December 29, 2019 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Castle Rock, Colorado
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 + Psalm 128 + Colossians 3:12-21 + Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
I grew up with images of the Holy Family that always made my family look like the Clampetts. There were those images of Mary and Joseph on holy cards. There was a picture hanging in my school classroom in which Mary was always weaving something. Joseph had obviously been out picking lilies because there was always one in his hand, and I guess he cut it with a carpenter’s square, because that was in the other hand. The boy was always gazing at his holy parents, waiting to obey their next command. They were the Waltons of Nazareth! They didn’t live in Oklahoma. If they did, they belonged to some other parish.
That image is a perfect recipe for discouragement. It is one more crushing blow to the single parent family. To many mothers it is an invitation to resentment because it would be so wonderful to raise only one perfect child with the help of a perfect husband, the model of chastity, hard work, gentleness and consideration. And in front of that image stands every father, frustrated, defeated, tired, and anxious looking at that perfect family and left to feel defeated, inadequate, and guilty.
The Gospel writers would have us understand that it was no different in Nazareth. We must keep the whole story in mind as we celebrate this day called: “Holy Family.” Their life was not a Christmas Card photo. What makes that family holy is not some kind of perfection, but perhaps some kind of fidelity.
The family whose story is told in this Gospel had its ups and downs. The family whose story is told in this Gospel lived through confusion, strange journeys, dealt with disgruntled relatives and people who did not understand. We are not here to celebrate the ideal family with a perfect mom, an honest dad, and an impeccable child. I think this feast is for my Aunt who was never blessed with children and now lives alone after the death of her husband. No children to care for her. I think this feast is for a woman I passed in a nursing home last week sitting by the door looking for someone, anyone to come for her. I think this feast is for a mother I know whose son is waiting for a bone-marrow transplant; she stays with him constantly while her husband simply cannot visit because of his fears and disappointment. I think this feast is for gay people whose lives never quite fit in and never really will. I think this feast if for single parents who just do the best they can, and it never feels like enough. I think this feast if for families torn apart by divorce, and because of it all cannot find their way to church anymore.
This feast is for all of them and for all of us because we are God’s chosen ones, holy, and beloved. What we all have in common is the power of the Gospel and the pain of living close to or distant from those we love best. It seems like a lot of pain sometimes, but in the end, there is nothing quite like a family, no matter how it is composed. After all, it is in family that we learn to be sensitive to the presence of others, the needs of others, and the rights of all human beings. Family is the ultimate school where one learns to love, to forgive, to be responsible, and to respect. It is also the first and best school of holiness.