Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holy Family

(Holy Family, C)

The other day I was taking a walk near our friary in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Around the corner is an apartment building with a big dumpster. And stuffed into the dumpster, top down, was a big, full, beautiful Christmas tree.

And I thought: that’s what Christmas is to the world that doesn’t know the Lord—a lovely celebration and a time to enjoy the warmth of home and family and friends, but then, that’s it. When it’s over, that’s the end.

But we who have been given and have accepted the grace of knowing and loving God, we know that Christmas is more than this. We know that what we celebrate is the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We know that all of giving and receiving of gifts is only a way to remember and honor God’s great gift of his own divine life to us in the humanity of Christ.

Friends, the mystery of Christmas, the mystery of the revealing of God in the Word made flesh; it’s a gradual process, a gradual revelation. Last week we celebrated the beginning of this process, when we were here for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord. At first he was revealed only to Mary and Joseph, and then to the poor shepherds by way of the announcement of the angels.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, the presence of the Incarnation within the ordinary family life of a husband and a wife and their child. In today’s Gospel we hear the beginning of the revelation of Jesus to his own religion in his discussion with the teachers in the Temple. They were all “astounded” with his answers, even at so young an age. They knew they were dealing with someone special.

Next Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, when we will recall how, in the presence of the three wise men from the East, Jesus begins to be revealed to all the nations of the world. In these three great feasts of Christmas—the Nativity, the Holy Family, and the Epiphany, we see the gradual revelation of God’s goodness and kindness to the world in the Word made flesh. First he is revealed to Mary and Joseph and the poor shepherds of their own neighborhood, then to Israel, the people of God, and finally to all the nations.

But let us return to today’s feast, the feast of the Holy Family. We have in our Gospel today the beginning of Jesus’ great revelation when Mary and Joseph find the boy Jesus in the Temple. He says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus calls God his Father, revealing the identity of the unseen God, and thus begins the great grace of Christianity, of our being freely made children of God by being ourselves absorbed into the humanity of Christ.

Remember the line from the old the prayer, the Anima Christi: “O good Jesus hear me, within thy wounds hide me.” When we hide in the wounds of the Savior, when we live our lives within the Body of Christ we receive here at Mass, then God is our Father because he is Jesus’ Father.

Notice, however, that this great revelation, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” only comes about because of a family misunderstanding. It only happens because Mary and Joseph lost track of Jesus in their travels. Men and women traveled separately in a caravan in those days, with the women taking the children. Jesus, being at the age just in between being a child and a grown man, could have gone either way. So Mary and Joseph each perhaps presumed he was with the other, and, as often happens with teenagers, there was a misunderstanding and a miscommunication. But it’s only because of this confusion, because Mary and Joseph had to search for Jesus, that we have this great revelation of Jesus being found in the Temple, in which he begins to reveal the great good news of the Fatherhood of God.

Now this ought to be encouraging for us! All of us have had parents, and some of us have children. Most of us live with some kind of family, even if sometimes, they aren’t family in the biological sense. And when it comes to family, as we all know, things don’t always proceed in the smoothest or most peaceful manner. So when we hear about the Holy Family, this family made up of two saints and the Lord himself, having a misunderstanding and miscommunication, it should encourage us! Even the Holy Family of the Lord himself had its troubles.

But the revelation, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” only comes because Mary expresses her anxiety to Jesus and asks him where he’s been. And it’s the same with us, friends. If we don’t risk talking to each other about our family misunderstandings and how we hurt each other and give each other anxiety, we don’t make room for the grace of God to spring up.

We’re not always going to get along. There are going to be problems and fights. As we see today, even the Holy Family had its misunderstandings, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we have them too. But what matters is what we do with them. If all we do is stuff our feelings down, or wear out the patience of our friends by complaining to third parties, we will only bear more misery into the world. And there’s enough of that already. But if we keep taking the risk of talking to each other, of saying, with Mary, “you are giving me great anxiety by your behavior!” perhaps we are accepting the humility and vulnerability through which the grace of God can come into the world.

And making room for the grace of God to take flesh in our little lives with each other; this is nothing else but the mystery of Christmas, of the birth of God in the world.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding Fr. Charles, I really love the personal touch at the end.


Brother Charles said...

You know me so well. :) Merry Christmas, Brother.

4narnia said...

your Holy Family homily was so inspirational, Fr. C! and so was the Mass this evening! thank you! what touched me most in your homily this evening was how you said that "we are a dwelling place for the Lord." and this is so true. that is what we have to be: a place where God can live and work through us as we go out into the world to share the GOOD NEWS! PEACE! ~tara t~