Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, & Joseph
We all come from different families and our family backgrounds have shaped each and every one of us through the years. Jesus, too, came from a family. We celebrate His family on the Sunday between December 25th and January 1st, when there is one, otherwise the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is celebrated on December 30th.
Entrance Antiphon: Lk 2:16 — “The shepherds went in haste, and found Mary and Joseph and the Infant lying in a manger.”
First Reading: Sir 2:2-6, 12-14 — “Those who fear the Lord honor their parents.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5 — “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways.”
Second Reading: Col 3:12-21 — “Family life in the Lord.”
Alleluia: Col 3:15a, 16a — “Alleluia, alleluia. Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Gospel: Mt 2:13-15, 19-23 — “Take the child and His mother, and flee to Egypt.”
Communion Antiphon: Bar 3:38 — “Our God has appeared on the earth, and lived among us.”
As we listened to Saint Matthew’s Gospel this morning we are told that Joseph … warned by an angel in a dream … takes Mary and Jesus down to Egypt until Herod’s death. We can imagine that they lived as migrants there for a year or two. And so, consider this. Were they able to travel safely? How were they received once they arrived? Were they welcomed or looked upon with suspicion? Was there gainful employment for Joseph? Did he meet with resentment for taking work away from Egyptian carpenters? Could they count on being treated fairly by the authorities? Fast forward to today … to here and now. How do we welcome and treat the strangers who are living among us … recognizing that in most cases, they too have families?
Jesus was human in every way that we are. Like each of us in all things but sin. He needed food to nourish His body. He needed a good night’s sleep for His work as a carpenter. He needed tunics to clothe His body and a roof to cover His head. Like all human beings, Jesus sought out other people to be His friends. He knew the joy of playing games with other boys and felt the pain of being left out or ridiculed.
This weekend, as we celebrate the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, maybe it would be a good idea to reflect a bit on the sanctity of the family and the challenges of building a holy family. Obviously, there are so many definitions of family in the modern world and some of these definitions are a far cry from the traditional and Christian understanding of family. Broadly speaking, a family is a group of people who are related to each other. The Church defines family as “A divinely-instituted community of persons made of husband, wife, children and relatives open to life in love.” The second Vatican Council Fathers speak of the family as a domestic Church. The Church in Nigeria emphasizes the role of family as the first school of virtue, the first school of evangelization, the first school of faith, and an indispensable pastoral collaborator.
In a special way we celebrate the family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, popularly known as the Holy Family because they serve as a role model for Christian families and provide a portrait of what a Christian family should look like. Joseph cared for Mary during the period of her pregnancy even when he knew he was not responsible for her pregnancy. Together, Joseph and Mary took the infant Jesus to the temple for dedication. They had many difficult moments as a family. One of these challenging moments was when they found out Herod was threatening to kill the infant Jesus. Herod was determined to eliminate Him and so they had to flee at night to Egypt for safety (Matthew 2:13-15). This must have been a tough experience for this young couple. This action of Joseph and Mary along with many others … such as searching for Him when He was lost, goes a long way to say that a child’s upbringing is a collaborative effort of parents.
Joseph loved Mary and Mary respected Joseph and the child Jesus was obedient to His parents. Saint Paul wishes that all families imitate the love of Joseph and Mary and so the Apostle advises families: “Wives, be subject to your husbands. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:19-21).
All families desire to be peaceful, loving and happy. However, in modern society there are common family challenges that can mitigate the flow of happiness and peace. Among these challenges are: financial problems, leadership, upbringing of children, and honoring parents.
Financial Problems: This problem can come in various ways such as lack of sufficient money for the upkeep of the family … lack of transparency and openness about savings, income, and investments … stinginess … reckless spending or lack of financial budgeting and planning. In traditional society, the man is responsible for all financial transactions, including the payment of bills for housing, clothes, fees, etc. and the woman is responsible for all domestic chores. However, in modern society where many women are working, there is a paradigm shift as husband and wife share the bills and domestic chores according to the strengths of each.
Leadership: The father is naturally the head of the house. Saint Paul advises women to respect their husbands as they respect the Lord and to husbands, he says, “Love your wives as Christ loves the Church” (Ephesians 5:24-25). Cases abound where fathers abdicate their responsibilities of caring for their families. A father is supposed to play the role of a shepherd or even pastor of his family, leading them in prayer and bringing them to the knowledge of the faith. Generally, husband and wife complement each other in the building their family.
Upbringing of Children: The Church says the “Primary role of parents is not just to pass genes unto their children, but also to bring them up in every aspect of life in the society.” These aspects of life include providing the children with adequate opportunity for civic and religious education. Some parents are willing to send their children to qualitative civic schools to obtain good education, but do not care much about the religious upbringing of their children.
Furthermore, there are children today who are passing through difficulties because they have lost their parents and are entrusted to foster parents. Some foster parents make good efforts to bring up these children well. In some family homes, foster children are treated as slaves and as second-class children. I recently read about a 12-year-old schoolgirl who is a foster child in a rural area of Pennsylvania and unlike the other children in the house, she has to work on the farm to earn her clothes and the stuff she needs for school.
Honoring Parents: Often we hear people say that Mom & Dad took care of several children and years later, those several children are unable to take care of Mom or Dad. The book of Sirach advises Children to honor their parents. These words from Sirach re-echo that of the fourth commandment of God in the book of Exodus: “Honor your Father and Mother so that your days may be long in the land the Lord is giving you” (Sirach 20:12). Honoring parents is making them feel loved and being close to them. Tim Challies, a Canadian commentator and blogger suggests the following practical ways to honor parents: by forgiving them for the mistakes they made in bringing us up, knowing that there are no perfect parents … seeking their wisdom … respecting them privately and publicly … speaking well of them whether they are alive or dead … and supporting them emotionally, physically and financially.
As we celebrate the Holy Family today, let us strive to build God-centered families where God takes precedence and where peace, love and happiness reign.