Feast of the Holy Family
Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 1:20-22, 24-28; 1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24; Lk 2:41-52
The readings for today’s celebration of the Holy Family, reminds us that Character is formed by a community and the story its members live out. Character exhibits the direction of self in the world marked by what we do and the reasons we give for doing it. We form ourselves to certain kinds of descriptions rather than others. Christian Character gives reasons grounded in Christian convictions. Personal growth over time is marked by progress toward a life more fully determined by those convictions.
Jesus was born into a Jewish family in a Jewish community. This community had a story that formed it. It was grounded on the Exodus, which was never to be forgotten. It was the great show of God’s power, His love, and His care for them.
Our initial reading from 1st Samuel sets the context in the story of the history of the kingdom of Israel and the lineage of David. The point is dedication or devotion. As incredibly difficult as it would be for a mother to give away her child (especially the firstborn) Hannah declares, “As long as he lives he shall be dedicated to the Lord.” And she left him there out of gratitude because, as an Israelite who knows the story, she knows which side her, and her community’s, bread is buttered on.
Then John sums up the story of what our character is to be if we are followers of Christ. What we are to do is to “love one another”, i.e., seek the good of the other for his or her own sake. And the reason is that “we believe in the name of…Jesus Christ.”
So, we come to the Jewish family of Nazareth and the character of their child. They were going to Jerusalem for Passover. God’s display of power and love by deliverance from slavery in Egypt was the reason for the journey and their way of life. The 12 year old was formed by this story and not any others of His time and place. The convictions of this story formed Him, his parents, and the men with whom He was conversing. It was a story of deliverance, of being saved. His future growth would be marked by a life more fully determined by those shared convictions. The wandering Israelites, like Mary and like us, experienced afflictions and asked “Why have you done this to us?” In answer the boy Jesus gave the Secret of Life, the One Thing. He said, “I must be about my Father’s business.” These are the first recorded words of Jesus in the gospels. They show His divine sonship and His mission. His focus on One Thing made everything else of much less importance. His focus was not on the choosing self, but on the story that directs the choice. It is the story of a love that He trusted in. That shared story formed His mission and His character. It was His guiding intention as He grew for the work that lay ahead of Him. He would empty Himself.
The story that WE are to live out is given by St. John. St. Jerome tells us that when John was a very old man his only message was “Little children, love one another.” And when his disciples asked him why he was always saying the same thing he always replied, “My children, this is what the Lord commands; if we do this, nothing else is necessary.” For a person of character, that’s the story…and we’re sticking to it!
Feast of the Holy Family
Scripture Readings: Sir. 3:2-6, 12-14; Col. 3:12-21; Lk. 2:41-52.
There are some things that it is better that your parents don’t know. I think most of us have known times when this statement would apply. There are things we did of which they would neither approve nor even allow if they had been aware of them. For us, they were early excursions beyond the reach of parental supervision. We transgressed the boundaries of what was permissible and perhaps of common sense. We were flexing the wings of our independence, being led through rites of passage by a group of dare devil peers. It was exciting, but we still felt guilty at ignoring our parents’ warnings. Our conscience was still tied to them. The paradox could be described as a “necessary betrayal.”
The family is the inevitable scene of litigations and conflicts over territorial rights, scheduling priorities, emotional bruises and internal hierarchies. Most of these ride on the surface of a deeper acceptance, trust, and belonging which is taken for granted. So much of family life is granted, is given, is provided. We join the family as infants and are readily accepted without doing anything to deserve it. It is this basis of trust and belonging that gives us the freedom to be obnoxious and rebellious. I was once driving in a car with two parents who had been single children. They were appalled that their two daughters were squabbling over something. To me (one of eight), it was the most natural assertion of personal rights in the face of a hostile takeover. The family remains a matrix which supports a person especially when he or she makes false steps in working out inner potentials and possibilities which can only be improvised. Our most independent steps toward individuation are strangely possible because they incarnate the strengths, values and wisdom we have learned from home schooling. You can take the boy or girl out of the home, but you can’t take the home out of the boy or girl.
The Holy Family was holy not because it was preserved from all conflict and disagreement, but because it created a space in which the Holy Spirit could work in the depths of their hearts and transform all their human relationships into channels of the grace of God. That they did not understand what he said to them did not prevent them from obeying and learning from a deeper level of trust and cooperation.
The dialogue between Jesus and his parents can almost seem like a failure in good communication. Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.
We can hear this statement as an accusation of Jesus for having offended rules of correct behavior or even as laying a guilt trip on him. Look how we suffer because of you! But it is closer to the truth to hear this as a sincere question which keeps open a relationship. Mary’s question is an admission of the pain and suffering she is experiencing. She “owns” it. She doesn’t cloak it by reverting to impersonal rules of behavior. Her admission of the impact that it has had on her and Joseph flows from their care and responsibility. She does not deny nor avoid nor withdraw — our common modes of coping with pain and injury. The ability to accept the fragility of the relationship can allow the discovery of a new face or dimension within it.
The response of Jesus can seem callous. He makes no apology for the distress he has caused. Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Jesus’ self-awareness and consciousness of his role and mission had emerged in the context of the supportive and loving environment created by his parents. It was the holiness of this environment which allowed the revelation of the encompassing divine care of the Father. The way for this revelation to become reality was through the “necessary betrayal” by Jesus of the limits of his human family. Jesus’ answer was spoken out of the uncompromising sovereignty of God. I must be in my Father’s house. The Son of Man had to suffer to enter into his glory. Luke has set this scene with the dark tones of the Lord’s passion. They went up for the feast of the Passover. After three days they found him. On the cross, Jesus will cry out: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Another “necessary betrayal.”
The Church is God’s family, not only because we are truly begotten by God through baptism, but also because we live in a trust that runs deeper than the sufferings and trials we experience. Our questions and lack of understanding plunge us more deeply into a communion which breathes the mystery of Christ. It is the very spirit of Christ that is poured into hearts that can be touched and remade in heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. From the domain of the heart, from the Father’s house, we can call each other “brother” and “sister” and let the peace of Christ control your hearts.
Feast of the Holy Family
Scripture Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Col. 3,12-21; Mt. 2:13-15, 19-23
In one comic strip Charlie Brown overhears Lucy muttering to herself, “Rats, phooey! Everything is hopeless! What am I going to do now?” He says to her, “Lucy, what’s wrong?” She repeats her lament, “RATS! PHOOEY! Everything is hopeless.” In the last frame as she walks away Lucy says, “Of course you realize I’m experiencing my post-Christmas letdown.”
The Holy Family also experienced a great post-Christmas letdown when they had to flee by night into exile from the Promised Land. But their letdown was far more than just being another displaced family. This was the mystery of God entering into our helplessness and sufferings, all the consequences of our sins in order to save us.
It is like this: Dom Bruno Ryan was a holy abbot of New Melleray, our superior from 1917 to 1944. At one community meeting he reproved a novice for some fault and for a penance told him to kneel at the feet of each monk and ask forgiveness. The novice replied in front of everyone, “I will not!” There was an audible gasp of unbelief from the community. But Dom Bruno simply said, “Very well.” Then he himself proceeded to get down on his knees before each monk in the novice’s place. The young man was so moved by the abbot’s humility that he repented, and did his penance. The abbot modeled the mystery of God’s humility in identifying with us.
There was another post-Christmas letdown that isn’t recorded in the Gospels. After the wicked King Herod learned that one baby boy had escaped from Bethlehem, it seems someone overheard him muttering, “RATS, PHOOEY! Everything is hopeless! What am I going to do now?”
Feast of the Holy Family
[Scripture Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2:41-52]
Understanding this morning's gospel presents a unique challenge for me and my monastic brothers. It tells the story of a child who has gone missing, a scenario easier for some of our guests here this morning to appreciate who are parents and may have had that experience. Monks can't know from experience what it's like to discover your child is missing. We can only imagine what that must be like.
And so, I ask my brothers, imagine, just imagine for a moment, you are a working parent at work one day, and you have to stop by the house during your lunch break to pick something up, and, as you're passing through the empty rooms of the house on your way out, a question comes to you: “Where is my little girl?” But of course, she is at school. Now, imagine you are a working parent at work on day who suddenly learns there has been a shooting at Sandy Hook Grade School in New Town Connecticut, and your six year old daughter is a student there. The experience of your child's absence becomes a completely different experience at this moment, and the question, “Where is my little girl?” instantly dominates and completely floods your consciousness. Where is my little girl? Where is she right now? Is she in that classroom with him? Is she in another room? Is she anywhere in that building? Did she manage, or did someone else manage to get her out of the building? Is she with someone now? Is she alone? Brothers, use your imagination now and picture yourself a parent who has just learned your little girl was actually a victim of the shooting. You are shattered; your heart is wracked with an unspeakable pain; you are enraged, terrified, grief-stricken, all at once, and yet, beneath this storm of emotions, a question stands, silent, steadfast, waiting to be addressed: “Where is my little girl? Where is she now?” Your little girl is missing and her absence has become a mystery as big as the mystery of life and death itself. “Where is she, Lord? Where is my little girl now?”
Aelred of Rievaulx, a spiritual master in our Cistercian tradition, was a monk. He never had a child, and like us monks here this morning, he had to use his imagination in order to interpret the meaning of this morning's gospel. The gospel tells us Jesus went missing from his parents, missing for three days, and Aelred asks himself: “Where was Jesus? Where did he go?” If the parents here this morning are willing to believe a monk might be able to shed some light on a situation like this, you might appreciate Aelred's answer.
Aelred says that there are any number of scenarios that might have unfolded during those three days Jesus went missing. But he reasons that, whatever actually happened to Jesus during that time, he very likely made a spiritual pilgrimage, an interior journey during those three days, and that's interesting because when you think about it, an interior journey would be quite possible for any child who has gone missing from his parents, including the children of Sandy Hook Grade School. Aelred wonders, what if, during those three days he was absent from his parents, Jesus went on an interior journey; a journey on which he made three stops: on the first day, he visited his Father in heaven, and consulted with God about how precisely our salvation would be worked out in the course of Jesus' mission on earth. On the second day, he showed his face to the angels, and let them know the emptiness left by the fallen angels in heaven would be filled super-abundantly with souls redeemed by his cross. And on the third day, he paid a visit to the Patriarchs and Prophets, to reassure them regarding their fore-tellings of his birth. No wonder, Aelred says in conclusion, that when Jesus returned to the temple the teachers of the law were amazed by his insights. Jesus had toured the heavens and learned from heavenly beings and from the Father of Lights Himself, an ageless wisdom.
Are these just fanciful imaginings of a monk who never had a kid? Or might Aelred be on to something here? What if we went back in our imagination to that parent whose child was killed at Sandy Hook, and take up again that agonized parent's question: “Where is she? Where is my little girl now?” If Aelred's thought experiment has any value, it suggests that parent's traumatic experience of a child gone missing might be part of a cyclical journey; the journey of a child departing in order to return to us again made luminous with the light of heavenly wisdom. Jesus' disappearance was real, and his return was real. If Aelred is right, then a child missing from home is a point in a process; part of a bigger truth being revealed and, when you think about it, the experience of a child missing is one we have over and over again.
America just finished celebrating Christmas. What was that like for us? Every sociological study suggests that Americans are becoming less and less religious every year, but Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where was the child Jesus in America's celebration of Christmas this year? Was he there? Has the whole experience of Christmas in America become the poignant story of a child gone missing?
Who was Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Grade School? Everyone is asking: “Who was he? Was Adam an evil person?” They say he was rather shy; that he was very reticent at social gatherings where he seemed to be afraid of having his feelings hurt. Have you ever heard evil described as shy, or afraid of having his feelings hurt? If evil is not shy or sensitive to rejection, and Adam Lanza was, then where was Adam Lanza when death reigned supreme at Sandy Hook? Are we to believe the horror shown our eyes on that morning was the face of Adam Lanza? Does it show us the truth of who he was as a person? And if it didn't, then where was that tortured young man when the shooting was going on? Where did he go? Is Adam Lanza's horrific crime one more tragic story of a child gone missing?
Where is my child? Where did he go? Just how wide and deep is this question? Brothers and sisters, the very mystery of who God is; the mystery of the most holy and blessed Trinity is marked by this tragedy, the tragedy of a child gone missing. We Christians believe that a child who did not account equality with God something to be grasped; wandered away from home into this world of sin, and suffered the bloody and brutal consequences. Was the whole mission of the Divine Logos assuming our humanity and suffering crucifixion on Mount Calvary one more story of a child gone missing? Was what happened on December 12, at Sandy Hook, and what happened to Jesus on Golgotha one and the same mystery, one eternal reality occurring at two different moments in time? Can we imagine a six year old girl finding herself in the line of fire that morning at Sandy Hook, may have said to herself in the last moments of her life: “Daddy? Daddy, where are you? Have you forsaken me?”
Brothers and sisters, if the bitter loss of a child gone missing is something that happens even inside the Holy Trinity, might we have grounds for believing that our beloved little brothers and sisters at Sandy Hook, have embarked on a journey that will lead them to the riches of the highest heavens and eventually bring them back to us transformed by heavenly wisdom gained from conversations with angels and prophets? Might the message of this morning's gospel for us today be that the bitter absence of a child gone missing is only one point on a journey around a circle which completes and perfects the mysterious process by which a family is restored?
Feast of the Holy Family
[Scripture Readings: Sir 3:2-6,12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2:41-52]
A number of years ago, I was traveling down to Gethsemani Abbey with Mother Gail. We stopped off at her sister's house in Louisville, Kentucky. Her sister told us of how she, as a widow, tried to keep direction over her three children. Before they would venture out with friends, she would tell them: “Remember who you are and what you represent.” I suppose she hoped it would act as a moral reminder in the back of their minds, a long leash to keep them from forgetting their responsibilities. It was a mantra she could invoke which sounds as official as the commissioning of the apostles.
It is a phrase which seems to me to be a good entry into the mystery of the family which we celebrate today. To be is to be a member of a family. We come to life through the environment created by the love of other persons. We are not self-generated. Our uniqueness is received and supported by a community of love, those who recognize us and affirm us without our having done anything at all. We need others in order to be who we are. And this need never ceases. We are the recipients of loving kindness, of hospitality. It is remarkable that in a family, we never distinguish among the many services and functions which make a family what it is. Food, warmth, correction, nursing, teaching and attention: none are compartmentalized functions. “To each according to their need; from each according to their ability.”Chapter 53 of the Rule of St. Benedict says that guests are to be shown all kindness, all humanity (humanitas). Our life is nurtured by being embraced in this humanity, in this kindness. We learn to be human and kind through these gifts. Proper honor must be shown to all (Chapter 53:2). The family is God's preferred and chosen way of bringing us to holiness and life, to a wholeness and humanity through which he can reveal himself. We worship together as a family. “Listen graciously to the prayers of this family whom you have summoned here before you” (3rd Eucharistic Prayer).
“Remember who you are and what you represent.” “Who you are” will always be grounded in the family that first called us into being and gave us a name. Emergence into a wider world will be an opportunity to unfold the hidden potentialities that yearn for expression. But it risks leading us to forget “who we are” in the pull of myriad demands and social roles. Remember who you are. Don't forget who you are. Before we follow those injunctions to “honor your father and mother” and even to honor all people, we must remember to honor our selves. We are called to act in harmony and congruity with our own dignity, to obey what is most sacred within us. To remember who we are is to live out of humble and grateful acknowledgement that who we are is what we have received. Gratitude and trust are the roots of belief: belief in ourselves and in others.
“What we represent” is the heritage and patrimony of the humanity we have been taught. That wisdom and understanding which have formed us beg for our free and creative expression in constantly new situations. The values and beliefs we have taken to heart cannot be simply repeated as if they were a script to be memorized. Every parent must know the experience of wondering if they have communicated effectively to their children the wisdom honed from their own life. They send their children into the world in hope. They realize they are powerless in the face of free choices a child must make. In those choices, the beliefs and values will take flesh and become incarnate.
But those choices may be made in the face of indifference, of hostility and rejection, of incomprehension. A center point of today's Gospel is, in fact, the incomprehension of Mary and Joseph in the face of a choice of Jesus. But they did not understand what he said to them. There is no attempt here to soften the pain or deep anxiety which seemed to create a world of separation. Why have you done this to us? Was it not necessary that I should be in my Father's house? Was it not necessary that the Son of God should suffer and so enter his glory? These are unsettling questions at the heart of the holy family, at the heart of the Christian family. The wisdom and understanding Jesus displays are already introducing into the world a wisdom of the Cross, a wisdom which is folly and absurdity to those who rely on the wisdom and power of this world.
Mary kept all these things in her heart. Her incomprehension became a new womb to hear and receive the Word in darkness. It was a word which she did not reject, but nurtured until it should choose to reveal its meaning. The child continued to grow and develop in wisdom and grace before God and men. This family is holy, not because of some assured status, but because of its openness to God's continual sending of his Spirit who inwardly moves and forms their hearts. The peace of Christ did not numb, deaden or put their hearts to sleep. It reigned in their hearts, living and active.
Feast of the Holy Family
[Scripture Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15, 19-23 ]
“Out of Egypt I called my son.” Pope Benedict XVI, reading this prophecy of Hosea, has observed that “the fundamental act of parental love is the son's liberation from Egypt.” So in this year of the gospel of Matthew it might be good to ask ourselves, “What is it like—on the inside—to be called out of Egypt?”
Calling a people out of the slavery of Egypt is what the Father did for the Israelites centuries earlier. The liberation is the centerpiece of their faith. It is their experience of God as Savior, as a power greater than any human agency and as One Who loves them. Now, Israelites are about to have a new experience of God. The infant Jesus leads them.
On the Third Sunday of Advent we heard Jesus tell John the Baptist and his followers, “Blessed are those who take no offense at me.” Today's gospel shows a stark contrast between the blessed who are not offended at Jesus' coming and those who are offended. Faith is the opposite of offense.
There are two ways a person can be offended by Jesus Christ.
Joseph and Herod represent each of them. Joseph has the possibility of being offended by the lowliness of Christ. First he is supposed to believe that Mary, his betrothed, from the not-too-well-thought-of town of Nazareth, is going to give birth to the savior. Then he is told he must save the savior.
Herod also has the possibility of being offended, but in his case offended by the loftiness of Christ. He was told that “the king of the Jews” had been born in his jurisdiction. He was “greatly troubled” and when the Ruler is troubled so is everyone in Jerusalem.
Joseph and Herod were each presented with the possibility of offense at the presence of Jesus Christ. Each stood at the crossroad. Each was forced into a decisive crisis: to move toward God or away from Him. A decision had to be made. How each man has lived his life up to now will heavily influence his decision. Joseph shows faith through obedience; Herod shows offense through mass-murder. Each was heavily influenced in that decision by his community and the story it lived out.
The point is: when we are called out of Egypt, we are called as a community. When we are called out of a life of self-centeredness, of self-satisfaction, we can only get out of it in a community devoted to a higher way. The initial impetus to leave Egypt may occur to one individually. Something happens and he sees himself differently. He sees that he is, indeed, a slave of his desires, fears, wounds and self-will. He is caught in the bondage of self. He is thus pre-disposed to being offended at Jesus Christ.
Because Jesus Christ offends—and He knows He offends—a monastic community's formation is designed to help us answer the question: “Can anything separate us from the love of Christ?”
The answer is “YES,” many things can make us offended by the lowliness and loftiness of Christ. Unless we are offended by Jesus we will not notice how this child from Bethlehem is so radically different from everyone else; we will not notice how radically “other” the kingdom of God is from our ordinary world. We will not know how radically transformed our lives must be if we are to follow Him. In short, we will have no desire to answer the call to come out of Egypt.
What is it like on the inside to be called out of Egypt? It is knowing one is loved and favored by the ultimate power of the universe. It is a sense of identification and belonging; belonging to a community that knows to its depths that it needs this liberation and knows a commensurate gratitude that orients the rest of their lives. With the community we respond to the call and—like Jesus—open ourselves to the greatest use we can possibly make of our lives. The greatest use of life is what offends the most and requires the most faith: it is to spend our life on something that will outlast it.
Feast of the Holy Family
[Scripture Readings: Sir 3:2-6, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:13-15, 19-23]
In a moment of startling honesty, Theresa of Avila said to God one day in prayer: “The way you treat your friends it’s no wonder you have so few of them!” It might be hard to demonstrate theologically that God mistreats his friends, and I don’t personally believe he does, but the fact is life can be really hard — even for God’s friends.
Brothers and Sisters, we’ve come to the end of a year of hardship for many. We are in midst of a world wide financial crisis that is now two years old. In 2009, we saw the recession sink to it’s heartbreaking depths. 2010 was the year we saw the crisis stay and dig in; felt how it wouldn’t budge no matter how much money we threw at it, and we began the long grind that is being called a “recovery”. This, of course, has meant suffering for many individuals who lost jobs, homes, maybe lost face. But there is something worse than the suffering of an individual—it is the suffering of a family. When your family suffers, your own suffering is reflected back to you and amplified in the faces of those you love. And a family’s suffering can feel more painful and confusing when Jesus Christ is cherished at the center of that family’s life. Think about that. It raises an interesting question. Is a crisis like the present one easier or harder for a Christian family? Is this suffering and God’s apparent absence in the suffering harder for a family who never thinks of Christ or for family who has always been devoted to Him and never anticipated this feeling of his absence.
A holy family, a holy community, makes Jesus Christ the center of its life, and strives to be ever more a holy family. Now, something in our spirit as Americans makes us think that a family with Christ at its center should somehow “out perform” a family who has strayed from the faith. A devout Christian family or religious community should be stronger, happier, more unified, and more courageous in the face of adversity.
In today’s gospel: we see THE Holy Family—the original holy family with Christ in the flesh living at its center—and this family is afraid, in flight, has gone into hiding, and is fleeing; fleeing into exile. The holy family of Jesus Christ himself is seen here to be frightened and vulnerable and so has fled into exile to faraway Egypt.
Brothers and sisters, there is a mystery here. Today’s gospel is challenging us to reflect about something that is hard to explain: that “Egypt”, this awful experience of exile, belongs somehow to the experience of being a holy family. “Egypt” is something that happens to a holy family; it is an integral stage of it’s becoming a truly holy family. A holy family, a holy religious community, will sooner or later spend time in “Egypt”.
Now, “Egypt” is not necessarily a place, it is a condition of body and soul, and our gospel suggests that Christ is there. Christ is in Egypt with your family, but he is very small and weak and vulnerable and, for the time being, in need of protection.
Is your family, your religious community going through something like this? Was your family afraid this year? Did the sight of it make your own heart grow weak and take flight? Were you tempted during the course of this year to walk away from a relationship? Did you feel, this year, a deep uncertainty about yourself, your endurance, courage, or stamina in the face of great challenges? Did the pressure cause you to become estranged from someone who is very dear to you? Did you at moments possibly even feel estranged from God or yourself? Was this the year your family went to Egypt?
“Egypt” is an experience most families or religious communities prefer not to talk about either during or after the trip. Most families would like to forget they were there! This morning, on the Feast of the Holy Family, the gospel is inviting us to look frankly at this aspect of the life of a holy family: the flight into Egypt, and maybe to learn some things in the process.
Brothers and sisters, the gospel makes clear, God does not put your family or your religious community in Egypt! It is not God who sends you to that strange and awful place. It is circumstances that put you there—circumstances which may be permitted by God, because He respects human freedom, but are not caused or willed by God. It is the fear, the self-delusion the grasping selfishness of human beings that puts a family or religious community in this crisis; it is the world and its ways that make it necessary for a holy family to temporarily withdraw and, in order to shelter the child Jesus at the center of its life, to flee to faraway Egypt.
But there remains the question WHY? Why must a family devoted to Christ suffer this experience of exile? Ultimately the answer to that question is deep as mystery of will of God itself. Very well then, listen to what today’s gospel tells us about the will of God: “Out of Egypt I called my Son!” Listen to what God is saying. Is Christ cherished at the center of the life of your family or religious community? And do you wonder what you’re doing in Egypt? Listen to the voice of God calling to Christ who lives at the center of the life of your family. God is speaking to you of your destiny: “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”
Brothers and sisters, Egypt is not the revelation of God’s will for us. Egypt may be something God permits, but it does not express God’s will for a holy family. Today, God is calling his Son out of Egypt! And any family or religious community who cherishes Jesus at the center of its life must know—this call is to you! God is calling you! Listen to the voice of God addressing the Holy Family and know that he is speaking to you this morning to you and your family. It is your Father’s voice; the Father speaking to his beloved Son who lives and is cherished at the center of your family revealing to you the source of the joy we celebrate at Christmas: “Out of Egypt I have called my Son!”
Feast of the Holy Family
[Scripture Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Col. 3,12-21; Mt. 2:13-15, 19-23]
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. You know the story well. The child’s life was at risk. A person of enormous wickedness was determined to destroy an infant whose goodness, innocence, and destiny were a challenge to his reign. But the quick actions of his inspired parents saved the child’s life. So he grew to youthful maturity and amazed teachers with his gifts. He had extraordinary powers that he would put to good use against the most evil force in the world. If you ask children the name of this amazing boy, they are likely to reply, “Harry Potter.” Who is this other boy whose story of salvation has so captured the imagination of children all over the world that the most recent book in the Harry Potter series sold over five million copies in the first twenty-four hours, making the author richer than the Queen of England?
The story is about the adventures of a bespectacled, British, school boy who discovers he is a wizard with wonderful magical powers. Children are fascinated by his world of flying broomsticks, paintings whose characters move and talk, curses, blankets that make one invisible, magic wands, and dementors who are perfect devils. In this land of fantasy, magic, and suspense the author presents the problems of life that many children encounter: broken families, confusing friends and enemies, suffering and death. With a little guidance, the fictional story of Harry Potter might help them come to a better appreciation of the real story of the boy Jesus and his family. Harry Potter narrowly escapes death as an infant when he and his parents are attacked by Lord Voldemort, the evil Dark Wizard. The parents are killed protecting their child. But Potter’s innocence and goodness keeps him from all harm, except for a lightning shaped scar inflicted on his forehead by the Dark Wizard when he tries to slay the boy.
The child Jesus also narrowly escaped death when soldiers of a jealous King Herod the Great failed to find him. It was his parents who carried him to safety. But the protection of the Holy Family was not destined to endure. And if goodness and innocence were enough to keep Jesus from all harm, no one would ever have been able to slay him. Instead of protecting him, the sinlessness of Jesus’ Spirit drove him right into the jaws of evil and death. He let himself be devoured so that he could pass into death and defeat it by his resurrection. The lightning shaped scar on Harry’s forehead is a sign that he avoided death. The scars of Jesus’ crucifixion are signs that he truly died. It was a greater thing for Jesus to die and rise again than not to die at all.
J.K. Rowling, the thirty-nine year old author of Harry Potter books, writes about Harry’s anguish over the loss of his family by the sting of death. When Harry looks into a magical mirror he sees his deceased parents alive and smiling at him. What he wants most is a loving family, expressing a common experience among children whose parents have died or been separated. My mother died when I was ten, my father when I was fifty. Both separations hurt. Age does not matter. Our hearts need familial love. The author herself still suffers from the sting of her mother’s death. She writes, “I miss her daily, I still hear her voice, it is very painful.” Seeing his parents alive in the magical mirror fills Harry Potter with intense longing for them, giving hope that this window into another world foreshadows the end to separation and a promise of future reunion with them.
The story of Jesus threatened and saved at birth, and later lost and found in the Temple also foreshadows future events of separation and reunion. For three days the twelve year old Jesus is lost. This foreshadows the three days that he is lost in death. It is hard to lose one’s parents. It is even harder for parents to lose a child. The love Mary and Joseph have for Jesus pierced their hearts with a razor sharp blade of fear when they realized he was missing. It is every parent’s nightmare. And when they find him, their amazement is expressed in the same words of astonishment used of those who see the risen Christ. Mary and Joseph did not have a magical mirror to foresee the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They did not know what losing and finding Jesus really meant. So Mary asks him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” His reply confused them: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know I must be in my Father’s house?” Their response is not recorded. Maybe it’s a good thing we are not told what Mary and Joseph said next.
The happiness of the Holy Family’s reunion did not last long. Joseph’s death left Mary as a single parent with a growing boy to take care of, and with more heart-wrenching sorrows to come. J.K. Rowling writes out of her own experience of sorrow. Her marriage only lasted a year before it fell apart. She became a single parent with a child to raise. She was in dire poverty, depressed and angry for messing up her life and letting her child down. So, she took up her pen to earn a living writing stories about a boy who overcomes evil by his bravery and by his special gift of wizardry. Rowling does not believe in magic or wizards, but she said, “I’d love it to be real.” There is a hunger in all of us for the supernatural. So, she weaves stories of suspense, intermixing a world of fiction with the real world of England and Scotland. Underdogs, become winners; people suspected of mischief turn out well; someone who is trusted becomes a traitor. Who will it be? Will Lord Voldemort succeed in doing harm?
The story of Jesus also intermixes the real world of Palestine with the supernatural world of divinity and miracles exceeding all fantasy. There is temptation by devils, intrigue by Pharisees, suspense, betrayal by his friends, tragedy on the cross, and the happy ending of Paschal victory. Harry Potter’s magical broomstick, the Nimbus 2001, fades into insignificance compared to Jesus actually walking on water, really being transfigured on Mount Tabor, truly rising transformed from the dead, and ascending gloriously into heaven.
After we lose ourselves for awhile in Potter’s world of good and bad wizards, we can look at our world with fresh astonishment. The boy, Jesus — his powers, his miracles, his triumph over death—it’s all real. And what could be more amazing than bread and wine becoming the very body and blood of Jesus, making us like him, truly children of God, divinized, destined to share the family life of God in the magical kingdom of heaven?
Feast of the Holy Family
[Scripture Readings: Sir. 3: 2-6, 12-14; Col. 3: 12-21; Mt. 2: 13-15, 19-23]
It seems that no matter how important something is, when it becomes familiar and obvious it fades into the background of our awareness and we take it for granted. Central to our celebrations this past week is the reality of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ: The Word who is God became flesh. God who is the Lord and Creator of all that is has entered into human history and into our day to day lives and transformed them through and through. Yet, for many people in our society beginning with the day after Christmas life goes on pretty much as if Christmas had never happened. Sad to say, for more and more people Christmas is no longer even a reminder of the Incarnation.
And you and I…? Do we take the time to reflect on the significance of what the Incarnation means to us? It is not a question of understanding what is beyond our capabilities. How the transcendent God took on our human nature is a mystery in the proper sense of the term. Yet, we can let the celebration of the Christmas season bring the New Testament presentation of the Incarnation before our minds and imaginations for prayerful reflection. Both St. Matthew and St. Luke bring out the transcendent dimension of the Incarnation with appearances and messages from angels. On Christmas night choirs of angels break out in hymns of praise. St. Luke in particular brings out the imminent dimension of the Incarnation by placing the events surrounding it in the context of important secular and Jewish personages and events of the time. Both gospels present the fact that the Word who was God became flesh by being born into a family.
Like you and I, Jesus was an infant and grew up in a family. He was subject to Joseph and Mary and as a fully human child he learned from them. His family was not prominent as the world judges prominence, nor was it powerful. Joseph and Mary, like most parents, were subject to the vicissitudes of decisions beyond their control. Because the emperor wanted to take a census of his domain, probably for purposes of taxation or military conscription or perhaps just to enhance his own ego; they had to undertake a long and arduous journey. No matter that Mary was pregnant and near the time to give birth. Because of Herod’s jealousy, they became refugees in a foreign country. I don’t think it is reading too much into scripture to imagine that Jesus, Mary and Joseph in many respects lived the same kind of life as their neighbors in an unimportant village in Galilee; which in its turn was not considered important in the eyes of the Jerusalemites, and certainly not in the eyes of the Romans.
If the Son of God considered it so important to be born and raised in a family, we would do well to reflect on what our families mean to us. It is in the family that we learn the fundamental definition of who we are. Even after we leave home and perhaps start new families, that basic imprint of our family of origin goes with us. It is in the family that we first learn how to relate to one another. All of the characteristics that St. Paul recommends to the Colossians for life in community are ways of behaving that we learn however inadequately in our early years in our families. I think it is significant that those of us who have entered non-family communities use family terms of address, like brother and sister, and to some extent see ourselves as extensions of a family. It is common to hear references to the Cistercian family, or the Dominican family, or the Franciscan family.
Another obvious reality that we are familiar with is that our society is in a time of major transition, some would say upheaval. This transition is having an impact on the institutions within society, including the family that is not always positive. Nevertheless the forces of social change are too pervasive and too powerful to think that we can ignore them and not be affected by them. The nature of the family has changed in our times and in all likelihood it will continue to change. As a beginning contribution toward making this change a positive one I suggest that with the New Testament as our guide we ask ourselves what the Holy Family would look like today and act accordingly.
Feast of the Holy Family
[Scripture Readings: Sir 3:2-7, 12-14; Col 3:12-21; Lk 2:22-40]
This early, schools already issue their booklets for the curricula of the coming seasons or the next year. To the interested parties, such materials are a great help in tracing their academic route towards a particular course or degree they might want to pursue.
I have here with me a little book which contains the course outlines in a school that I have been and still am enrolled. If ND means Notre Dame University or ISU is for Iowa State University, the school I am in carries the initials SON, or School of Nazareth. There are four major interrelated departments which bear the names of four persons, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Then there are other subsidiary courses, around twenty-three of them, which elaborate on the course’s contents of the four departments.
But let me call your attention on one particular department, that of Luke’s, which speaks of the roots or origin of this school, that is, in Nazareth itself. The school started not in a place, but with persons, actually a family. It is the Family of Joseph, the foster father, with Mary the mother and their son Jesus. It is a loving family which lived a quiet but remarkable life in the Galilean town called Nazareth. Some neighbors say that although Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth prior to their marriage, they were gone for quite some time, say even as long as seven years. Upon their return with some relatives, there was the boy Jesus already in his early school age. He was good-looking, smart, loving and obedient to his parents. Amazing stories circulated about his birth, like being born with royal dignity. Some of his relatives say that to avoid persecution by the vile King Herod, this family had to relocate to Egypt till the atmosphere was again favorable to them, particularly the boy Jesus. Yes, this family was exemplary in their unassuming ways. They emanated divine radiance which every family and individual would aspire to acquire and treasure in their midst.
This is the reason for the creation of SON, the School of Nazareth: to share the divine treasure they possess. One does not have to go to Nazareth to earn a degree from this school. One only needs to pay a premium fee called Openness to the Spirit and Willingness of the Heart. At this school, there are three essential lessons to earn a degree. The first is the lesson of Silence. It is the art of being still, or standing in attention while instructions are given. Posture-wise, it means sitting at the feet of the Master. In Bethany, Mary, the sister of Martha was commended by Jesus the Master for having chosen the better part,. She stood still and came to know the Lord, . The second lesson is the art of Obedience. It flows from silence. Being attentive to the Lord’s word, one is formed to be obedient. The word obedience is related to the ability to hear and listen, which is then tested and verified as one heeds the call of the Lord. The third important lesson is Nurturance or Nourishment. The SON student is nourished in his life of faith. It is a comprehensive and holistic learning not just on the tangible realities of this world but on values that transcend this life. It is an educational nurturing that draws us out of our selfishness into a life of service for others. The Master Himself says, “I have come to serve, and not to be served,” . In Nazareth then, one learns to be a disciple, a follower in the ways of the master. Joseph and Mary were the parents of Jesus, but they themselves are alumni of SON, graduates in the discipleship in their son. This son is the Son of God who himself was still before the heavenly Father’s call, obedient to Him by self-emptying and till death on the cross, and was led from death into new life with the Father.
The motto of the students of SON goes this way: Joy at the Examples of Sacrifice and Unity for Salvation. The acronym is J-E-S-U-S (Joy at the Examples of Sacrifice and Unity for Salvation). To be educated in the SON, one must learn to be like J-E-S-U-S or Jesus. The alumni of SON JESUS are also known as Christians, for the Master Jesus is called the Christ, or the Savior of the world. Here then are the five marks of the JESUS disciples.
First, a Christian is imbued with the JOY of life. There is enthusiasm in him at sharing the gift of an enriched life in the Lord. One school kid spelled out the formula for Joy in terms of the priorities in life. Joy stands for Jesus first, Others next and You the last but not the least. Then, at the school of SON, there are EXAMPLES to emulate. There is Joseph, the righteous man of God who devoted his life for his family. He understood his stewardship role, that although Jesus was in his care, he always had to let him go for God. There is the mother Mary. She was attentive to God through the angelic call. She nurtured herself with God’s word and followed her Son Jesus from the beginning to the end of his life. She stood at the foot of the Cross. Any student of her Son can be assured that Mary also stands by him, especially in moments of trials and tribulations. It is the example of the Holy Family that we can imitate. Third, the Holy Family is marked also by a spirit of SACRIFICE. At the appointed time, the family went to the Temple for sacrificial offerings, as we hear in today’s story of purification in the Temple,. Then as they have to fulfill God’s plan for them, they had to go through lots of sacrifices. It means penance also at the difficulties they had to go through life. But anything they did, it was holy or sacred before God. They offered their whole life to the Lord wherever they were, whenever and whatever they did. That is why, although Jesus was later unjustly brought to persecution, his death on the Cross meant a sacrifice that effected good for us all. Fourth, the Holy Family was marked by UNITY of mind, heart and soul in God. Led by their Son Jesus, even Mary and Joseph were reminded that they have to be about the Father’s business, . What unites the family should be the promotion of God’s will in word and deed. It should also be the goal of every community, be it a parish, a monastery, a diocese, or a nation. We are reminded to be one with the Lord every time we say the Lord’s Prayer. We all pray that His kingdom will come, and His will be done on earth and in heaven. Lastly, the objective in life is our eternal SALVATION. We may strive to be rich, healthy, well-educated and rightly connected. But all of these are meaningful only when they promote our final union with God in His kingdom. Otherwise, it is a vain and useless life.
By the way, the booklet to the School of Nazareth is a New Curriculum called the New Testament. It builds on the old one. So, better inscribe now. Ah, yes, by baptism, we have been inscribed already. So what we need is a renewal course. Now is the time to do itthrough the Holy Family.