Sunday, December 30, 2012

Year C Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Readings: Sir. 3:2-6.12-14; Ps. 128:1-5; Col. 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52

Over the days immediately following the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord we observe a number of important feasts, most notably, on the second day of Christmas, the Feast of St. Stephen, one of the Church’s first seven deacons and the first Christian martyr, followed the next day by the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, then comes the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when we call to mind the young boys killed on Herod’s orders to prevent the rising up of a ruler who might challenge the wicked king’s power.

In the wake of the pre-Christmas shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, we celebrated (yes “celebrate” is the correct word) the Feast of the Holy Innocents with a lot of immediacy and poignancy this year. We can celebrate this day and all the days of the Christmas only because of our hope that arises from the love God has shown us in Christ Jesus, particularly in and through His resurrection from the dead, which love is greater than any evil that can befall us, as difficult as that is to grasp at times. In this way we adhere to St. Paul’s admonition from our New Testament reading for this feast: “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

There has rightly and understandably been a lot of talk these past few weeks about families that have been devastated, but on this Feast of the Holy Family let us consider some of the consequences of the on-going devastation of the family. In his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia, delivered during the last full week of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI spoke very directly to this civilizational crisis. Reflecting back on his meeting with families from throughout the world in Milan last June, the Holy Father said it was an indication that the family remains strong and vibrant, but went on to note that “there is no denying the crisis that threatens [the family] to its foundations – especially in the western world.”

According to the Pope, “the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.” This prompted the Pontiff to pose a number of questions, the fundamental one being about “the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment.” This, in turn, allowed him to pose a number of more specific questions: “Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to [hu]man nature? Does it not contradict [our] freedom and the scope of [our] self-realization?” Do we come to self-realization by living for ourselves alone and only entering into relationships with others when we can break them off again at any time? “Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for?”

In an article published in The Washington Times on Christmas Day, “Fathers disappear from households across America,” journalist Luke Rosiak cited some alarming figures: over the last ten years while “the country added 160,000 families with children the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million. Fifteen million U.S. children, or 1 in 3, live without a father, and nearly 5 million live without a mother. In 1960, just 11 percent of American children lived in homes without fathers.” That’s a percentage increase of nearly 20% over fifty-two years. In this context, bearing in mind the growing income gap between the rich and poor in our nation, it is important to point out something else Rosiak, using statistics provided by the National Fatherhood Initiative, cites, “Married couples with children have an average income of $80,000, compared with $24,000 for single mothers.”



Considering all the issues we currently face as a nation, what Vincent DiCaro, who serves as vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, observed in the article isn’t much of an over-statement: “Deal with absent fathers, and the rest follows.” DiCaro went on to observe that very often we “look at a child in need, in poverty or failing in school, and ask, ‘What can we do to help?’ But what we [need to] ask [is], ‘Why does that child need help in the first place?’ And the answer is often because [the child lacks] a responsible and involved father.” While I don’t want to score cheap emotional points, it is sobering to think about the absence of the Newtown shooter’s, Adam Lanza, father, who is a very successful financier, from his life. It appears that the two had not spoken for two years prior to Adam’s spree of violence and terror, leaving an apparently troubled mother to cope to with a deeply troubled son on her own.

Responding to the questions posed earlier in his speech to the Roman Curia, the Holy Father said, “Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that [we] remain… closed in on [ourselves].” He then moved to the fundamental reason for the Incarnation of the Son of God, observing that “only in self-giving” do we discover ourselves, “and only by opening [ourselves] to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting [ourselves] be changed through suffering,” do we discover “the breadth of [our] humanity. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.”

Considering all of the complexities of individual situations and circumstances, it is impossible to judge wholesale, let alone to condemn anyone, which are not my reasons for broaching this difficult issue. We must let ourselves be confronted and challenged by the truth because without truth there can be no love. As philosopher Donald DeMarco wrote, “The rejection of truth… moves love to the edge, where it can be reclaimed only by the recovery of truth.” This is an apt description of the suffering to which we must be willing to subject ourselves in order to discover the “breadth” of our humanity, the fullness of which is revealed to us by Jesus Christ. As Bishop Wester stated emphatically in his homily for the Nativity of the Lord, we must see in the wood of the manger, the wood of the Cross, which is the path to ultimate fulfillment and happiness, both here and in eternity. One of the great mysteries of life, taught us from our mothers giving birth to us onward, is that true joy is almost always born of suffering.

It is easy to think of the response of the boy Jesus in today’s Gospel to His Mother’s expressed concern as insouciant. It is not. By stating forthrightly that God is His Father, thus indicating St. Joseph is not, our Lord in no way denigrates the faithful fatherhood of St. Joseph. The silent witness of St. Joseph in the Gospels is nothing short of sublime. This is indicated by the sacred author noting that after this episode Jesus “went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:50-51a), but only after noting that the Blessed Virgin and her most chaste spouse did not fully grasp what they had just experienced.

2 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful website Deacon Scott. One, which I will check in often. God Bless your Sanctity.

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  2. Thanks Stephen. I hope you find it useful and edifying.

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