A little boy greets his father as he returns from work with a question: “Daddy, how much do you make an hour?” The father is surprised and says: “Look, son, not even your mother knows. Don’t bother me now, I’m tired.” “But Daddy, just tell me please! How much do you make an hour?” the boy insists. The father finally gives up and replies: “Twenty dollars.” “Okay, Daddy,” the boy continues, “Could you loan me ten dollars?” The father yells at him: “So that was the reason you asked how much I earn, right? Now, go to sleep and don’t bother me anymore!” At night the father thinks over what he said and starts feeling guilty. Maybe his son needed to buy something. Finally, he goes to his son's room. “Are you asleep, son?” asks the father. “No, Daddy. Why?” replies the boy. “Here's the money you asked for earlier,” the father said. “Thanks, Daddy!” replies the boy and receives the money. The he reaches under his pillow and brings out some more money. “Now I have enough! Now I have twenty dollars!” says the boy to his father, “Daddy, could you sell me one hour of your time?” (Fr. Munachi)
Introduction to the Celebration
In these days between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day we as the People of God spend time reflecting on just what the Christmas mystery tells us about God. We reflect that his Son has come among us: born as an infant at a particular moment in time, in a particular place, in a particular culture — this is Jesus our brother. Like each of us he had a unique set of relationships: with Mary, with Joseph, with the other people who lived around him. But with us, his followers, he established another unique relationship by making each of us a child of God. Let us call to mind how we have behaved as daughters and sons of the Father and how we may have injured our brothers and sisters.
********Michel de Verteuil
This passage is in three sections; they are all important for us, and we therefore need to look at them individually.
In the first section Joseph is inspired by “an angel of the Lord”. He is told in a dream that he must “get up” at once, and take “the child and his mother with him”. They “escaped into Egypt” and stayed there until he was told, once again in a dream, that he could move back home to Israel. This was to save Jesus from being put to death by order of Herod who was then king of Israel. Herod’s purpose was to “search for the child”, and put him to death. We read about this search for Jesus later in the text, in verses 16 to 18, and we see Herod’s anger taken out on all who were born at that time.
The text brings out very well Matthew’s testimony to St Joseph. He was obedient to the word of the Lord – it did not really matter how it came to him.
Joseph stayed in Egypt for a long time. He waited “until Herod was dead”. This occurred around the year 4 AD, some years after the sad incident at Bethlehem.
According to Matthew, God called the young Messiah out of the land of Egypt, and the prophet reminds us of that. This was the country where his ancestors had lived and been persecuted for years. He was now to re-enact their destiny.
The evangelist then illustrates his narrative with a text found in the Bible. The prophet Hosea spoke of Israel as a child who was dearly loved by his heavenly Father. It was said of him, “When Israel was a child, I loved him and I called my son out of Egypt.” This is what happened to Jesus. He was God’s beloved Son and the Father called him “out of Egypt”.
We remember now situations in our own families. We too must allow ourselves, like Joseph, to be guided by God in all he wants us to do – for ourselves, and to help others we meet. Sometimes God will appear to us in a dream. Usually however it will be by some other intervention. It could be through friends who talk to us, or others we meet in our daily living.
In the second part of the passage, Matthew tells us that after Herod died, the angel appeared to Joseph once more. As usual it was “in a dream”. He told Joseph to go back to the land of Israel, because “those who wanted him killed are now dead”.
Joseph responded immediately. He “got up” (notice the same words used as before) and he took the child and his mother and they headed back to Israel.
Joseph then learnt that Herod had bequeathed part of his country to his son, King Archelaus, who was now the ruler of the territory. Joseph was naturally afraid of the new king and so “was afraid to go there”. Once more, he was “warned in a dream” and he took the decision to go to Galilee, which was ruled by Herod’s son, Herod Antipas. There Joseph decided to settle in a little town called Nazareth.
Has there been disagreement in any of our homes this Christmas? Has anyone in our family been jealous, unkind, intolerant, and perhaps even violent? Have some of us felt upset or rejected during the last few days? Many of us can answer ‘Yes’ to at least one of these questions.
This is very natural, given the stress of coping with extra people and visitors, and the additional work involved during this festive season, although it would not happen if everyone was celebrating the true meaning of Christmas. Emphasising the preparations and the trimmings of Christmas usually serves to undermine our understanding of the magnificent truth that God became human and lived among us, which is what we are invited to think about on this feast.
Ideally, then, we would not focus on family antagonisms or anything else that would disrupt our peace of mind and soul. But such human failings are one reason why we need the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, because the feast provides an opportunity to reflect on our family lives.
We are reminded that the essence of good family and community life is respect. We are challenged to cherish and honour other family members. Experience teaches us that genuine family life exists only when everyone is sincere, compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient and forgiving.
These are the qualities that make family life pleasant and worthwhile. They ultimately derive from the authentic love that we have for God and one another. When family members live together in harmony, the home unquestionably provides the best environment for personal and communal faith development. Hence the home is often described as the domestic church.
At Christmas, families gather and exchange gifts. Christmas is meant to be a time of happiness and celebration. It ought to be a time of peace and goodwill. It would be wonderful if we could sustain this goodwill. Family life would thrive if everyone worked to make living together more enjoyable and refreshing.
Sadly, however, as Christmas and the Christmas holidays end, many of us will be tired, frustrated and angry. Some will have feelings of regret. Others will have only memories of desertion and violence. Celebrating Christ’s birth will have been meaningless.
However, it is not too late to change. We can try to be truly human together as we encourage and influence one another in the name of Jesus. For instance, there may be a member of our family with whom we could be more patient. We could make a start with this person, imitating the self-sacrificing love of Christ and the example of the saints, by being kind to that awkward relative. After all, great things are often achieved in small ways.
The same applies outside the boundaries of our human families. We, in the Church, are sisters and brothers in Jesus, and children of God our heavenly Father. Being members of God’s family, we attempt to help and strengthen other people. Again, we can model ourselves on the Holy Family and try to live in harmony and peace.
Therefore, the Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that we are part of a human family and, equally, that we belong to God’s family. In each case there are privileges and responsibilities. In our human families and in God’s family, the Church, we work out our salvation together — as women, men and children living and working in love and peace. Let each one of us think of ways to make life more pleasant for other members in our family, and let us begin again today.
1. Preaching immediately after Christmas seems to be just the straw that breaks the camel’s back: we have worked hard to prepare for Christmas Day, now there is a sense of a lull. This is perfectly natural because after a moment of stressed solemn time, there is the necessary moment of quiet. This time between Christmas and New Year is the time when in the liturgy we have the octave: the time for letting the mystery of Christmas slowly sink in. And this reflective, letting it sink in slowly quality must dominate the homily today. Moreover, many people are still away who are normally in the congregation, while there may still be visitors from elsewhere. So it does not feel like a normal Sunday morning.
2. Moreover, there are other problems with preaching on this feast. First, it can draw out a mawkish piety: the lovely ideal family which will seem so far distant as to be irrelevant to many in the community whose relationships are far from ideal or for whom the Christmas period has been one of extra stress. Musing on families in a general way or speculating on a Galilean peasant family’s life two millennia ago may seem appropriate to the preacher but, especially if the preacher is a celibate, such musings just make for non-communication. Any breakdown in communication is especially sad today for in this period after Christmas there is the heightened awareness, by everyone taking part, of what is happening in the liturgy. This is the result of us still being in the wake of the great feast and the holiday period. Second, there is the moralist’s approach: this is really the day for speaking about the ‘Christian ideal’ of family life. What can then follow is a potted mix of injunctions and abstract ideals where theology (laced with canon law) is allowed free rein in lieu of a psychology of relationships or a sociological analysis of contemporary society. Whether or not this is well received, rejected, or ignored is beside the point: such speculation has no place in today’s liturgy for it supplants the purpose of the feast for an ulterior motive. The liturgy of Christmas is about our wonder at the incarnation and a loving reflection on its implications for us as Christians, and no other aim, even one so worthy as promoting the Christian notion of marriage, should deflect us. The Son of God made flesh, not as an abstract being labelled ‘human’, but as an individual with a specific history, Jesus the son of Mary and with Joseph as his father in their specific setting of a small town where Joseph worked as an artisan – this is the wonder we must recall today.
3. The old dictum ‘God became man in Jesus Christ’ obscured the basic issue at the heart of this feast: God the Son did not become a ‘man’ or ‘human’ as we think of these as abstract categories – he became another unique individual with a history and a distinct identity. Just as you and I are unique, unrepeatable and distinct in our specific backgrounds and cultures and experiences, so too was Jesus. This is a celebration of the depths of the humanity of our Lord. But as Christians we also believe that we all share something that is equally deep with one another: each of us is a daughter or son of the Father. We are the children of God and we share this with Jesus as a member of his family. This is a conviction of faith in the loving reality of God that makes us brothers and sisters to one another and to Jesus. This is not some abstract notion of sharing in a common human nature. We may, as a matter of our philosophical perspective, hold that there is a common humanity and a common human nature which allows us to share experiences and joys and sufferings, but to call each other brothers and sisters in Christ is not simply to have a religious ‘take’ on human nature. To be brothers and sisters in Christ is to be distinct and unique creations with distinct vocations within the care of God, and to have the commonality of the love of the Father calling us as his people united in his Son – a union achieved in the mystery we recall at Christmas. Put bluntly, the secular world may promote the notion of ‘universal human brotherhood’ lfraternite) – and as responsible people in the world we should support this ideal as a way of overcoming wars, exploitation, oppression, and bringing help to anyone who suffers. But our Christian vision of the links that bind each individual to every other individual is both more rich – in that it stresses each’s uniqueness and more profound: we are brothers and sisters because each is a daughter or son of the Father, and it is through the Word that we are given this dignity.
4. So how do we communicate this new set of relationships that is established through the specific history of Jesus? For most of us the crib in the church is just there: one of the Christmas trimmings which might be referred to for the ‘children’s sake’ on Christmas Day but precious little afterward. Yet (see ‘The Crib, pp 156) this assembly is a wonderful collage of our basic memory of the entry of the Word into the creation. This is a day on which the crib can be exploited in the homily. People do not have to be actually looking at the crib while you speak – in fact it is better if they cannot see it during the homily (people using PowerPoint should have realised by now that if you leave the images on all the time the people stop listening to you and get caught up with what they see), everyone can remember what a crib looks like while you preach, and they can visit it afterwards.
5. Just reflect on the contradictions contained in the crib. First, we have a private family moment – the birth of Jesus – without the larger family nearby and with no hint that it has impact on those immediately around; yet we are told that this event is heralded by angels to shepherds as of momentous significance to humanity. Second, the inn is full, they have come on the wrong day at the wrong hour – and so has the baby for the equivalent of the ‘No vacancies’ sign is out and they have not ‘booked ahead’. The reference to the ‘no room in the inn’ (Lk 2:7) indicates a serious lack of planning, yet we see Luke quoting the whole history of humanity, back to Adam to show God’s planning, the prophets and John the Baptist preparing the way, and this birth being proclaimed as ‘the fall and rising of many in Israel’ (Lk 2:34). God’s planning is praised for its loving providence, yet events occur in a way that was determined by how many got to the inn that evening before them.
6. So what do these contradictions mean? They show us that the mystery of God and our re-creation in the Christ is greater than our human minds. We are caught up in a mystery of love, but it does not bring ready answers and simply success. These contradictions make us reassess any preconceived ideas we might have about a ‘god’ or about religion. The Father does not act like a bullying superpower for whom we are playthings or puppets, but reveals himself in his Son coming among us as one of us. We live in the mystery of the revelation of God in the particularities of a human life: the vast plan for the incarnation, yet there was no room that night in the inn! Christianity is a religion of the absolute reign of God, but that takes the small person seriously and leans towards the powerless.
7. If more members of your assembly are drawn to just go and look at the crib than usual, i.e. to reflect on the church’s memory of the coming of the Christ, then this is one of the times when you can check out if your communication has got through.
Take the child and his mother with you,
and escape into Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you. (Mt 2:13)
and escape into Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you. (Mt 2:13)
“All this doctrinal wealth is focussed in only one direction, serving one another in our every condition, in our every ailment, in every way. In a certain way, the Church has proclaimed herself as the handmaid of humanity.” Pope Paul VI quoted by Pope John Paul II in Sicily
Lord, we thank you for St Joseph.We pray that we too may be guided by what you have told us.
The manner will be unique to us, but we must be ready to recognize you.
Lord, we come to you in our various situations.
Some of us are single, some are celibates;
for others our original partner has gone from us or has divorced us.
Help us always to be guided by your intervention as St Joseph was,
to know that once we are led by you, all will be well for us.
“The Word was made flesh in the incarnation, and ever since we have tried to make that flesh into Word again.” Cardinal Martini
Lord, we often find ourselves in a lost situation.We find ourselves in some Egypt or some other area we hadn’t bargained for.
Help us to be like Joseph and follow your way wherever you want to lead us.
Lord, when we know that our Herod is dead, it is time to make our way home.
Help us to follow the right way,
to know when we must move to another town where we will be known to be yours.
Jesus was called a Nazarene. Help us to be whoever you want us to be.
****************1. From Connections:
Matthew’s Gospel continues his story of Jesus’ early years, focusing on the evangelist’s principal theme: that Jesus is the Messiah promised by God long ago. Matthew portrays the Holy Family as outcasts, refugees in their own country. Bound together by love and trust in God and in one another, they embark on the dangerous journey to Egypt to flee the insane rage of Herod. Jesus relives the Exodus experience of Israel: he will come out of Egypt, the land of slavery, to establish a new covenant of liberation for the new Israel.
Today’s Feast of the Holy Family calls us to re-discover and celebrate our own families as harbors of forgiveness and understanding and safe places of unconditional love, welcome and acceptance.
The Holy Family is a model for our families as we confront the many tensions and crises that threaten the stability, peace and unity that are the joys of being a family.
Matthew’s Gospel of the Holy Family’s fleeing the murderous wrath of Herod portends what is to come: the Christmas crib is overshadowed by the cross of Holy Week, that this holy birth is the beginning of our rebirth in the resurrection.
*************2. Fr. Ray E. Atwood
Refugees from contemporary Herods
Purpose: The Holy Family was not immune to suffering, sacrifice, exile, and uncertainty. They, too, struggled with darkness and sin in the world. King Herod was a vicious, cruel, conniving individual. He, and his retinue, lived in the shadow of darkness. He saw Jesus, not as Savior, but as a threat to his power and position. His attempt to eradicate the threat failed, but we continue to struggle against Herods in our time.
At a place called Cranbrook, in the United Kingdom, local volunteers once built a rifle range where they could practice. By a strange coincidence, two starlings decided to build a nest on a pile of brush and sticks used to stop the bullets as they whizzed through or past the targets. Their little nest was almost directly in the line of fire. In that dangerous spot, the birds built their nest, hatched their eggs, and raised their young. Bullets splintered twigs all around them, and threw up dirt and dust over their tiny nest. But the birds stayed anyway. Only when fall and cold weather set in did the birds leave their dangerous location for a safer and sunnier home. One volunteer was curious about how the starlings managed to remain safe despite all the bullets whizzing around them. He wondered why a bullet never killed any of the birds. So one day he went over to the nest, and as he approached it, a coin fell from the nest onto the ground. He picked it up and marveled at the words on it. It was the familiar motto: “In God We Trust.”
“In God We Trust.” This simple motto was the motto of the Holy Family. It was the principle by which they lived their lives and survived dangers, trials, and threats. We know little about the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. What we know comes largely from the Gospel accounts we hear at this time of year.
This year we hear the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. The Gospel reminds us that they did not live in splendid isolation. They did not live in a cocoon, sheltered from the joys and sorrows of everyday life. They lived in the real world, a world that was at times dark and cold. They struggled against the forces of sin and death. St. Matthew tells us that an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph, and commanded him to take his family to safety in Egypt. He wanted Joseph and his family to escape the clutches of the wicked King Herod. Herod was trying to destroy the Child Jesus because he feared Jesus would become a political rival. He responded to his fears by anger, destruction, and violence. His attempt failed.
Threats to the family are not a thing of the past. There are many threats to family life in the 21st century. They include a contraceptive mentality, which separates life and love; individualism, which isolates couples from each other; attempts to redefine marriage and family, which add to the confusion prevalent in society, especially among the young; no-fault divorce, which tears at the fabric of the marital bond; abortion, which destroys the fruit of married love; excessive concern for material things, which obscures the value of spiritual gifts; poor moral examples in the movies and on television, which promote false notions of marriage.
Behind these threats is the devil. Satan is trying to destroy families today, as Herod tried to destroy the Holy Family centuries ago. Modern Herods include government officials who promote laws, policies, and practices which relativize marriage, and redefine the family; providers of contraceptives and abortifacients, who destroy the gift of human life; actors and actresses, who teach on the screen that marriage need not be guided by ethics and morality. And the list could go on and on.
How do families deal with these modern Herods? It starts with adopting the motto, “In God We Trust.” Trusting in God is the key to renewal of family life in our nation and world. When we trust in God, we place ourselves in his hands. When we trust in God, we follow his directions and teachings. When we trust in God, we live out the goals of the natural institution of marriage. Only God can rescue our families from a culture of death and immorality.
May we face the threats to our families as Joseph did, with trust, humility, and obedience to the commands of God. May the Holy Family inspire us to grow closer to God our Father. Mary, Queen of Families, pray for us. Amen.
********3. Fr. John Speekman
Let us reflect on the Entrance Antiphon of today’s Mass. It says: The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
We are told the what the baby was doing, it was lying in the manger. This has a prophetic significance. A manger is a feeding trough. Mary’s infant was already teaching us who he was - food for the world.
But Mary and Joseph, what were they doing? They were busy simply being with Jesus - like the first Apostles called ‘to be with him’.
For nine months Mary had been carrying this extraordinary child, conceived by the Holy Spirit, in her womb. Joseph had almost left her because of this child. It was only the message of an angel that had stopped him: Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit.
Now they could see with their very own eyes what was ‘in her’ – an infant, a son, who was to save his people from their sins.
How they must have wondered! How they must have longed to see his face, and now that he was here they could ‘read’ the Word of God in the his tiny face.
The shepherds, too, were eagerly seeking the face of the Christ. They wanted to see the Messiah, the Promised One. They hastened to Bethlehem. I’m glad they hastened. It would have been unseemly for them to dawdle along the way. The only fitting way, really, for us to seek the Lord is to hasten.
So what did they find when they got to Bethlehem? They found Mary and Joseph and the baby. They were seeking Jesus the Saviour but they found Mary and Joseph too.
There is a Christianity which would push aside Mary and Joseph and focus totally on Jesus. This is not Catholic Christianity. Don’t ever be misled by people who say Mary and Joseph ‘distract’ from Jesus or ‘take away’ from him. When we seek Jesus we find him with Mary, and Joseph - the Holy Family!
Jesus came to earth as a human child, in a human family, with human friends and foes. God wanted it that way. Jesus, too, wanted a family, he needed a family, he had a family and he does not expect us to brush them away. The face of Christ our Saviour is the face of a man standing between his parents.
As Jesus honoured his family so he wants us to honour them. And so let us repeat the Entrance Antiphon whose wording is not a mistake but carries with it this deep mystery about our Redeemer: The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.
A famous mystic once wrote on this subject from another angle when he complained about those who ignore the Old Testament and just concentrate on the New Testament. As he said, at that time: I don’t want a Jesus who is not speaking with Moses and Elijah. In our turn we can say: I don’t want a Jesus who is not with Mary and Joseph.
This infant lying in the manger is the Son of Mary but also the father of his own family – a family made up of all those who were to believe in him. Even from the cradle he began to call this family to himself, beginning with Mary and Joseph beside the manger, and then the shepherds, and then the wise men, and then you!
Do you think Jesus would be pleased if others pushed you aside in order to get close to him? I don’t think so. I think Jesus wants you to be in the picture with him, along with all the countless souls he has washed clean in his Blood and now calls his brothers and sisters.
A charming incident is recorded in one of Vassula Ryden’s diaries when Jesus allegedly appeared to her. I say allegedly because these apparitions have not been okayed by the Church.
Anyway, Jesus allegedly appeared to her and Vassula could see there was someone standing behind him. He said “I’ve brought someone”. Vassula then saw who it was and exclaimed, “It’s your Mother!” He said, “Yes, and your mother too.”
If Jesus is our brother then Mary is our Mother too, and Joseph our father. We are members of ‘the Family’.
We join him today as family around the altar on which he will become present and feed us with his Body and Blood. There are many Catholics who will not come to Mass this Sunday. They would sweep us away and say ‘We want only Jesus – we can pray to him at home'.
This is not true Christianity! As Jesus wanted to be found in his family in the stable of Bethlehem so he wants to be found in his family of faith in the Church. Those who want Jesus but not his Church are not fully Christian.
So now, as the Opening Prayer of the Mass says “Let us pray, as the family of God, who share in his life.”
**********From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection of Stories:
1: Dying of loneliness:
In an audience Pope Paul VI told how one day, when he was Archbishop of Milan, he went out on parish visitation. During the course of the visitation he found an old woman living alone. ‘How are you?’ he asked her. ‘Not bad,’ she answered. ‘I have enough food, and I’m not suffering from the cold.’ ‘You must be reasonably happy then?’ he said. ‘No, I’m not’, she said as she started to cry. ‘You see, my son and daughter-in-law never come to see me. I’m dying of loneliness.’ Afterwards he was haunted by the phrase ‘I’m dying of loneliness’. And the Pope concluded: ‘Food and warmth are not enough in themselves. People need something more. They need our presence, our time, our love. They need to be touched, to be reassured that they are not forgotten.’ (Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’)
2: Cancer, heart disease and family relationship:
A few years ago, a study was undertaken to find the U.S. city with the lowest incidence of cancer and heart disease. The winner was Rosetto, Pennsylvania. Soon experts descended upon the city expecting to see a town populated by non-smokers, people who ate the correct food, took regular exercise and kept close track of their cholesterol. To their great surprise, however, the researchers discovered that none of the above was true. They found instead that the city’s good health was tied to the close family bonds that prevailed within the community. This suggests that there is much to be said for a close and loving family relationship. (Robert Duggan & Richard Jajac).
3: Long Training:
A mother goes to her pastor and explains that her son seems very interested in becoming a priest. She would like to know what this would require. So the priest begins to explain: "If he wants to become a diocesan priest, he'll have to study for eight years. If he wants to become a Franciscan, he'll have to study for ten years. If he wants to become a Jesuit, he'll have to study for fourteen years." [This joke originated back when young men entered seminaries right after high school.] The mother listens carefully, and as the priest concludes, her eyes brighten. "Sign him up for that last one, Father -- he's a little slow!"
4. Grandparents are a treasure:
Pope Francis said that as a child, he heard a story of a family with a mother, father, many children and a grandfather. The grandfather, suffering from Parkinson’s illness, would drop food on the dining table, and smear it all over his face when he ate. His son considered it disgusting. Hence, one day he bought a small table and set it off to the side of the dining hall so the grandfather would eat, make a mess and not disturb the rest of the family. One day, the Pope said, the grandfather’s son came home and found one of his sons playing with a piece of wood. “What are you making?” he asked his son. “A table,” the son replies. “Why?” the father asks. “It’s for you, Dad, when you get old like grandpa, I am going to give you this table.” Ever since that day, the grandpa was given a prominent seat at the dining table and all the help he needed in eating by his son and daughter-in-law. “This story has done me such good throughout my life,” said the Pope, who will celebrate his 77th birthday on December 17. “Grandparents are a treasure,” he said. “Often old age isn’t pretty, right? There is sickness and all that, but the wisdom our grandparents have is something we must welcome as an inheritance.” A society or community that does not value, respect and care for its elderly members “doesn’t have a future because it has no memory, it’s lost its memory,” Pope Francis added. (http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/11/19/grandparents-are-a-treasure-says-pope-francis/)