Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (Sunday Dec 27, 2020)
Genesis 15: 1 – 6; 17. 3 – 5, 15 – 16; 21. 1 – 7
Hebrews 11, 8, 11 – 12, 17 – 19
Gospel Luke 2: 22 -40
The Bible is not particularly sentimental about families. What makes a family holy, as far as the biblical writers are concerned, is its willingness to surrender to the purpose of God. We see this in a number of key figures, including Joseph, Anna, and Simeon.
Pope Francis says: “The Church is not a cultural organization, but the family of Jesus.” It is nice that we are together here to celebrate this great Feast of the Holy Family.
“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed on the world.” When poet W.B. Yeats penned these lines he might have been speaking of contemporary family life.
The words of Ben Sirach from the Old Testament make good sense for fostering the relationships between the generations. Honouring father and mother means showing them respect, especially when they become vulnerable, and not deserting them when they get Alzheimer’s. The author calls children to exhibit honour, reverence, compassion, and kindness toward their parents. It says that Obedience and respect to parents is tantamount to obedience to God. Sirach urges sons and daughters to hold mother and father in high esteem. As agents of life their parents enjoy a gift only Gould give. Great blessings await those who obey their father and bring comfort to their mother. They will have good relationship with God and their prayers to God will be heard. Their devotion and kindness to their parents will be regarded by God as a sacrifice offered in the Temple.
We should pay attention to St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Apparently word had reached Paul that Christian families in Colossae were falling apart. And so he notes the qualities that must be in a Christian home. Sit back and allow Paul’s magnificent words to seep into your spirit. Bear with one another, Forgive one another. Over all these, put on love. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts. Be thankful. Wives, cherish your husbands. Husbands love your wives. Children, obey your parents in everything. What a home it would be where one finds all the qualities St Paul enumerates! They would be Fame material.
Arthur Tonne illustrates our point with a wonderful tale. George was becoming old and infirm. He had been a bachelor sailor most of his life. His nephew Bill invited him to move in with his family. George gladly accepted. Now Bill, who had never travelled, did so by listening to the narrations of the many journeys of his uncle.
George noticed there were times that Bill was fed up with family life – arguments with his life, bills, kids’ sickness, etc. He told his uncle more than once, “I wish I was free to roam the world as you did.” One evening over supper the old sailor told the family of a map of buried treasure in his possession. Bill stored the information away.
A year after that, George died. The nephew looked through his few possession for the map. Sure enough he found an envelope addressed to him. It was the hoped for map. It took him but a moment to read it. It led to the very house in which in which he stood. The dead man telling him. “Your own home and your own family are your treasure. Don’t blow it. Enjoy them.”
Today’s readings remind us just how unholy some families can be – even royal ones. We should not be surprised that King Herod massacred innocent children. He was so ruthless and domineering in his own family that he ended up killing three of his sons as well his wife Marianne. And many of the kings whom St Matthew mentions when he describes Jesus’ family tree at the beginning of his Gospel are poor adverts for good family life.
The words of Ben Sirach from the Old Testament make good sense for fostering the relationships between the generations. Honouring father and mother means showing them respect, especially when they become vulnerable, and not deserting them when they get Alzheimer’s.
When we turn to the Gospel we find a holy family but not a very normal one. The mother is a virgin an the father is not the biological father of the child. And they are not living in some ideal family of the child. And they are not living in some ideal family setting but rather being so hounded by the megalomnaic Herod that they must find safety in Egypt fleeing as refugees.
But this is the family God had chosen, the one in which his Son would mature. This family is holy because it is responsive to the demanding word of God spoken in the very trying circumstances of their daily lives. And that may speak to us today more than sentimental portrayals of the Holy family. Certainly in a world where we are told there are over 50 million refugees seeking to live decent family lives this Gospel may give hope and encouragement.
What we are celebrating today is that the God who created the institution of the family, despite its shortcomings, chose to transform it through the Incarnation and make it one of the ways by which he saved us. We can learn from the example of the Holy Family that, despite all our failures and difficulties, we too are called to become holy through living out God’s word in the midst of our families.
Mary and Joseph are forced to take a terribly difficult trip to Bethlehem when Mary is imminently due to give birth. This would have been a difficult trip at the best of times, but it must have been extremely difficult for an expectant mother at the end of her term. They arrive at their ancestral home town and there is nowhere to stay. They are forced to sleep in a barn and Mary gives birth to a baby surrounded by animals. The baby is placed in a food-trough where the animals normally eat. The poorest and lowliest “outcasts” in the society at that time, the shepherds, are the first to hear about the birth and come to pay their respects.Very soon after the birth, Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus must flee for their lives, becoming refugees from King Herod’s murderous jealousy. They escape into exile in a foreign land.
And today’s gospel, which is truly wonderful, the prophet Simeon and the prophetess Anna, in the temple, praise God for Jesus who is the one who will not only save Israel but who comes to save all the world. But then Simeon turns to Mary and warns her that her life will be touched by a sword of extraordinary suffering and sorrow, as the implications of loving and caring for her only son, will touch her life deeply too. Her beloved son must tread a loving path of indescribable suffering and sacrifice for our sakes.
How best can we related to the Holy Family, we might wonder Joseph was a saint, Mary a virgin and Jesus the Son of God. That is when we fantasize on their lives. Take the Christmas stable for example. We picture as something like a glossy house w see in a magazine. But in reality stables are constructed not for human families but for livestock. That Christmas stable was crawling with dangerous vermin and foul odours. There were no pampers nor fresh water. Imagine the drafts. Mary and Joseph ha to be sick with worry for the infant’s health and well being. Consider them, all the rest of the story that had happened to this family, not all very impressive.
We celebrate not the feast of the Perfect Family but the feast of the Holy Family. Let us find time to relate with such a family.
Looking at the Holy Family, we see the love, the protection, and the diligent care that they gave to the Redeemer. We cannot fail to feel uneasiness, perhaps a shameful thought, for the times in which we have not rendered the appropriate care and attention to the Blessed Eucharist. We can only ask for forgiveness and do penance for all the sacrilegious acts and the lack of respect that are committed in front of the Blessed Eucharist. We can only ask the Lord, through the intersession of the Holy Family of Nazareth, for a greater love for their Son Incarnate, who has decided to remain here on earth with us every day until the end of time.
And this feast day, and within the Christmas season, we give sincere and heartfelt thanks for family….. and the support and strength that we can give each other along life’s long journey, with all its joys and sorrows, its graces and temptations.
God Bless. Happy feast of Holy Family.