Feast of the Holy Family
Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V. December 27, 2020
Christmas, the story goes, is a time for family. And even where the religious significance of Christmas has been forgotten or is marginalized, it remains the central family feast of the year. It is a time not only to give gifts, but for families to come together, to put aside differences, to take time out from their busy lives to experience the gift of each other's presence. Obviously, during this pandemic, we have had to be creative in finding safe ways for families to connect, whether in person or virtually, for the sake of public health and the common good of all. But the desire and drive to connect with family remains strong.
In our readings today, family ties are affirmed as precious and important. In the book of Sirach, we hear not as expected a lecture on the need for little children to obey their parents, but rather a reminder to adult children: to treat their elderly parents with respect and kindness. If there has ever been a time when our society needed a reminder of the importance of honouring and caring for our elders, with the shockingly high death rates and the loneliness and isolation in so many seniors’ residences, it is now.
In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul encourages us to put into daily practice the virtues and dispositions on which family life is founded: Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Gentleness, Patience, Forgiveness, Gratitude, and binding them all together and crowning them, Love. In his recent apostolic letter “The Joy of Love”, Pope Francis comments on this text by reminding families that even when quarrels break out, even “when the plates fly”, we should not let the sun set on our anger: families that pray together, that learn to not only say, but really mean these words: “Please, Thank You, and Sorry”, are the ones most likely to stay together, to grow in love.
Matthew’s Gospel today reveals to us the family of Mary and Joseph as the place where Jesus was formed and prepared to embrace the great mission God the Father had prepared for him. We see this in Joseph’s promptness and determination to do everything in his power to protect these two precious lives that had been entrusted to his care, responding without hesitation to the message of the angel to flee into Egypt, to protect Jesus and Mary from Herod’s murderous henchmen.
In his poem “Refugee”, written in honour of the Holy Innocents whose feast-day will be tomorrow, Malcolm Guite draws a parallel between this episode in the life of the Holy Family and the suffering of so many children and families in our world today:We think of him as safe beneath the steeple, Or cosy in a crib beside the font, But he is with a million displaced people On the long road of weariness and want. For even as we sing our final carol His family is up and on that road, Fleeing the wrath of someone else’s quarrel, Glancing behind and shouldering their load. Whilst Herod rages still from his dark tower Christ clings to Mary, fingers tightly curled, The lambs are slaughtered by the men of power, And death squads spread their curse across the world. But every Herod dies, and comes alone To stand before the Lamb upon the throne.
Eventually the danger passed, and Mary and Joseph were able to return to Nazareth. Through their love and care, through their guidance and discipline, Jesus will grow “in strength and wisdom, in divine and human favour.” Yet he will always remain something of a mystery to them: yes, he belongs to their family, but in a powerful and unique way, He belongs first and foremost to God.
Thus, when Jesus tells Mary and Joseph when they find him in the Temple, “I must be about “My Father’s business”, he was referring not to Joseph’s carpenter’s shop, but the biggest work of all: the Kingdom of his heavenly. And as my recently deceased brother priest, Fr. Joe Cameron, liked to say whenever we complained about one thing or another, “And just what does that have to do with the Kingdom?”
And so, Mary and Joseph will have to let go. They do not own Jesus; he has just been loaned to them for a time. He belongs to something – to Someone much bigger. Eventually, they allow Jesus to leave home and follow his vocation: his dream, his destiny, the mission entrusted to him by his heavenly Father.
Is this not true for all parents with regard to their children? They go their own way. They form their own opinions, their own judgments, their own values – which don’t necessarily match up with our own. They leave home. They move away – sometimes far away. They marry and have children of their own – or they do not. Sometimes, tragically, they die before we do. In each case, there is a further letting go. Good parents give their children two lasting gifts: roots, and wings. They let go, trusting that they will find their own way – without forgetting the home they came from.
We often find it hard to relate to the Holy Family. We tend to put them up on a pedestal: perfect, holy, but somehow remote and unapproachable. Cardboard cutouts, dressed in brown and blue, hands folded, haloes securely in place. And yet, apart from a few extraordinary occurrences in their life, Mary and Joseph were people very much like us. They struggled with doubts, fears, questions; they plunged ahead in life with no guarantees, just with faith that God would somehow make it all come right in the end. As a family, they experienced poverty and homelessness, danger and exile, hard work and deprivation, sickness and death. But I like to think that they also knew many positive things as well: laughter, togetherness, trust, affection, forgiveness, acceptance, commitment, and binding it all together, love.
What is more, they were deeply aware of the presence of God in their lives, sought always to listen to and to act upon God's voice speaking in the depth of their hearts and in the events of their daily lives. Perhaps more than anything else, this is the Holy Family's great gift to us today: their God-centeredness. Their unity was not just in family for family's sake, but as their way of living out the love of God, who brought them together for a purpose.
We live in a time when many people struggle with their experience of family. Although it is wonderful to be with friends and family at Christmastime, every family has its flaws as well as its strengths, the crazy ways in which we relate (or fail to relate) to each other. There is, as they say, no such thing as a perfect family. No family succeeds completely in trying to communicate love, respect, and acceptance both within and beyond the bounds of the family. Moreover, Christmas is a time where we are aware of both the power and the fragility of our family bonds.
But isn't that why Christ came into our world 2000 years ago? Isn't that why he continues to come every year - to bring us hope, healing, and comfort – even as in spite of our best efforts, we continue to mess up on a regular basis?
So as we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, let us ask for the strength and courage of Joseph, the peaceful and patient love of Mary, and the very presence of Jesus to come into our hearts and our families. Let us open wide the doors of our community, so that all those who experience pain and rejection in their families of origin, or in society, may find in our Church family a place of warmth and comfort, of security and trust. A home.
PRAYER TO ST. JOSEPH
(Pope Francis, Patris Corde)Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. To you God entrusted his only Son; in you Mary placed her trust; with you Christ became man. Blessed Joseph, to us too, show yourself a father and guide us in the path of life. Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.
Prayer to the Holy Family (Pope Francis):Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Holy Family of Nazareth, To you we turn our gaze with admiration and confidence; In you we contemplate the beauty of communion in true love; To you we commend our families, so that in them marvels of grace be renewed. Holy Family of Nazareth, school of the Gospel: teach us to imitate your virtues with wise spiritual discipline, grant us a clear vision that recognizes the work of Providence in the daily realities of life. Holy Family of Nazareth, faithful custodian of the mystery of salvation: help us to regain an appreciation for silence, make our families circles of prayer and transform them into domestic Churches. Renew in them the desire for holiness, sustain in them the noble toil of work and education of listening and mutual understanding, of love and forgiveness. Holy Family of Nazareth, reawaken in our society the consciousness of the sacred and inviolable character of the family, an inestimable and irreplaceable good. May every family be a place where goodness and peace are welcomed: for children and for the elderly, for those who are sick and alone, who are poor and needy. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we pray to you with confidence, we entrust ourselves to you with joy. Amen.
Preghiera di Papa Francesco alla Santa FamigliaGesù, Maria e Giuseppe a voi, Santa Famiglia di Nazareth, oggi, volgiamo lo sguardo con ammirazione e confidenza; in voi contempliamo la bellezza della comunione nell’amore vero; a voi raccomandiamo tutte le nostre famiglie, perché si rinnovino in esse le meraviglie della grazia. Santa Famiglia di Nazareth, scuola attraente del santo Vangelo: insegnaci a imitare le tue virtù con una saggia disciplina spirituale, donaci lo sguardo limpido che sa riconoscere l’opera della Provvidenza nelle realtà quotidiane della vita. Santa Famiglia di Nazareth, custode fedele del mistero della salvezza: fa’ rinascere in noi la stima del silenzio, rendi le nostre famiglie cenacoli di preghiera e trasformale in piccole Chiese domestiche, rinnova il desiderio della santità, sostieni la nobile fatica del lavoro, dell’educazione, dell’ascolto, della reciproca comprensione e del perdono. Santa Famiglia di Nazareth, ridesta nella nostra società la consapevolezza del carattere sacro e inviolabile della famiglia, bene inestimabile e insostituibile. Ogni famiglia sia dimora accogliente di bontà e di pace per i bambini e per gli anziani, per chi è malato e solo, per chi è povero e bisognoso. Gesù, Maria e Giuseppe voi con fiducia preghiamo, a voi con gioia ci affidiamo. Amen.