Holy Families

Homily December 31, 2017 (Feast of the Holy Family)
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 105; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40

Sometimes we can idealize the Holy Family.   We look at their images on a Christmas card or at the crèche and feel a strange mixture of admiration and anxiety.  On one hand, they are the model of what we all want to be.  At the same time, we look at our own families and realize that they don’t and will never be able to measure up to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  That can be disturbing.

I hope that you will continue to be disturbed…and well beyond this Christmas season.  The next time you see those images of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the animals, shepherds and magi, please feel some discomfort along with your comfort, some unease along with your peace, some foreboding along with your joy.  It’s not easy to see, but Mary and Joseph also struggled just like many of our families.   Consider their circumstances:

Mary was a young woman, probably not older than 15. Joseph is commonly known as a carpenter, but as Fr. James Martin, S.J. pointed out in a recent Chicago Tribune op-ed, Joseph was more likely a tekton, the Greek word for a day laborer, not unlike the men who sit at the edges of the parking lot at Home Depot, hoping for an opportunity to work.  Jesus himself was brought up as a tekton and worked as one until his public ministry.
They lived in Nazareth, a town that was considered a backwater and a joke by people who lived in Jerusalem.  They came to Jerusalem as pilgrims, migrants.
They were poor, offering two pigeons or turtledoves at the time of Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation and dedication at the Temple in Jerusalem rather than a lamb and one of those birds (Lev. 12:2-8). 

At the same time, they were serious about their Jewish faith, traveling all the way to Jerusalem to make their offering. They lived in the shadow of the Roman Empire, at a time when resistance and an uprising were always possible and where obedience and allegiance to the state was often enforced on the blade of a sword and at the tip of a spear. The testimonies of Simeon and Anna, the elders they encountered at the Temple, were comforting, hopeful and at perhaps even exhilarating.  Yet Simeon’s testimony was also deeply troubling.

In the face of all of those difficulties and potential sorrows, Joseph and Mary kept their faith in each other and especially in God.  Like their ancestor, Abraham, they were called to do something special, even seemingly impossible.  Like Abraham, they couldn’t completely see what lay ahead for them.  And like Abraham, they would one day be called upon to let go of their son for the sake of God’s plan. 

Long before they were saints, Mary and Joseph were people. Jesus, too, was fully human.  In many ways they were like us.  It’s good to remember that as we ask their intercession and for the help that we need to become holy—if not perfect—families.  +