|Date:||December 29-30, 2007, Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle A|
This feast of the Holy Family was established by Pope Leo XIII way back in 1892 in order to remind families of the sacredness of the family and its importance in God's plan, and to invite us to reflect on the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as a model for our own families. Whatever the cultural trends were that prompted Pope Leo to worry about the condition of the family, I think it is safe to say that they could not be more threatening than those we are faced with today.
I won't bore or depress you with the long list of things that threaten the family today but our gospel story of the flight to Egypt reminds us very starkly of one of them. One of the pervasive cultural threats to family life is the obsession that some parents have with grooming their children for fame and fortune. From the tragic stories of JonBenet Ramsey, Paris Hilton or the Spears sisters to much more local situations of extreme sports grooming, we see the innocence of childhood sacrificed on the altar of fame and fortune. What could be more symbolic of fame and fortune than to have your child sought out by the nobles of a far off country who come bearing him gifts of great value? But Matthew's account quickly reminds us that this kind of fame and fortune can have a very high price tag attached to it. It is directly because of the visit by these Magi that Herod seeks the life of the child. And so this poor family has to leave everything behind and flee for their lives.
So what does this story say to us that would help us see the Holy Family as a model for our own families? Quite a bit actually. In the first place it reminds us that the Incarnation means more than God being born as a human, as wonderful as that is. The Incarnation means that God took on the whole human condition, a condition that involves hardship and uprooting and oppression as well as love and care. Many people find it hard to see the Holy Family as a model for their family because they have a sanitized idealized image of what that family must have been like. After all, Mary and Jesus were born without sin and Joseph was a just man, a saint. The gospels make it clear that despite the promises of the all those televangelists that being saved means becoming rich, being holy does not bring peace and safety in this life.
I am sure that different families can find solace by identifying with the many different aspects of this family's story that includes the tension surrounding Mary's pregnancy before she and Joseph lived together, a long and arduous trip near the end of Mary's pregnancy, the humility and desperation of having to give birth in a stable surrounded by smelly animals and probably worse smelling shepherds, the sudden flight to a foreign country, the loss for 3 days of their only son when he was twelve, the apparent early death of Joseph, and then the unbelievable agony of watching a child tortured and killed as the worst of criminals.
But of all the different aspects of the Holy Family that we might identify with as individual families, there is one characteristic that every family can identify with and be inspired by, and that is their faith. It was Mary's faith that allowed her to answer Yes to the angel Gabriel's invitation to become the Mother of God. It was Joseph's faith that allowed him to take Mary into his house as his wife, already pregnant. It was Mary and Joseph's faith that gave them the courage to leave everything they had behind to flee to another country to save Jesus. And it was certainly the faith of Jesus that allowed him to go about his father's business despite all the hardships that meant for him.
Faith is not just a belief in a set of dogmas or rules. It is a way of seeing truth that makes a difference in how we live our lives. Some people think that faith is a rare commodity but it is so commonplace we don't even know we are using it. Everyone who came here by car drove with the faith that all the other drivers would stay on their side of the road. Even though we know that every once in a while someone does drift over that center line and cause a crash, no one would call you crazy because you act on that faith that it is safe to drive on our roads.
This Catholic faith we inherit from the Holy Family is an apostolic faith, which means that it is a faith that is handed down from generation to generation, remaining true to the faith Jesus passed on to the first Apostles. The primary channel for the handing on of this faith is the family. As parents who have brought our children to be baptized, we are responsible for living out our faith so our children see the reason for their hope in our lived faith. As children we are responsible for opening our hearts and minds to this faith that is being handed on to us. As baptized, including those of us who are single or parents whose children have grown up and moved on, we are responsible for deepening our faith through stewardship of the environment, our businesses, schools, civic organizations and, yes, our parishes. None of this just happens; it takes a lot of work and focus to establish our faith and to pass it on without distortion. It starts with coming together week after week at mass but it takes more than that. It takes prayer, and reading the scriptures, and a life long commitment to educating and forming our faith. It is only through faith that we can respond to the call all of us have to be holy, as individuals, as communities, and as families.
To paraphrase Paul just a slightly:
Let the Faith of Christ dwell in you richly as with all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.