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Reflections for the Feast of Holy Family

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the feast of Holy Family. He says that on the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We are here to offer all the members of our own families on the altar for God’s blessing.

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14, Colossians 3:12-21, Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23.

Introduction: On the last Sunday of the year, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. We are here to offer all the members of our own families on the altar for God’s blessing. The first reading is a commentary on the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” Sirach has many good things to say about living properly according to the Torah.  Sirach reminds children of their duty to honor their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the two-fold reward which God promises to those who honor their father and mother. The first reward is “riches,” and the second, long life: “Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” He reminds children that God blesses them if they obey revere and show compassion to their father. Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, advises us that we should put on love and remain thankful in our relationships with one another. Paul’s advice is part of the “Household Code” – the rules for members of the Christian family. Though its details date to Paul’s time, the underlying message of being careful with one another – being full of care for one another – is timeless. Paul teaches that children should learn and practice noble qualities like compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and sharing in the warmth of the family. In a truly holy family all members are respected, cherished, nurtured and supported, united through the bond of love. Today’s Gospel describes how Joseph and Mary protected the Child Jesus from the sword of King Herod by escaping with Him to Egypt.

Rights and duties of parents and children: Although more emphasis is given in the first two readings to the obligations of children to their parents, there is a profound lesson here for parents too. “Like father like son” is an old saying, and very often true. If the parents fail to do what is right and just in the sight of God, they can hardly complain if their children turn out disobedient to God and to them. The young learn more from example than from precept. If parents give their children the example of a life of obedience to the laws of God and their country, the children, in turn, will be more likely to carry out their duties to God, to their parents and to their fellowman.

Biblical advice for parents and children: Many people honor their mothers on Mother’s Day and their fathers on the Father’s Day by taking them to expensive restaurants for dinner or by sending them valuable gifts. God has not commanded us to keep a day for our mothers or fathers but has rather given us a commandment to guide us in our relationship with our parents. It is the fourth commandment in the Catholic catechism or the fifth commandment in the Hebrew Bible, given in the book of Exodus: “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”( Ex 20:12). St. Paul explains this commandment in his letter to the Ephesians: [1] Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. [2] Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), [3] that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth. [4] And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph 6:1-4). “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord,” Paul says in Col 3:20 and in his letter to the Romans, he reminds us, “the authorities that exist have been established by God” (Rom 13:1). Thus, we obey our parents not because they are the wisest and the fairest and the strongest and the paragons of all virtues, but because they are the parents God has given us, and the command to obey is His.

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading is a commentary on the fourth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” Ben Sirach has many good things to say about living properly according to the Torah.  Sirach reminds children of their duty to honor their parents – even when it becomes difficult. He also mentions the two-fold reward which God promises to those who honor their father and mother. The first reward is “riches,” and the second, long life: “Whoever reveres his father will live a long life.” He reminds children that God blesses them if they obey, revere, and show compassion to their father.

Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, advises us that we should put on love and remain thankful in our relationships with one another. Paul’s advice is part of the “Household Code” – the rules for members of the Christian family. Though the details date to Paul’s time, the underlying message of being careful with one another – being full of care for one another– is timeless. Paul teaches that children should learn and practice noble qualities like compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and sharing in the warmth of the family. In a truly holy family all members are respected, cherished, nurtured, and supported, united through the bond of love. Today’s Gospel describes how Joseph and Mary protected the Child Jesus from the sword of King Herod by escaping with Him to Egypt.

Gospel exegesis: The old Moses and the new Moses. Matthew’s Gospel makes sixteen references to fulfilled prophecy (1:22; 2:5, 15, 17, 23; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 24:15; 26:54, 56 and 27:9), more than twice the number in the other three Gospels combined. The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt is one of them. Presenting Jesus as another Moses, Matthew gives a number of parallels between the two. Today’s Gospel lesson includes several: i) The murder of baby boys by Herod parallels the murder of baby boys by Pharaoh (Ex 1:15-22). ii) Jesus’ flight to Egypt to escape Herod parallels Moses’ being hidden in the bulrushes to escape the Pharaoh who schemed to murder infant Jewish boys in order to lessen Jewish power and the danger of a Jewish takeover (Ex 1 – 2:10). It also parallels Moses’ flight to Midian to escape prosecution for murdering an Egyptian who was abusing a Jew (Ex 2:11-22). iii) Jesus’ return to Israel parallels Moses’ elevation to Pharaoh’s palace as an infant (2:1-10) and his return from exile after the death of the king of Egypt (Ex 3-4). iv) The angel’s assurance“…for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead” (Mt 2:20) parallels, “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead” (Ex 4:19). But unlike His response in the Exodus account, God does not kill Herod or his soldiers. Instead, Herod kills the infants and other men will, in a few years, kill Jesus. In the Old Testament, God led by power whereas in the New Testament, God leads by vulnerability.

The O.T Joseph and the N.T. Joseph. The flight into Egypt also echoes the story of the earlier Joseph, whose going into Egypt laid the foundation for the birth of the Israelite nation and the Exodus (Gn 37-50). That first Joseph was a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams. God also appears to this new Joseph in dreams (1:20; 2:13, 19, 22). The places cited in this lesson are equally important. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the city of David. His journey to Egypt is like that of Jacob’s family, who went to Egypt to escape famine. Jesus is driven to Egypt by a famine of justice. It was not unusual for Israelites to seek refuge in Egypt when life became difficult elsewhere, and Egypt had a substantial Jewish population. Joseph and his family would not have had to live in isolation. The events of this lesson show how Jesus happened to grow up in Nazareth rather than Bethlehem. In Galilee, he would grow up rubbing shoulders with Gentiles, which is appropriate to a Gospel that concludes with a mission to “all nations” (28:19). Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. The angel, who had been silent for some period of time, put God’s plan back in motion. As noted above, the angel’s words echo God’s call to Moses (Ex 4:19). Joseph obeyed without complaint or comment.

Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, is presented as a man of unwavering obedience, eager to consult God in fervent prayer and to learn His will through “dreams”. Joseph obeys without complaint, and his prompt obedience is crucial to God’s plan. He knows nothing except the next step of the journey, but he takes that step. So also is our obedience crucial to God’s plan. We cannot see the fullness of God’s plan for our lives or our families any better than Joseph could see it for his life, but we can be assured that our faithfulness will also lead, one step at a time, to great things.

The Massacre and Rachel’s tears. There is no record of Herod’s massacre of children other than the account by Matthew, but the story is fully in keeping with Herod’s murderous ways. He killed anyone he thought to be a rival, including his mother-in-law and three of his sons. There is no reason to believe that this massacre of babies did not occur. Bethlehem was not a large city, so the male infants under two years of age would have been few. In a tyrannical time and place, the incident could escape notice except by those directly affected. Matthew quotes Jeremiah 31:15, which portrayed the grief of Rachel, Jacob’s wife, at the fate of her people as they were later led into captivity to Babylon. Rachel was dead, of course, and was reputed to be buried at Ramah or perhaps in Bethlehem, both on the route to Babylon.

Influence of the Holy Family on Jesus: We know that the family of Jesus was steeped in Scripture. Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, is rich in Old Testament quotations. We know that Jesus’ family had a deep life of piety that included pilgrimages and prayer to the angels. Both Mary and Joseph were accustomed to receiving the guidance of Heaven’s messengers. From Jesus’ adulthood, we can also glimpse the prayer life He learned from His parents. He prayed the morning offering of pious Jews (Mk 12:29-30). He prayed spontaneously. He took time to pray alone. Yet, He also prayed with His friends. Jesus fasted and marked the holy days. All these habits He probably acquired from His home life in Nazareth. We know that work was important to Jesus’ family. In adulthood, Jesus was called not just “Joseph’s son,” but “the carpenter’s son.” Joseph was skilled in a trade that was highly regarded in his day, and he trained Jesus in the same craft. We can conclude from Jesus’ preaching that Mary was industrious and frugal in keeping a house. It was likely from her example that Jesus drew many of His favorite stories: a woman finding just the right cloth to patch a piece of clothing, a woman setting aside leaven for tomorrow’s baking, a widow searching her house for a lost coin. Hard work, struggling to pay the bills, taking long road trips, praying simple devotions — all of this we learn from the real Gospels. (mikeaquilina.com).

Life Messages: 1) We need to learn lessons from the Holy Family: By celebrating the Sunday following Christmas as the Feast of the Holy Family, the Church encourages us to look to the Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for inspiration, example and encouragement.   They were a model family in which both parents worked hard, helped each other, understood and accepted each other, and took good care of their Child so that He might grow up not only in human knowledge but also as a Child of God. Jesus brought holiness to the family of Joseph and Mary as Jesus brings us holiness by embracing us in His family. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2223) gives the following advice to the parents: “Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children.  They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule.  The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.'” The CCC adds: “Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children.” (CCC #2223).

2) Marriage: a sacrament of holiness. The Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that, as the basic unit of the universal Church, each family is called to holiness. In fact, Jesus Christ has instituted two Sacraments in His Church to make society holy – the Sacrament of Holy Orders (priesthood), and the Sacrament of Matrimony (marriage).  Through the sacrament of Holy Orders, Jesus sanctifies the priest as well as his parish. Similarly, by the Sacrament of Matrimony, Jesus sanctifies not only the spouses but also the entire family. The husband and wife attain holiness when they discharge their duties faithfully, trusting in God, and drawing on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit through personal and family prayer, meditative reading of the Bible, and devout participation in Holy Mass.  Families become holy when Christ Jesus is present in them. Jesus becomes truly present in the parish church through the sacrifice of the Holy Mass.  Similarly, Jesus becomes truly present in a family when all the members live in the Christian spirit of sacrifice. This happens when there is mutual understanding, mutual support and mutual respect.   There must be proper care and respect given by children to their parents and grandparents, even after they have grown up and left home.

 3) Make the family a confessional rather than a courtroom.  A senior Judge of the Supreme Court recently congratulated the bride and groom in a marriage with a pertinent piece of advice: “See that you never convert your family into a courtroom; instead let it be a confessional. If the husband and wife start arguing like attorneys in an attempt to justify their behavior, their family becomes a court of law and nobody wins.  On the other hand, if the husband and the wife — as in a confessional — are ready to admit their faults and try to correct them, the family becomes a heavenly one.” Thus, we can avoid the dangers we watch in dysfunctional families as presented in TV in the shows like Married with Children, The Simpson’s, Everyone Loves Raymond and Malcolm in the Middle.

4) Let us extend the boundaries of our family: The homeless man or woman today in the streets of big cities, fighting the cold and the snow, is part of our family. The drug addict in a den, or living in fear and aloneness this day, is member of our family. The sick person, dying, alone, dirty and maybe even obnoxious, is a member of our family. The person sitting in the prison cell for whatever reason is also a child of God, and as such, according to St. John, is a member of our family. All these, as well as the cherished intimate members of our family, are “family valuables,” and, as such, are worthy of safekeeping and reverence.

5) Both parents and children need to grant forgiveness and ask for forgiveness. If you had parents who were abusive, parents who mistreated you or manipulated you, you probably have a lot of hurt today when we talk about parents. God knows about that hurt; God cares about that hurt and God understands why you hurt. As in all relationships, in the parent-child relationship too there needs to be love, repentance, and forgiveness on both sides. Both the parent and the child should be able to say, “I was wrong, I am sorry, please forgive me.” And, both the parent and the child should be able to say, “You are forgiven.”

On the Feast of the only perfect Family that ever lived on this earth, all parents might examine themselves and see how well they are fulfilling the grave responsibility which God has placed on them. As they heard during their marriage ceremony: “Children are a gift from God to you.” Children serve as the joy of their parents’ young years and the help and comfort of their old age, but above and beyond that, they are a gift for which their parents are accountable before God, as they must, in the end, return these, His children, to Him. Let us pray for the grace of caring for one another in our own families, for each member of the parish family, and for all families of the universal Church. May God bless all your families in the New Year. (Antony Kadavil)

26 December 2019, 13:53