The Holy Family
December 27, 2020
Our Christmas liturgies carry our minds and hearts through time and space. The Readings we hear transport Christians around the world out of our parish churches to a dark field on the outskirts of an impoverished little village, where, in spite of the late hour, we are almost blinded by the light of a brilliant star that we’ve never seen before. Oblivious to the sounds and smells of the herd of sheep pressing against our legs, we become spellbound by angelic voices, singing so beautifully that we are overwhelmed with joy.
Following the directions of these visitors from heaven, we find ourselves moving, drawn with a sense of urgency toward something in the distance. We arrive at a stable filled with livestock, standing calmly around a manger that appears to be glowing. We look down and see a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and nestled in fresh straw. The child’s parents stand guard on either side of Him. The look on their faces is a mixture of fatigue and pure love.
We feel a touch on our shoulders, pushing us gently to our knees. Somehow, we know that we are on Holy ground, privileged to be invited to witness something miraculous…something sacred. And we do the only thing that seems right. We pray.
We pray with an intensity that we aren’t accustomed to. We pray without asking for anything. Our prayers spring up from deep inside of us. And, no matter what else is happening in our lives, we feel at peace. We are filled with joy, so much so that we wish we could stay in the moment. If only we could always feel this way. We ask ourselves: “Why can’t every day be like this? Why can’t everyday be Christmas?”
Then we hear those words that break the spell: “Our Mass has ended…Go in PEACE!” And that gentle touch returns, only this time to lift us up, turning us towards the doors of our parish church. We carry all of those wonderful feelings we have just experienced to our cars, and we head home.
For some, this special Christmas Peace lingers for hours…days…maybe even for weeks. For others, it disappears the moment we turn the key in the lock and open the door to our home and family.
And so, fast on the heels of our celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Church gives us The Feast of The Holy Family. Just like Christmas…The Liturgy of The Word that unfolds during the Mass celebrating The Holy Family also serves to transport us out of our parish churches. But, today, our journey through space and time is very brief…just a matter of a few miles and a few minutes.
As we hear God’s Word proclaimed…our minds travel from our church to our homes and our families. During this liturgy, we are given a shocking dose of reality. We can’t help but compare our relationship with spouses, parents, children, and siblings with what we hear proclaimed from The Table of The Word. We size up our family life and compare what we see to how we imagine that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…The Holy Family…lived, once they returned to normal, day-to-day life. They set the bar so high that we inevitably feel that we have fallen short. It occurs to us that for them…Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…
EVERY DAY WAS LIKE CHRISTMAS!
In fact, we know precious little about the day-to-day life of The Holy Family. Their home life is shrouded in sacred mystery. The few details that the Gospels do offer fuel our imaginations. But, when we do imagine life within this earthly home that GOD prepared specially for His only Son, we tend to do what we do at Christmas; we romanticize and dramatize. We risk forgetting what Simeon, inspired by The Holy Spirit, said to The Blessed Mother:
This child will be a sign that will be contradicted-and you, yourself, a sword will pierce!
We don’t know many details about how this family lived, but we can be certain of this much: For them…just like for us…not every day was Christmas. They faced and struggled with the very same challenges that many families deal with today.
They were forced to flee threats of violence. They were a refugee family. That meant that they dealt with things like food scarcity and the tragedy of being homeless. They even had to pay taxes.
Life for them was not always “Christmas!”
We can only imagine how they coped. Today’s Gospel, however, reveals this important detail to help us to “keep it real.” The Holy Family was always faithful to God’s Law and was always inspired and guided by God’s messages delivered by the Prophets. With this as their foundation, they met every adversity with hope in God’s infinite mercy and unconditional love.
They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
Our hearts might well wish it, but our heads know that every day cannot be like Christmas. Our family lives, often the source of our greatest joy, for any number of reasons, can very quickly become the cause of our greatest pain. But, inspired by the Holy Family, we can be certain of this: If we place our hope in the Lord, our strength will be renewed…and we can run and not grow weary…until the day when we do soar like eagles.
With all the ups and downs of family life, it’s important for us to remember that our family homes are holy ground…because God has specially prepared them for us.