The Holy Family (Year A)
First Reading: Sirach 3:2-7, 12-14 Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21 Gospel Reading: Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table, but the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. “We must do something about Grandfather,” said the son. “I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.” Therefore, the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl. When the family glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?” Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work. The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took Grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days, he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.
We are in the Season of Christmas and today is the 1st Sunday after Christmas. On this Sunday we celebrate the feast of “The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” which is very much part of this season and it enables us to continue to ponder the mystery of Christmas and learn the lessons that this season has to teach us. Actually, the birthday celebration of the Christ child naturally leads us to contemplate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as model of all Christian families.
Families are part of God's plan. They are the essential cells of society in which parents and children are sustained and grow into maturity. Triune God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit), who is a Family in Himself, chose a human family to come into this world to bring salvation to humankind and thus sanctified all human families. This mystery of the Incarnation, just a few days ago we celebrated during Christmas. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became man and came into the world in order to save us from our sins and that we might become Children of God. He was born into a human family. Nourished and formed by his mother Mary and foster father Joseph, he grew into maturity and became the person the heavenly Father meant him to be. He lived at Nazareth with his parents to give us an understanding of a true family life.
All the Scripture Readings of today reflect on the virtues of a good family that need to be cultivated and lived. They also underline the call to enhance the quality of a family. In the Gospel Reading from St. Matthew we have the protective role of Joseph as he takes Mary and Jesus to Egypt. In the First Reading we have the formula of Ben Sirach, a wise teacher, for a strong family: honor and respect. St. Paul in the Second Reading encourages all families to practice every kind of virtue and asks to remain ever grateful to God.
For a large part of his life Jesus was part of a family, but his family-life is shrouded in mystery. We always imagine that the Holy Family must had been an extremely happy family. Yet, like every other family, it too had from time to time its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its problems and difficulties. In fact, challenges faced them right from the very beginning.
When we turn to the Gospels we find that this so called 'The Holy Family' isn't a very normal one. The mother is a virgin and the father is not the biological father of the child. And they are not living in some ideal family setting but rather being so hounded by the megalomaniac Herod that they must find safety in Egypt fleeing as refugees. But this is the family God had chosen, the one in which His Son would mature. Mary had already heard the mind-blowing invitation to be the mother of God. She had listened to the Word of God, accepted it and now in a sense was doing it, living out the consequences. Then there is Joseph her husband. He had already been surprised by the news of Mary's pregnancy, who was betrothed to him and proved himself just in the way he had respected the law but shown kindness and compassion to her. Again he was faced by another upheaval. He had to listen to God's word in a dream and had to take the responsibility of guiding his wife & child through the dangers of a journey to Egypt and back.
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Matthew which is unique to his Gospel, we have the story of 'the Flight into Egypt.' It shows us that not even the Holy Family was spared the trials and sufferings of every family. King Herod is so intent on taking the life of Jesus that the Almighty God finds it expedient to send an angel to warn Joseph in a dream to get moving and get moving fast. The baby’s life is threatened and they are forced to flee into Egypt. The family is fleeing for its life, fighting for its life, with a special concern for the helpless infant, Jesus. Through all such tribulations Joseph shows himself a true Israelite, obedient to God and ready to do His will at any cost. He has already shown himself a courageous man of honor who wanted to protect the reputation of Mary because God wanted him to. The trip to Egypt would have been a nightmare for the Holy family but they accept it in obedience.
When Herod was dead Joseph has another dream telling him to return to the land of Israel. Since things were not as safe as expected Joseph is told in the dream to go to Nazareth because of Archelaus son of Herod who was also a cruel person, and the Holy Family lived a normal quiet life there.
Now, why is it that we call this Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – “Holy?” This family is holy because God is present in it and also it is responsive to the demanding word of God spoken in the very trying circumstances of their daily lives. The measure of a holy family is not found in what does - or does not - happen to its members. Rather, a holy family is one that demonstrates a certain grace and confidence when faced with the events of daily living, especially the unexpected ones. While the ups and downs, the joys and pains of Jesus, Mary and Joseph have something to teach us, the real lesson for us who try to maintain and nurture holy families in our own lives is how the Holy Family faced life's tribulations. We must therefore consider the great peace and serenity of mind and heart of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, shown in their constancy amid all the unexpected events that befell them.
Again, Holy Family is a close knit group. The love which binds and unites them is evident. The protection and nurture which the family gives to the child is clearly portrayed. Mary, Joseph and Jesus model for us the life of the Holy Family. Joseph exhibited great trust in God and demonstrated intense devotion and love in caring for Mary and Jesus. Scripture does not quote a single word of Joseph, and yet his actions speak volumes of a strong man devoted to God and family. Mary, too, showed tremendous faith in God and trusted in God’s love for her. As wife, she helped Joseph in his quest for holiness. As mother, she cared for Jesus with great love and tenderness. Both Mary and Joseph created the environment which allowed Jesus to grow in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. Jesus, for his part, was obedient to Mary and Joseph and obviously loved them both very much. And, out of great love for his Father and for us, he was obedient to all that God asked of him, including death on a cross. This type of sacrificial love for the other defines a significant attribute of a holy family– a love that allows all in the family to flourish in their quest for holiness.
The First Reading of today from the book of Sirach tells of the privileged place parents and family have in the eyes of God and gives practical instructions on relations within the family which are as directly relevant today as when they were first written. The words of Sirach make good sense for fostering the relationships between the generations. The parents are gifted by God to bring into the world others in the image and likeness of Him. The author calls the children therefore, to exhibit honor, reverence, compassion, and kindness toward their parents, especially when they become vulnerable, and not to desert them when they get Alzheimer's, but to accept them with love and treat them with patience. He says that obedience and respect to parents is tantamount to obedience to God. Sirach urges sons and daughters to hold mother and father in high esteem. Great blessings await those who obey their father and bring comfort to their mother. They will have good relationship with God and their prayers to God will be heard.
In the Second Reading of today, St. Paul writing to the Colossians encourages the Christian community to practice every virtue. He admonishes them, 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, if one has a grievance against another. He reminds them that Christ forgave and likewise they have to forgive one another. Moreover, he tells them that they should always be filled with praise and thanksgiving to God.
Again, they are especially to clothe themselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Then the peace of Christ will be in their hearts, to which they are called in the one body. The individual family is built up of loving relationships. So, he tells that parents should not nag their children and children should honor and respect their parents. He tells husbands to respect their wives and that wives should be subordinate to their husbands. In a Christian family, mutual affection, respect, responsibility and care must thus prevail. This identifies the family as a household of faith that gives thanks to God and makes the family 'holy.'
To conclude: The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about the Holy Family, but about our own families too. The main purpose of the Feast is to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families. In today's Gospel we catch glimpses of the Holy Family which reflect the difficulties we all face in our own families. The Flight into Egypt that we hear about suggests that we should consider to what extent the love, unity and even survival of our own families are under threat. Are there precautionary measures to be taken before it is too late? Family life is something precious. Those near to us should be dear to us and we to them. Family life is worth fighting for. Family life needs fighting for. And most certainly, praying for.
So, what we are celebrating today is that the God who created the institution of the family, despite its shortcomings, chose to transform it through the Incarnation and make it one of the ways by which he saved us. We can learn in the example of the Holy Family that, despite all our failures and difficulties, we too are called to become 'holy' through living out God's word in the midst of our families.
Let us then today, in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family ask God’s blessings on our own families. Also, with the passing of another Christmas season, let us go into the New Year strengthened by its message and with our hopes renewed for a better world. And this is the Good News of today.