FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY – THE SUNDAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF CHRISTMAS (2020)
Readings:Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14Psalms 128:1-2, 3-5Colossians 3:12-21Luke 2:22-40
This Feast of the Holy Family is uniquely celebrated at a time when families can only remember how easy it was to be together and celebrate around a table packed fairly full of relatives and guests. As has been the case for the last eight months, those types of gatherings are all but nonexistent for the most conscientious of families, and those who did (and needed to) travel to be with family comes the very real risk of becoming sick from a pandemic virus which could rob you, or your loved ones, of their lives. Perhaps it is for precisely for this reason, that this particular celebration of the Holy Family is all the more necessary in this time of COVID-19.
Our Feast celebrates the blessing of all families while celebrating the Feast of the holiest of families, whose story began yesterday with the birth of a child in Bethlehem. While the Holy Family’s story is hardly a replica for our own personal stories, their story, like ours, can often be one of hardship and difficulty. Indeed, Mary and Joseph had already experienced the confusion brought on by the visit of an angel, the hatred of those in power who suspected. their unborn child might possibly be the Messiah, the government’s demand for census travel at the uncomfortable moment of Mary’s trimester, and the need to find a place quickly to bed down “since there was no room for them in the Inn.”
Today’s gospel relates the demands, not of government, but of Mary and Joseph’s religion, which stated that “every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.” The offering was that of the poorest of people, and the trip to the Temple in Jerusalem from their town of Nazareth, was not insignificant for a women who had recently given birth in a stable in Bethlehem. The Temple would be filled with Scribes and Priests and Pharisees, and with men and women whose advanced age left them little to do but pray and observe the ‘busyness’ of the Temple. Such a man was Simeon, a “righteous and devout man,” who “was awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” Simeon saw something in this child that others did not see, and something he never saw in the countless other babies brought to the Temple for the same reason. He believed in his heart that he would not see death before he had seen the “Christ the Lord,” the Messiah. Simeon’s insight told him to get a closer look, and so he took the baby Jesus in his arms, and gave audible praise to what was in his heart: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” This prayer, the “Nunc Dimittis,” or Song of Simeon, is said every day in the Church’s night prayer.
Simeon’s prayer and the blessing he gave to the young family, is somewhat realistically darkened by what else Simeon has to say: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted—and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Not even the affirmation of what Simeon has to say by the prophetess Anna, takes away the ominous tone of Simeon’s prediction. While the “favor of God was upon this child,” there would be more difficult times ahead, times that would tear at the heart of a Mother who loved her child with an infinite love.
While the story in today’s gospel is clearly the story of the Holy Family, it is also our story. It is obvious in the first reading from Sirach which speaks of the honor meant to be given to one’s father and one’s mother, encouraging us to never needlessly grieve either parent. Wives and children are praised in the psalm response, and Paul’s letter to the Colossians highlights what all of us are called to if we want our families to be holy: “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
The Holy Family serves as an example for all families, of all types: dysfunctional, blended, single parent, rich or poor, same-sex, divorced, troubled. In good times and in bad times, if we clothe ourselves with the virtues outlined by Paul, we will be doing our best to imitate the holiest of families that ever lived.
I kindly ask for prayer for my neighbor and his wife, Eric and Lisa. Eric lost his mother four days ago, after a long illness, to Covid-19, and just this morning (12/26), also lost his brother to Covid-19. Lisa sister is also battling Covid-19. Please keep them in prayer if you would.