The Holy Family
Years ago one of our priests, Fr. Kevin Johnson, told a family story.
Two kids begged their mom for a hamster. She said, “No”, you all would never take care of it and I’d be the one left feeding it and cleaning its cage.
They bugged and pleaded, promising that they’d care for it. She finally relented, and they got the hamster. They named it Danny. A few weeks went by, and they faithfully cared for Danny’s needs. But after a few months they slacked off and seemed to forget about Danny.
One day when they returned from school the mother said, “We’re going to have to get rid of Danny, he’s making a mess and no one cleans up after him!” They kids seemed undisturbed. When they saw her carrying out Danny’s cage, they were alarmed. They cried “Danny?
Not Danny! We thought you said Daddy!”
Like most funny stories, this is funny because it’s so often true. Maybe you know families like this or maybe even it’s a little like your own family. The reading from Sirach this morning holds up a different way to see family life.
God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
That’s more like what the Holy Family holds up as an example for us. Saint Joseph, the protector of Jesus and Mary and the Protector of the Church, is what all of us who are men, whether fathers or not, should strive to be, faithful and dependable, not the butt of a joke.
Each of us has a place in a family of some kind. Maybe the family that we were born into, maybe the family that adopted us, maybe the family that we married in to, maybe the family of the Church as sisters and brothers of Jesus and sons and daughters of Mary our Mother.
The Church offers us this celebration, this Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph each year at this time just after Christmas. What are we to learn from this feast? What is it that the Church hopes we will do with whatever it is that we learn?
Maybe we will learn a little better how to live together as family in peace and in love for each other. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is asked “Who is my neighbor?”
I think that we also have to answer the question, “Who is my family?”
Most of us probably think of the immediate family, the ones we live with. Some of us may think of the family we would just as soon not be around. This time of the year is a cause for anxiety for many people who struggle to get through the holidays alone, or at least think that they’re alone.
My wife comes from a family that I would describe as Southern gentility. I come from a family of Irish and English who weren’t very genteel. When she would visit my home and see my brothers – truck drivers, salesmen, a little rough around the edges, and one cousin who was a lawyer arguing some point – she couldn’t believe her ears. But families – the people who share parentage – can be messy at times and hard for someone else to understand. Just like all of us here today. But love doesn’t depend on understanding so much as accepting.
When our kids were little, our bedtime prayer included praying for mommy and daddy, granny and grandpa, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. Our friends were included in that prayer because in a very real sense they are our family too.
I grew up with a few aunts and uncles who weren’t really my aunts or uncles at all. Some were related, maybe an older cousin. But since she was my mother’s cousin and the same age as my mother, she became Aunt Emily. Aunt Emily was also my godmother.
Jesus grew up in a small town and surely had relatives around him. Maybe Saints Joachim and Anne, Mary’s parents, his grandparents, lived nearby. And he probably had some Aunt Emilies of his own who watched him grow up and helped Mary and Joseph to guide him. That may be who they thought he was with as they left Jerusalem going home and then discovered he wasn’t with them at all. None of us live in a vacuum, and the Holy Family didn’t either.
You’re here in this church building with lots of other people around you, and I suggest that they are your family, too. Of course we don’t all look alike. We come in different colors, different shapes and sizes, we speak different languages, and eat different foods, and call granny and grandpa by different names. But if we who are here in this church don’t see each other as brothers and sisters in the same family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, then we’re missing something very important.
If you’re old enough to remember Y2K, you’ll remember that the whole world was concerned about what would happen when the computers all got tangled up because they didn’t know what century we were in, and the electric grid would shut down, the airplanes wouldn’t fly, everything would go wrong, and we’d be in a big mess.
That New Year’s Eve we gathered right here in the church and had a midnight Mass. I remember hearing all the fireworks exploding outside, as people were going on as they usually do on New Year’s Eve, but I also remember the peace and serenity inside. And I remember looking around and seeing a few people who just annoyed me or rubbed me the wrong way. But in an instant I realized what I just said to you. They were my family, and there was no place that I would rather be than right here with them in this church celebrating the Eucharist.
So what does it mean to be holy? What might a holy family look like? One dictionary definition is “devoted entirely to God or the work of God”. But the Hebrew understanding of the word was more like to be set apart for a specific purpose, to be different.
My church family on that night might have been as holy as we could be. We were set apart for a specific purpose, certainly different on that New Year’s Eve night.
Nothing much happened as a result of Y2K, and we went on pretty much as usual. But I learned and remembered a lesson about family. None of us is Jesus, Mary, or Joseph, but we can all live more like the Holy Family we celebrate today.
If we really listen and live out what we hear in the Scriptures, it’s not very complicated and within reach of all of us.
“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”.
Paul calls the Colossians chosen ones, holy and beloved, and that’s what we can be, too.
All of us, no matter what kind of family we are born into, can be more like the true Holy Family.