Feast of the Holy Family
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128: 1-2, 3, 4-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
“Put on …holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col 3:12).
Christians around the world celebrate Christmas in a variety of ways, but the common denominator for most celebrations remains the family. When families get together, it can be a time of mixed emotions – a time of great joy or of conflict as old wounds and struggles resurface. As we continue in the spirit of Christmas, it is a very appropriate time to reflect on the life of the Holy Family. While we often image the Holy Family in a romantic or idyllic fashion, right from the beginning their life was marked by hardship and struggle and the need for unconditional love, incredible endurance, and tremendous trust in the face of extraordinary difficulties. The Holy Family is a powerful model for family life today.
It was probably somewhat of a relief for Mary and Joseph to leave Nazareth and travel to Bethlehem where their child would be born. It was an opportunity to escape all the gossip that no doubt surrounded Mary’s pregnancy. Who was the real father of her baby? Arriving in Bethlehem, they were unable to find decent housing. Like so many of our current day families who have been housed in deplorable facilities, it was no pleasure for Mary and Joseph to set up home in a foul-smelling, rodent-infested stable. This was not what Mary had envisioned for the home of her newborn. Their situation was further complicated by the news that their son’s life was in jeopardy as Herod had ordered the massacre of all young Jewish male children in an attempt to kill the newborn king of the Jews. In this setting of violence, Joseph and Mary set out for Egypt, unsure of the burdens and difficulties they would face, to ensure the wellbeing of their child. They, like many of today’s migrants, set out on a journey into the unknown. In light of today’s political situation, the Holy Family illustrates the growing problem of unwanted refugees and tragic victims of political power struggles. If they were turned away at the borders of Egypt, how might the events of history have unfolded?
The first reading from the Book of Sirach is from the wisdom literature of the Hebrew scriptures. The wisdom literature is a collection of insights into successful living. It outlines what had brought happiness to people in the past and projects the value of this advice for present and future living. Although it was written for a patriarchal society, it is interesting to note the reverence and stature that is given to the mother. Addressed to an adult child, the author of this scripture text recognizes the difficulty in maintaining respect for older parents who are cognitively impaired; he does not offer a solution but recognizes the challenge of honor and respect in these situations.
Saint Paul, in the second reading from Colossians, outlines the virtues that should characterizes a true Christian and follower of Jesus: “Put on …holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another” (Col 3:12). These are not optional virtues we can chose to accept, but rather they are foundational to relational living and require our lifelong effort. Saint Paul emphasizes that the Christian household, like that of the Holy Family, should not be built around patriarchal privilege but on respectful familial relationship which is the glue that will hold families together and allow forgiveness and peace to reign.
Sister Mary T. Flood, OP