Feast Of The Holy Family/Year C
It seems fitting that the Church chose to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family on this First Sunday after Christmas. After all, most families try to get together at least by phone for the Christmas Holiday. What a great time to reflect on the Holy Family and on what being a Holy Family means.
Some of us may look at the picture of the Holy Family on Christmas Cards or at the Nativity scene and become discouraged. Our thought may be, “My family doesn’t look anything like that!”
This family, as filled with grace as it was, went through some difficult times. Mary was an unwed teenager when she became pregnant. Joseph was going to divorce her before God intervened. Jesus was born in a barn, and I can assure you from personal experience, the sights, sounds, and smells of a barn do not resemble what you see on Christmas cards or the Nativity scene! That brings to mind something else too, I guess when Jesus was little and left the door open Mary couldn’t use, “What is the matter with you boy, were you born in a barn?”
The family had to flee Egypt as refugees shortly after Jesus’ birth because Jesus’ life was in danger from King Herod. And as we heard in today’s Gospel, Mary and Joseph lost Jesus for 3 days when he was 12 years old. Maybe a foreshadowing of when Mary “loses” Jesus for three days in the tomb? Anyway, when his parents catch up to him “and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” I doubt I would have been satisfied with that answer from my 12 year old son. I think this is one of the reasons why Mary and Joseph are saints. There is a saying, “You know your boy is growing up when he stops asking where he came from and begins to not tell you where he is going.”
Today’s readings provide a beautiful picture of family life and the dynamics every family will face. The first reading from Sirach speaks of how loving our parents and members of our families goes hand in hand with loving God. It speaks of a father and mother being united in raising the children. It speaks of honoring your father and your mother. Jesus reiterates this when He explains that the whole law can be summed up in loving God, and your neighbor as yourself. Loving God goes hand in hand with loving our family. To ignore one is to ignore the other.
The Psalm speaks of how you will be blessed in your family life if you love the Lord. This doesn’t necessarily mean we will be blessed with earthly blessings. But if we keep God at the center of our lives, we can obtain an inner peace nothing else can give us.
The Second Reading from the Colossians is addressing Christian family life. We are supposed to have “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven us.” St. Paul tells us, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands.” I can see some of you out there cringing. If you understand that each verse in the Bible has to be taken in context of the chapter, each chapter in context with the book, and each book in context of the entire Bible, there is no reason for cringing. “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,” does not mean that you are his servant, slave, or that you must cater to his every whim. The whole sentence is “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord” In Ephesians this lesson starts with “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” That puts a little different spin on it doesn’t it? In today’s reading it says, “Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them.” In Ephesians it says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. And then it says that “the two shall become on flesh.” Christ loved the church so much that he freely offered His life for it. St Paul is actually telling men NOT to demean or dominate women, as was the cultural norm at that time. He is telling men to love and treat women as equal partners. Each should be complementary parts of the marriage couple to one another.
St. Paul presents the realities of family life and the virtues a Christ-centered family requires. He compares these virtues to clothes, which require our choice and actions to put them on. Family life will require choosing to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness even when we don’t particularly feel like it. Consider what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to up and move to Egypt. I would imagine in the midst of that move with all of its fears and uncertainties, they found many opportunities to choose to put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, especially patience! I think every family facing the realities of life, is given countless opportunities to put on these clothes of a Christian Family.
As we reflect on the Holy Family and on our own families, we need to remember that love is a choice – one that has to be made over and over. Do we put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness? Do I honor my father and my mother always? I can say with certainty that would be a most difficult task for my son. Do not provoke your children. Hmm, I don’t live up to that one either. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. I think I have a lot of work to do, NO! I know I have a lot of work to do.
This examination of conscience could be a bit discouraging. Don’t let it be! If it seems you have a lot of work to do, you are in good company. Work on one thing at a time. Work on it together with your family. I think everyone has something they probably need to work on.
St. Paul gives us good advice, “And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body.”