Feast of the Holy Family
December 30, 2018
Last fall, an old friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I asked if they were going to have a party. She explained that they decided to just get together with their children and grandchildren.
Now, I know this couple to be devout Catholics, and I am also aware of how proud they are that their children are passing on our faith to their grandchildren. The sacraments mean a great deal to this entire family. So, I offered to do a special anniversary Mass, and they were delighted. But, it was difficult to find a date where everyone was free. After a few tries, my friend called and very hesitantly asked: I know you will be exhausted from the Christmas Mass schedule, but is there any way we could do the Anniversary Mass on December 26? Everyone was going to be home for Christmas, but not for long. I was happy to oblige and so we began to plan the liturgy.
I suggested “the Readings of the day.” It’s my experience that God had some special message within the daily Scripture passages, fitting and appropriate and meant to be heard, regardless of the occasion. So, there was no need to look for anything “special.” She seemed fine with that.
However, as the date for the celebration drew near, she sent a text message: Have you read the Readings? (The Readings the Church assigns to 12/26…of course I had) Can find Readings on a happier note? In truth, the Readings for December 26, The Feast of St. Stephen, are not what you would call “cheerful.” St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. The First Reading is from the Acts of the Apostles and describes his death. The Gospel (Matt. 10:17-22) is Jesus’s warning that to follow Him means sharing in His persecution and death. We agreed to look to the suggested Readings for Christian Marriage, and more “celebratory” passages were chosen.
I still felt, however, that “the Readings for the Feast” were appropriate to the occasion. Martyrdom is about giving up your life out of love! And, in reality, Christian Marriage is all about giving up your life out of love. Although it would be the rare occasion that marriage demands the sacrifice of St. Stephen, Christian Marriage involves dying to one’s self in order to commit fully to the marriage covenant; whereby there are no longer two, but one.
I would imagine that within the first few days of a marriage, the all too human inclination to put “self” first is tested. And, while it might take 50 or more years to get it right, Jesus assures us that whoever endures to the end will be saved! (Matt. 10:22…a pretty happy note on which to conclude a golden wedding anniversary!)
So what does St. Stephen’s martyrdom and a 50th anniversary have to do with The Feast of the Holy Family…or the Christmas Season for that matter? Easy! One simple word: RELATIONSHIP! It’s all about relationship.
The Christmas Season focuses on God’s relationship with humankind. The mystery of the Incarnation is all about our Creator-God’s radically Self-less act of taking on human form, in order to relate to us in the most personal of ways.
The Feast of The Holy Family highlights the roles of Joseph and Mary in the work of salvation. Imitating God, they put aside their own interests and concerns and selflessly responded to God’s invitation to help bring The Living Word made Flesh into the world. Like all good parents, Mary and Joseph committed their lives to the protecting, caring for, and nurturing The Christ-child.
Today’s Gospel shows Jesus, Himself, as a brilliant example of Divine Self-limiting. God made human “listened to and asked questions of” the teachers in the Temple, about God. Possibly the greatest example of how God, through Jesus, humbled the Divine Self is the fact that He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.
Creator submitting to the authority of creatures, in order to build a more loving and intimate relationship is certainly an idea that takes an entire season to wrap our minds around.
And so, the Feast of the Holy Family is appropriately placed within the Christmas Season, when we ponder the extreme lengths which God has taken in order to participate in a loving relationship with humanity.
Today, like this entire Christmas Season, is all about relationship…certainly the relationship between God and us, but more still. Today, we ponder our relationships within marriage, family, parish, county…and even world. And the lesson should be clear. We are called to be gentle, even humble with one another. We are called to imitate God by making ourselves less, so that our relationships can be more…stronger…lasting…eternal! Remember: who ever endures to the end will be saved!