Sunday, December 29, 2013

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

Readings: Sir 3:2-6; Ps 128:1-5; Col 3:12-21; Mt 2:3-15.19-23

Today we celebrate the Holy Family. “Holy” is one of those religious words that tend to make us wary. As a result, we are tempted to keep our concept of holiness vague. Or, if not vague, it is a standard we set very high in order to only view from a vast distance. We create this space, one too great to close, to comfort ourselves. Hence, we need not try to close it. We make it a mountain too high and, a bridge too far. But, the word “holy” in scripture simply means, “separate,” “different,” or “set apart for a purpose.” It implies being healthy and whole in an otherwise fragmented world. In English, the phrase “hale and hearty” captures the biblical idea of holiness well.

In Christian terms, the concept of purely and exclusively personal holiness is somewhat problematic. A person “who is obsessed with his own inner unity,” wrote Thomas Merton, “is failing to face his disunion with God and other men. For it is in union with others that our own inner unity is naturally and easily established” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 209). Stated more succinctly, we need each other. Therefore, there is no better school of holiness than the family. For it is in families that we live in closest proximity to one another. In families we see each other at our very best and at our very worst. Our family of origin is so fundamental to who we are and how we see and relate to God, the world, and others that it is difficult to overemphasize its importance.

In today’s first reading, Sirach, in what is likely a commentary on the fourth commandment, insists that we honor our parents and provides us many practical and still-relevant ways of so doing. This commandment is a bridge between the first three commandments about loving God and the final six about loving our neighbor. As such it is in a category by itself. It is also the commandment to which God attaches a promise- “that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you” (Ex 20:12). In God’s plan, parents are rightly situated between God and other people. This unique place parents occupy in each of our lives entails mutual responsibilities. Elders should be honored, even revered, because they are the repositories of life’s wisdom. Often it is their hard work, sacrifice, and suffering that earned the benefits we enjoy. They deserve our respect and care.

In today’s gospel, Mary and Joseph put aside their own plans in order to insure the safety of their child. One would think that such selflessness is inherent to parenthood. However, the news is filled with stories of parents abusing, neglecting, and even killing their own vulnerable children. Children should be cherished. Just as our elders carry within the treasury of the past, children are the hope of our future, a connection that many in our day either deliberately ignore, or simply cannot see.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul provides us with a list of values that are to be nurtured in the family. It is in the family that children first experience compassion and kindness. It is within the family that children’s spirits are shaped by gentleness, love, and forgiveness so they can bestow these on others. This feast reminds us that every family, regardless of its composition and circumstances, is called to be holy.

Being holy does not mean becoming moralistic automatons. On the contrary, it means becoming more human. In fact, to be holy is to be fully human. This is what the Incarnation of the Son of God demonstrates. The path of holiness includes sadness and pain, humor and laughter, boredom and angst, fun and excitement, as well as loving and being loved, forgiving and being forgiven. In our families “holy means striving to surrender to God’s light within us when the darkness around us seems overwhelming. It means struggling day after day to bring creative order – if only a bit of it – to the chaos of our lives” (Mitch Finley). In other words, families “embody” holiness by striving to be “hale and hearty,” to be resilient in order to combat the powerful forces seeking to destroy the family, not by trying to conform to some hopelessly unrealistic ideal.

Bob Hope once joked about his comedy partner saying, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Bing Crosby and there’s nothing Bing Crosby wouldn’t do for me. But that’s the trouble. We don’t do anything for each other.” Sadly, this is often true of families. We simply choose not to embody love.

My brothers and sisters, it is perfect love that became Incarnate for our sake in the person of Jesus. This season of Christmas and this feast of the Holy Family reminds us that God's Son, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity took on flesh because, as then-Bishop Niederauer wrote to us at Christmas a number of years ago, He “wants to make a difference in our lives each day, in what we say and do, and especially in why we say and do it- out of love for him, who has loved us enough to come and abide with us now and always.”

Well, dear readers, that's a wrap for blogging in 2013. Catch ya on the flip-side, as they say (I've no idea who the they might be).

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