Feast Of The Holy Family
29th December 2013
Tony van Vuuren
The stable is still in full view in the sanctuary depicting an idyllic, peaceful scene that fits well with almost everyone’s favourite carol, that we sang at all the Christmas masses; “Silent Night, Holy Night” “all is calm, all is bright.”
Is it really though? Today’s gospel suggests anything but “calm and bright” for the Holy Family. What they are experiencing is more about turmoil, fear and haste.
Matthew moves us quickly from the stable of Jesus’ birth, barely mentioning the visit of the Magi and then rapidly to today’s scene; the need for Jesus’ parents to flee to protect their child. Imagine how difficult it must have been for Joseph and Mary to break family and village ties, take the child and flee to a foreign land; escaping from Herod’s murderous soldiers. We can draw images from the newspapers and television news clips of families doing the same thing today: particularly in Syria and Sudan; fleeing civil war, and cruel oppression in their land.
What Matthew makes clear in today’s account is that God is concerned and is guiding this family just as God protected and guided the people of Israel out of the grip of previous tyrants. The Holy Family symbolizes God’s desire for the well-being of all families, functional and dysfunctional; especially those victimized by internal and external oppressive evil forces.
Joseph and Mary exhibit what all families should: the loving care and protection for their younger and more vulnerable members. Tragically that is not always the case and there are emotional and physically wounded members in many families carrying hurts they received in their homes that have stayed with them all their lives. The notion of a “holy family” is a contradiction in terms for them.
Reflecting on Joseph’s part in this Gospel story as the silent, “righteous man”; we know he is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his responsibility as foster father fully and completely; he waits for God to speak to him and then responds with obedience. Joseph was open to the voice of God and was obedient to the will of God, amidst all his earlier worries and concerns about what he should do about Mary being pregnant, and now amidst all that he has to do to protect and nourish his family, Joseph, listens to the words spoken by the angel that comes 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 elsewhere. We all need love like flowers need sunshine and we need to search for it and listen for it wherever we can!
Joseph was a carpenter. He must have measured things carefully before he cut.
Which begs the question: 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. (Quoting from the old lectionary)
“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…… Parents never drive your children to resentment”.
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.
Buckminster Fuller, an American inventor, once said that God is not just a noun, but also a verb. That is true. God is not just a person, but also a certain flow of life, a flow of receptivity and gratitude between three persons. Inside of God there is a kind of family life going on and Jesus has assured us that when we give and receive from each other within a family, when we break open our lives and hearts and joys and frustrations and egos and agendas and finances and share these with each other, we are letting the life of God flow through us, transforming us most deeply.
As we know though, understanding and sympathy in the midst of the muck and grime of real family life is considerably harder to bring to the fore. All of that notwithstanding, however, unless there is present the kind of abuse that violates the soul, family life remains sacrosanct – sometimes indeed because of its imperfections rather than simply in spite of them.
Perhaps the role that Joseph played in the life of Jesus can help us in the role we play in the lives of our families and of those around us. A role of compassion and care; allowing his faith to have a decisive effect on his actions.
Joseph’s words are not recorded anywhere 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.
Pray every day that the bonds of love, which keep us close to God and to each other, grow ever stronger and deeper.