THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH – December 31, 2017

A reading from the Book of Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 3:12-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 2:22-40

Dear Reader,

What do we celebrate on this Feast of the Holy Family?  Certainly and most obviously, we celebrate the family that is Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.  Each is a person of profound faith, called by God to trust God’s call and to live out the implications of that call.  The family is an icon before which we sit to be drawn into the mystery and so be transformed.  Icons tend to be placid depictions of extraordinary beings rapt in prayer and seeming to be totally other.  That is, until we look deeper.  So it is here.

Responding to God’s will involved struggle for Joseph who had to let go of what he had planned for his future and to trust when the young woman to whom he was engaged was found to be pregnant.  Breaking the relationship was his first inclination.  The angel told him to trust that what was happening was God’s will.  So he took Mary into is house.  Because he was of the House of David, Caesar’s mandatory world census set them on the road to Bethlehem late in Mary’s pregnancy, caused him the humiliation of not being able to provide a decent place for the birth of the child, and then, when it seemed that the child was in danger, he had to leave hearth and home and flee to Egypt.

Mary.  At most she was thirteen when Gabriel said to her: Hail, Full of Grace.  She too struggled to find God’s will in the angel’s invitation, needing assurance, needing a sign so that she could know that nothing is impossible with God.  Simeon says to her in today’s Gospel: And your heart a sword shall pierce.  She will have to struggle to understand who the son she bore is.  The sword is the word of God.  Her heart is where she thinks, prays, and ponders that word.

Jesus, too, struggles as he comes to understand that his work is to do the will of the one who sent me.  And following that will will take him to Calvary and the brink of despair as darkness threatens to envelop him in abandonment.  My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

As extraordinary as the three individuals who make up the Holy Family are, the icon they become in this feast is meant not only to inspire but also to challenge us to do what they do and be family as they are.  Really?  I think so.  It is a sad fact of contemporary living that many families are fractured.  Single parent homes are not uncommon.  Ideally parents and children live in a community of life and love.  The guiding ethic Sirach puts before us spells out how that reality is to be lived.  The mutuality of parents’ authority is one thing.  The responsibility of the children to be guided by that authority is another.  The obligation to care for each other, especially children for parents as they age and their faculties fail, all these come together as something pleasing to God and merit being with God forever.  God hears the cry of the just.  The grace that animates all this merits sin’s forgiveness.

Single parents.  Widows.  Widowers.  Single people.  What about these?  The icon of the holy Family is something that each one may enter and thereby be transformed.  Openness to God’s love and grace is the calling of every person of faith.  Trust in times of difficulty rises out of that faith.  Respect for each other enfleshes that faith and helps the other to experience God’s love through the acts of kindness and respect.

There is more.  What about the parish?  What about the Church?  Doesn’t the icon apply there too?  Should not the parish be family?  Should not the Church as the People of God inspire each member to love, honor, and respect every other member and to live with the desire to put into practice the unity that is ours in Eucharist, the unity that is ours as the Body of Christ?  We are family.  There is mutuality among God’s people who are loved by God as God loves Christ.  That is one of the effects of the Incarnation and our being drawn into the community that is God.

One of the catch phrases that came out of Vatican Council II was the call to all the faithful to full, active, and conscious participation in the Liturgy.  That means that one’s being a passive spectator, if you will, at Sunday Mass does not fulfill the obligation.  Nor is the obligation fulfilled if one becomes totally self absorbed in private devotions, the rosary and the like, thereby effectively being walled off from the rest of the community gathered at the Table.  The Eucharist is action and all are part of it.  Then, having eaten and drunk, all are sent to continue the action of Eucharist where ever we go in the market place until all are fed and have drunk.

Paul writes to the church at Colossus.  Listen to what he says as he speaks to a community broader than the individual family.  The community at large is called to put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another…. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…. And 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.

In other words, it seems to me, the feast we celebrate today is meant to put before us a model of every coming together of people.  The Holy Family is a model for how the human family is to live.  In these times of hatred and division, of racism and sexism, of resurgent white supremacy and neo-Nazis, if that profound respect, that sense of responsibility for each other were to captivate the human imagination and motivate us to recognize that all are members of the one family of God, what differences would soon become apparent.  Sure, it is idealistic.  But what if that is God’s will for us?

What does heartfelt compassion mean?  To be compassionate is to suffer with.  Heartfelt compassion goes even deeper.  The suffering of the other is our own.  It that embrace we find Christ.

We have been blessed with beacons of compassionate response.  We call them saints.  Dorothy Day.  Thomas Merton.  Mahatma Gandhi.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  They tend to prick the human conscience and make us marvel all the while wondering how anyone could live so selflessly.  We shudder to think that their call is our own.  Put on heartfelt compassion.  That is not a suggestion.  That is a directive.  That is an easier word to accept than command.  There is only one way.  Christ.

I beg your indulgence and hope I do not test your patience as I close this reflection with a quote from another beacon of compassionate response who gave his life in testimony to this cause, Archbishop Oscar Romero, killed while he celebrated Eucharist.

Christ marveled, says the Gospel, and he said, “Truly I have not found such faith in Israel.”

I say:

Christ will also say of this church: outside the limits of Catholicism perhaps there is more faith, more holiness.

So we must not extinguish the Spirit.  The Spirit is not the monopoly of a movement, even of a Christian movement, of a hierarchy, or priesthood, or religious congregation.  

The Spirit is free, and he wants men and women, wherever they are, to realize their vocation to find Christ, who became flesh to save all human flesh.

Yes, to save all, dear brothers and sisters.  I know that some people come to the cathedral who have even lost the faith or are non-Christians.  Let them be welcome.

And if this message is saying something to them, I ask them to reflect in their inner consciousness, for, like Christ, I can tell them: The kingdom of God is not far from you, God’s kingdom is within your heart.  Seek it and you will find it.

Imagine what would happen if we really believed we were all family, God’s family, the world peopled with our brothers and sisters.  Imagine as tomorrow we being a New Year.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

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