Dec 28, 2013

A Family for All

The Holy Family

Sirach 3: 2-6; 12-14
Col 3: 12 - 21
Mt 2: 13-15, 19-23

Is there any more idealized and sentimentalized three people than the family of Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus?  We laud them as the ideal couple and the perfect child and therefore the perfect "holy" family.  Indeed, Joseph a righteous Jew and good man cared for his wife Mary and her mysterious child with great affection and obedience to God's will.  Mary certainly was and remains the Immaculate One and of course her child Jesus, now the risen Savior of all humankind changes the picture of what we experience as normal family life quite a bit.  Still, let's never forget that Joseph and Mary were flesh and blood human beings, singled out by God according to his divine plan, with an abundance of grace and angelic intervention, to care for the Savior of humankind. 

Yet, they were not plaster statues or pastel holy cards immune from life's questions, disappointments, fears, and dangers.  The whole Christmas story is one of great drama. Mary subjected to public shame due to her unexpected pregnancy before the marriage ceremony to Joseph. Joseph, once all was made clear to him, still later found himself and Mary fleeing Bethlehem due to Herod's wrath and the pointless slaughter of children and infants (Mt 2: 13-18) as they risked great peril traveling to Egypt. This couple fled, knowing there was a price on the head of this sacred child and it would be no exaggeration to imagine the anguish they felt. 

Their family life in Egypt was no doubt difficult as Joseph awaited news, which came to him by an angelic visitor once again, that the coast was clear to return.  Their return to Israel was not by auto, train, or comfy airplane but on foot and by animal likely in caravan's for safety as they experienced the harsh climate of the desert and southern Israel.  

Still, as our Gospel this Sunday relates, even then all was not well: ". . . when he (Joseph) heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea . . . he was afraid to go back there . . . he departed for the region of Galilee. . ."  Again by the benefit of angelic intervention, Jesus' life was spared but at what personal price to Joseph and Mary? Once settled in Nazareth, we can assume they lived a very normal life for faithful Jews of their time. Yet, this couple was asked to endure such extraordinary danger and emotional suffering, far beyond what our somewhat sanitized images present.  Their child was hunted by ruthless pagan rulers even before he spoke a word, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, or raised the dead. 

If holiness is faithfulness, obedience, "kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another" (Col 3: 12 - our second reading this Sunday), then Mary and Joseph with their unusual child were indeed made holy by their obedience and acceptance of God's plan in their lives.We all need to see this call to be holy as an ideal, but not impossible goal, for our families today. 

While families are taking on new forms, and the very fabric of family life (marriage) is greatly under stress in our time, the image of this Holy Family is presented to draw us in to their lives; to show us how human was their experience, how normal were their stresses and emotions, their joys and sorrows, and how courageous and faith-centered was their focus.

Our second reading from Colossians presents a framework for family life, particularly in its opening verses this Sunday.  May we all seek holiness, born of obedience and acceptance of what life may throw at us by God's plan.  Pope Francis reminds us that in the end, Joy is the true spirit of the Gospel.  Surely this Holy Family had joyful times as well but in the end were called to extraordinary courage and trust that all would be well.  Jesus himself, the one who ultimately embraced the totality of his Father's will, is the example par excel-lance, for all of us who claim discipleship.  

O God, who were pleased to give us
the shining example of the Holy Family,
graciously grant that we may imitate them
in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity,
and so, in the joy of your house,
delight one day in eternal rewards. 

(Collect for Mass)