Cycle A 26th Dec 2010
Matth: 2:13-15. 19-23. Coloss: 3: 12-21
Tony van Vuuren
It’s appropriate that the Feast of the Holy Family, a uniquely Catholic feast, should fall within the Christmas Season because it’s at the start of the Gospel story, in Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ birth, that we hear most about Jesus’ parents. Later on, during Christ’s adult life, there’s very little information about His family – nothing about Joseph, and only a few passing references to Our Lady. So the few verses of the Gospel which are concerned with Mary and Joseph are important. They’re the basis for the picture we have of Jesus’ start in life and the sort of upbringing he had.
One of the noticeable things about the opening chapters of the Gospels is that Mary and Joseph say so little. For example, neither of them speaks a word, in the Gospel passage we have just heard. In fact there is no record of words spoken by Joseph anywhere in the Gospels.
Both Matthew and Luke prefer to show us what they were like through their actions: their search for a safe place for Jesus to be born, their efforts to protect their child; even fleeing into Egypt while King Herod is looking for Jesus to kill him; and their efforts, later on, to bring Jesus up with a deep and sincere devotion to God. They protect him, with a lot of trouble and sacrifice on their own part. But they assume that task silently and without complaining.
On this Sunday dedicated to families, let us reflect on the silent witness of Joseph. He is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely. He is often overshadowed by the glory of Christ and the purity of Mary. But he, too, waits for God to speak to him and then responds with obedience.
Scripture has left us with a singularly important phrase describing Joseph: Matthew writes about him as “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:18). A quiet man, but kept very busy! Most Saints have one patronage; but St Joseph has at least 5; the Universal Church, Fathers, Carpenters, Social Justice and Departed Souls.
We need to realize something of great importance in Joseph and then realize it’s
importance to us. He was open to the voice of God and was obedient to the will of God. Amidst all Joseph’s worries and concerns, amidst all that he had to do to protect and nourish his family, Joseph, The Wordless One, could hear the words spoken by the angel that came from God.
That should speak to us. That should speak to us in our own family life. That should prompt us to reflect on how open we are to hear words of love and words that challenge us when our natural inclinations lead us otherwise.
Joseph was a carpenter. He must have measured things carefully before he cut. Carpenters should be that way.
Which leads me to ask: How do we measure things before we speak and before we act? Are the voices we hear within us voices that speak God’s words or are they urges and inspirations that come from voices not of God? And when we do in fact pay attention to our inner voices, how measured and careful are our actions that flow from them?
It’s a sad fact, but a fact of life just the same – that very often, for all sorts of complicated reasons, the people whom we end up seeing as our enemies, the people with whom we have the most bitter disagreements and who stir up the most violent emotions, are the members of our own family and extended family.
When divisions occur in families, they usually run deep. But when these divisions arise, or when there’s a breakdown in the relationships between members of a family, it’s in those circumstances most of all that we need to appeal – not to conventional ideas of family bonds and affection – but to those aspects of Christian love that St Paul is talking about.
“You should be clothed in sincere compassion,” says St Paul, “in kindness, and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as the quarrel begins. And over all those things, to keep them together, put on love”.
Very often in a situation of conflict we can’t be responsible for other people’s decisions and other people’s behaviour. We can only be responsible for our own. And while we shouldn’t feel obliged to allow ourselves to be treated as a doormat, or to remain totally passive in the face of unjust treatment or manipulation, what we often have to do is at least to keep a careful guard over our own motives and our own actions; so that if we are caught up in a bitter dispute, especially in our family, we’re not reacting out of hatred and a desire to win at all costs.
It may turn out that it’s precisely in situations of great stress or breakdown in our families that we come up against the challenge to respond with the values that we profess as Christians. And we’re always doing the right thing if we try to look at the situation in a Christian perspective and try to act out of these motives of gentleness, patience, kindness, and love as far as we possibly can – regardless of the behaviour of the others who are involved, and even though it’s very difficult and demands a lot of us.
So as we gather around our family table this holiday weekend we may want to share with each other what we as a family value. What are the values that shape and influence us? You may be a single parent but you and your children come from an extended family. If you are single you likewise come from an extended family. Most of us have families of one sort or another and those families shape and form our attitudes, our outlook on life, and our own values.
What are these attitudes and values; and how do they help us to be who we are?
Perhaps the role that Joseph played in the life of Jesus can help us in the role we play in the lives of those around us. Compassionate and caring; allowing his faith to have a decisive effect on his actions.
Joseph’s words are not recorded in the bible, but our words can be written in the hearts of those who know us.
God made us to love and to care, to love and to care not only for our children and our parents, not only for the members of our family, but for all whom God has placed in our lives. A great part of caring is to protect what is valuable in life and to cherish those values that are essential for preserving and fostering the human family.
The New Year looms; a year of undoubtable challenges and new beginnings for all of us; as individuals, as families and as a Parish. St Michael’s starts the Lifeteen programme in 5 weeks time. An exciting and faith challenging time ahead for our youth, but requiring the wholehearted support of our community of families.
We need to pray every day that the bonds of love, which keep us close to God and to each other, grow ever stronger and deeper