes place in John’s gospel. You might remember it. At the foot of the cross stands the Mother of Jesus and the disciple Jesus loves. In the moments before he takes his last breath Jesus says:

“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19)

The way I read this story is that we are all the unnamed disciple who Jesus loves. In this moment Jesus tells us that his Mother is our mother and therefore Jesus is our brother.

In one instant Jesus promises us that regardless of our earthly family history we are all a part of his Holy Family.

If you take a moment and read the entire story you find that this Holy family is headed by a loving father who so loved the world he sent Jesus to be one with us. He is also the type of Father that will run out to meet us regardless of our wrong doings just as the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son did.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph had their own story much of which we don’t know about. What we do know, however, is that each and every one of us has been included in this family and that no matter what we face on earth we always have a place to call home in this holiest of families.

This reality is what gives us the power to go out into the world in peace and to glorify our Holy Family by the way we choose to live our lives.

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