29th December. (Sunday after Christmas) The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
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First Reading: Book of Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
(A practical application of the fourth commandment, that we should honour our parents, not only when we are young, but also when they are old and in need of care.)
The Lord honours a father above his children,
and he confirms a mother’s right over her children.
Those who honour their father atone for sins,
and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure.
Those who honour their father will have joy in their own children,
and when they pray they will be heard.
Those who respect their father will have long life,
and those who honour their mother obey the Lord;
My child, help your father in his old age,
and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
and will be credited to you against your sins
Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21
(Paul’s summary of the kindness and help which should characterize the relationships between all Christians, but are particularly applicable within the family.)
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.
Gospel: Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23
(Tells of the flight into Egypt and of the early dangers faced by the Holy Family before they settled down to the hidden life of Nazareth.)
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
The Trials of the Holy Family of Nazareth
This Sunday, the family life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is put before us as a model to imitate. We call them the holy family but that does not mean that they did not have problems. Just as every family has to face problems and overcome them. To put it another way, as each of us has to carry a cross, so also the holy family had to carry the cross. Their many trials and tribulations come to mind from reading the Gospels. We can easily imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been when Mary conceived Jesus “before they came to live together”. Although this marvelous event happened by the power of the Holy Spirit, their story would never have been believed. Even Joseph was planning to divorce Mary privately before the angel intervened in a dream to assure him it was the work of God.
When the time for Jesus delivery came it took place in a shelter since Bethlehem was already so crowded. Then the family had to flee as refugees to Egypt because the child Jesus’ life was in danger from king Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries are now entering Europe to save their lives. Much later when Jesus was twelve years old Mary and Joseph suffered the awful experience of losing him for three days and the unsatisfactory answer they got from him was that he “had to be about his Father’s business.” But he returned with them to Nazareth and was subject to them. We do not hear of Joseph any more after that so we presume that he had died before Jesus began his public ministry. At Joseph’s demise the holy family suffering the greatest pain of all families, the pain of bereavement and final separation through death.
The public ministry of Jesus must have taken its toll on Mary. During his presentation in the Temple as an infant, the old man Simeon had predicted that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. We can imagine one such occasion was as we read of the occasion when Jesus returned to Nazareth and his cousins came to take him by force convinced that he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21). She must also have been pained by the taunt made up about Jesus: Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners (Luke 7:34). And there was her worry about the growing hostility to Jesus from the Jewish authorities who were determined that he must die. The saddest moment of all came when Mary watched her son die on the cross.
What sustained the family of Nazareth through all of these trials and crosses? The answer is love for each other and for God. We can see Jesus’ love for his mother when he was dying on the cross and gave her into the care of his closest disciple, John – with the memorable words, “Woman behold your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27).
What holds families together also in times of difficulty is love and forgiveness. It is love which triumphs in the end, even if sometimes it may have to take the form of “tough love” and honest talking. When discipline needs to be imposed, if it is not given in love it is rejected as abuse. If ever our families fail in any way, it is because of a lack of love on someone’s part. Whenever families are successful, it is because they are places where love is highly prized. A major threat facing families nowadays is simply that we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, socialising, on our IPads and androids, or watching TV that we have less and less time to talk to each other.
There is a story about a solicitor who lived some distance from her elderly, widowed father. Months had passed since she had seen him and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a long list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc. At the end of the recitation, the father asked, When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral? The daughters response was immediate,” Dad, I can’t believe you’ve asked that. Of course, I’ll come!” To which the father replied, “Good. Forget the funeral and come now. I need you more now than I will then.” She got the message and began to see him regularly after that.
Just as the holy family survived all its crises through their love for each other and their faith in God, let us pray during this Mass that our families will deal with their difficulties and hold together through love for each other and faith in God.