Homily for Holy Family Sunday – 26 December 2010
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Colossians 3:12-21 [Shorter: Colossians 3:12-17]
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
[In some translations of the Bible, the Book of Sirach is found in the Apocryphal section.]
Is your family holy? Today is the feast of the Holy Family – the last Sunday of the calendar year. Why ever do we assume that the only Holy Family is the one comprised of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? Why have a feast that sets apart one family unless there is a logical application for us and our families too? Why cannot our families also be holy families? Well, they can be! Each of the readings today offers us directions on how ours can be a Holy Family. But, we tend not to look at these as directions for how we can be Holy Families. We tend to think instead of the original Holy Family.
In Sirach we learn about honoring our parents and about being considerate and kind. In the Psalm we hear of godly things that happen to God-loving people. In Colossians we have specific instructions on family life. (More on that in a moment.) Finally, we have Matthew’s account of the flight into Egypt – which, in many ways, is a family prototype. How, then, can we be a Holy Family? Listen to who our families are – we are blended families, we are single parent families, we are gay and lesbian families, we are single people with no interest in marrying, we are widowed, we are divorced, we are alone and many miles from our families of origin. We are even Internet families. The list goes on and on. How can we all be Holy Families? Very, very few families fit the norm. We sometimes think the norm is the nuclear family, but it is not. Throughout most of history the nuclear family has been the exception. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were probably a nuclear family for their brief stay in Egypt – but not for the rest of the story.
But, what is the norm? Is there a norm? Or is this norm a mythical and maybe artificially unrealistic ideal that we of recent decades have invented? Maybe we are missing what the norm truly is.
Let us look at the today’s gospel for an understanding of what a family norm might be – regardless of whether our family is biological and nuclear or whether it is as broad and universal as the other side of our computer screen. This reading from Matthew begins with the magi departing from their visit. Earlier in that gospel we learned that the magi had come to the house. This was probably an extended family setting – if not in the immediate house, at least in the surrounding houses. How many of us live in the immediate vicinity of many of our blood relatives? Not a lot. How many of us have magi visit – particularly with the kinds of gifts the gospel’s magi bring? Probably not many of us at all. From there Joseph is warned in a dream to flee the country – fast! How many of us are warned of anything in a dream? Maybe a few of us, but probably very few. But, how many of us have kings chasing us down? This is hardly typical.
Joseph fled and thus expatriated for at least a couple of years in Egypt. He was thus a foreigner in a foreign land – away from his family and friends. This was highly unusual for the society of his day, though not quite as unusual for us today. He may have had to learn a new language – or at least a new dialect of an old language. Think of all the other tribulations he had in moving to a strange country! He had to make new friends and find a new job. He had to become established in Egypt.
Then, finally – and probably after he was established and becoming comfortable in his new surroundings, he returned home where he and Mary and Jesus became a part of a small community called Nazareth where probably almost everyone was related to almost everyone else. If we trace the concept of family here, we see first a home in an extended family setting, followed by an isolation in a strange land, followed by a repatriation in a community where the nuclear family was hardly the norm. And it was in this community that Jesus grew up. The point is that the norm is the unusual. The norm does not fit the standard definitions of norm. It never did fit. And because it never did fit, now we all fit.
Every one of us has a different story. Some are dramatic, some are mundane, some are calm, some are stormy. Every family story (whether family of origin or family of choice) is different – just as the story of the prototype Holy Family is different. Perhaps we need to stop looking at the externals of what makes a family holy. Perhaps, realizing that our stories are just as atypical as the story of the original Holy Family, we might be ready to go back and look at the directions for how we, in our individual situations, can truly be Holy Families.
The gospel story concentrates on Joseph’s willingness and obedience but each member of the original Holy Family also did as God had directed. And that is really what being a Holy Family is all about. That is what we are supposed to do. What does God want each family – and each family member – to do? The directions are quite clear. Go back to Sirach. Sirach is a wisdom book and, as such, contains practical advice. Here the advice is centered around the interaction between parents and children and what God expects. The advice is given in a very loving way – and that advice about honor and respect and kindness is certainly as valid today as it was over 2500 years ago when Sirach was written.
The real key, however, for our families being Holy Families comes from Colossians. Paul’s advice is for everyone. “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; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” It seems that if we each follow Paul’s advice, we will be doing God’s will (just as the original Holy Family did). And, if we do God’s will, regardless of our physical circumstances, we too will be Holy Families.
-- Roberta M. Meehan