(From the Bulletin of Sts. Joachim and Ann Catholic Church, January 1, 2017)
Feast of the Holy Family
How do we define "family"?
Is it just one Mom, one Dad, and four kids living in the same place for years? This fits fewer and fewer families in our world. Many children are members of broken families, and so-called dysfunctional families. Pictures of refugees escaping from the conflict of war have become familiar images on TV. Terrified families in war zones stir our pity. Families on the run with a few possessions loaded onto a tractor and cart, or on foot, move out of their native land to seek refuge wherever they will be tolerated. Most homes are abandoned and will probably be looted, vandalized or destroyed. It may never be possible for these people to return to their homelands. They're part of our definition of family, too. It all comes under the umbrella of the "nuclear" family.
In today's Feast of the Holy Family, despite the familiar manger scene found on millions of Christmas cards, we find a family in deep stress, running for their lives from Herod the Great. This tyrant, having deceived the Magi who had innocently informed the King of the child's presence nearby, was enraged to the point of massacring all newborn babies in his kingdom. Joseph is informed of this in a dream by an angel who instructs him to take the child and his mother, and escape to Egypt. This flight into Egypt, as told us in today's Gospel, is a reminder that many centuries before their journey, Moses, also a child of danger, had led the Jewish people from slavery to freedom in what we call the Exodus. Now Jesus, the new and greater Moses, will free His people from their slavery to sin in a new Exodus, and secure eternal life to all who will follow Him, in the Promised Land of heaven.
Tradition says that after three years in exile, another angel informs Joseph that Herod the Great is dead. The Holy Family returns to their homeland, not to Bethlehem, since the new King Archelaus who reigns in his father's place is also a cruel and barbaric ruler. Joseph brings Mary and Jesus to His native town of Nazareth in Galilee. There, they lived a simple ordinary life, Joseph as a carpenter, and Mary as a housewife and mother. Jesus grew in holiness and in knowledge of God's will in the same ordinary ways that we do.
What extraordinary wisdom we find in both the first and second readings this Sunday for family life! Sirach, a second- century B.C. writer, gives us the fruit of constant reading of Scriptures. First, he reminds us that parents' authority is given them by God Himself. When children obey their parents, they will have their sins forgiven, their prayers heard, and will themselves be blessed with children. Sirach counsels us to be good to our parents in their old age, even when their minds fail!
St. Paul, in Colossians, gives families, both our own individual families, and the wider family of the Church, a sure-fire formula for success. We are to act with "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another." Who would ever want to escape—whether Dad, Mom or teenager—from such a happy home? Or, who would ever want to leave that kind of a parish family to seek Christ elsewhere?
Fr. Louis Kemayou, Pastor