Readings: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
In our Catholic Liturgical Calendar the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas is always dedicated to the mystery of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. This year “on the third day of Christmas” we recount in a special way the Holy Family. Many parishes, schools, religious congregations, individuals, communities, sodalities, etc., are dedicated to the Holy Family. To all of them we extend our prayers for a blessed celebration of their holy patrons, Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The first reading for Mass this Sunday, from the Old Testament Book of Sirach, contains practical instructions for proper living with others, focusing on obedience to and honor for parents, the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and mother,” which according to our faith tradition, is of fundamental importance, as is love of parents for their offspring.
The supreme model for all such God-centered living is, of course, the Holy Family of Nazareth. Their mode of acting, though hidden from others for the most part, nonetheless was rooted in mutual love, service and fidelity.
“No man is an island,” the poet John Donne wrote, and this is as true for the Holy Family of Nazareth as it is for each of us. Sometimes when I speak with people I ask about the community or family to which they belong. I do not necessarily mean their formal enrollment in a monastery or other intentional communities, such as a religious Order in the Church. I ask them about to whom they speak, rely on for support, encouragement and direction in their quest in doing good and seeking God. Where do they worship and find nourishment for their journey to God?
For some that is in fact found in connection to or membership in a monastery or other religious community, and I’m all for that, but for most people it means simply belonging to a family, a parish, a support group of one kind or another. Those who have connection with some kind of community, by and large seem to be able to weather the inevitable storms of life with greater peace and ease.
This may not always be the case I realize, but something that I have concluded from talking with many people over the years. Again, we are not islands, but connected to one another and form a family of followers of Christ. We count on and rely on one another to assist us in going through life and ultimately falling into the hands of a loving God who has cared for us from all eternity.
The second lesson for Mass this Sunday, from the Letter of Saint to the Colossians, was composed at a time when Saint Paul was in prison. Paul asks his hearers to strive for ordinary virtues in everyday life, such as love and respect for one another, mercy, kindness, humility and meekness, along with patience, especially bearing with one another at all times, forgiving, just as the Lord has forgiven them and is always ready to forgive.
These qualities were certainly characteristic of the Holy Family of Nazareth, but not reserved to them alone, and highly recommended to each of us as well, carried out in our holy family of the monastic enclosure, family life, in the work place, school, etc.
The Gospel text today from Saint Matthew gives us a glimpse into aspects of the life of the Holy Family, where Jesus grew up and was obedient to his parents. Our Lord did not grow up as a member of royalty, but in a fairly poor village in an out of the way part of Galilee, in Nazareth.
Jesus and his parents knew the pressures of making ends meet and sharing with others what that were able to earn or grow or make in their modest environs. In so doing, Jesus “progressed steadily in wisdom and age and grace before God and men,” as Saint Luke expresses it in his Gospel account (chapter 2, verse 52).
What do the three Biblical passages offered on Holy Family Sunday have to say to us today? Perhaps it is that we should always strive to live at peace in our communities, families, neighborhoods, places of work, or wherever our life ordinarily unfolds.
Living in peace with all implies large doses of forgiveness and patience, since we all make mistakes and are regularly in need of being forgiven and forgiving others. With this in mind, the American author Mark Twain said that we all need a sizeable plot of ground in which to bury the faults of our friends, or family members, neighbors, co-workers, superiors, with whomever we live and work.
In his public ministry Jesus put forgiveness in terms of “seventy times seven times,” another way of saying we should forgive always and every time others offend us, not just four hundred ninety times! That is not sn easy task, but called for by those committed to Christ, who has offered us an example, along with his mother Mary and his foster-father Joseph.
Sure, we might say, but they were saints, specially chosen by God and immune from the temptations we mere mortals undergo. Rather, the Holy Family too must have experienced trials and temptations, including Jesus, God incarnate, but they were able to choose consistently (implying a free will), the ways of God rather than self-seeking or turning from God.
We perhaps fail regularly in our choices, but are never to give up trying to do what is right, but always rely on the grace of God so that we can make progress in virtue and holiness. The saints are given as models for us to emulate, not so that stand back in awe, thinking we are incapable of coming anywhere near their virtue.
God has a plan for each of us. With the plan God gives grace and the promise of a guiding hand and loving care, especially offered us in the sacraments of our Church, most particularly the Eucharist and Reconciliation or Penance. We have to trust in the plan of God for our life, and be willing to put aside what might seem best to ourselves, so that others may be served by our loving words and deeds, and that they might forgive us when we fail to live up to the ideals.
May we all be faithful servants of the word of God, guardians of divine truth and life within us. May we willingly obey God and one another, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph, with unwavering trust and joyful hope in the God who stooped down to raise us up to Life Eternal in God’s Kingdom.
A Blessed continuation of the Christmas Season. Don’t take down the decorations or Nativity scenes just yet!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB