My penchant for collecting religious art is nothing new. It all started with the three porcelain Infants of Prague I received when I celebrated my first communion. I placed them on the dresser in my bedroom and thus my home altar and religious art collection was born. Though my tastes may have changed and the original Infants of Prague may have been lost in the attic I continue to collect.
Among the early statues was a porcelain blessed mother painted in pastel colors and equipped with a music mechanism which rendered “Immaculate Mary” beautifully. I have written about her before. Another favorite was a holy family that was part of the same porcelain collection though without the music box. It portrayed a very serene Holy Family. Mary was seated with a scroll in her hands teaching the young boy, Jesus. Joseph, depicted as a carpenter was standing behind both of them.
I loved the warmth and dedication of Mary and the protective presence of Joseph. To this young beholder, the statue embodied the perfect family. I totally identified with the young Jesus and wanted my mom and dad to be like Mary and Joseph. Though I consider myself very lucky, having grown up in a loving family there were moments when we strayed from my ideal. At those times I would go to my room, overcome with feelings of guilt and disappointment and would gaze upon the Holy family asking that my family be just like them.
Once I entered my teenage years I boxed up my religious art collection and put it in the attic. Posters and paraphernalia of Alice Cooper took its place, not so much because I liked Rock and Roll but rather because I felt the need to fit in with my classmates. When that did not work I gradually returned to my religious art collection. However, the porcelain ideals I had collected as a young boy remained in the attic, where they are still today. I had come to realize that the life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph could not have been purely pastel and porcelain. If they were truly human, there must have been moments of disagreement, anger, misunderstanding, etc. because that is what real people do. We laugh together and we cry together. We lift one another up and we put one another down. We take pride in one another’s accomplishments and at times we disappoint one another. Family life is not just pastel and porcelain, it is filled with ups and down, leaps forward and setbacks. Family life is real, not ideal. This holds for our nuclear families, our extended families, our neighborhoods, our Basilica community and the church at large.
The feast of the Holy Family celebrates the notion of family as it was realized in the lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and not the porcelain and pastel caricature we have made it out to be. The Holy Family reminds us that family life and all Christian relationships for that matter are pathways toward holiness. The feast celebrates that holiness is attained in our day-to-day relationship with others. The feast affirms that all of us are called to holiness, no matter how far we might think ourselves removed from holiness and no matter how little we resemble the porcelain and pastel image of the Holy Family.
I have a new sculpture of the Holy Family in my collection. Rather than porcelain and pastel the new one is made our of partially glazed clay, and semi abstract. When I am disappointed in myself or others I spend some time with this new sculpture of the Holy Family and I console myself that it is holiness we are after, not perfection.