Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
The Church designates the Sunday following Christmas as the feast of the Holy Family, using the emphasis placed upon the birth of Jesus, and precisely the loving involvement of both Mary and Joseph in the birth and in preceding events, to present a lesson for Catholic families here and now.
For this feast, the Book of Sirach, from the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament, provides the first reading.
The reading is highly practical. When the Wisdom books were written, albeit at different times and in different places, Jewish parents and elders needed to pass along to their contemporaries and to future generations a knowledge of God’s Revelation.
Very often, the culture around them was hostile. Of course, they always had to confront the irreligious leanings of human nature.
This reading looks very carefully at the basic unit of society and of civilization, namely the family, calling for honor to be paid parents. Here, the egalitarian sense of the ancient Jewish writings is clear. While the father is acknowledged as head of the household, the mother is entitled to equal respect and veneration. She is in no sense a secondary figure.
Especially, Sirach calls upon children to care for their parents when their parents are old.
The second reading is from the Epistle to the Colossians. The first part of the reading, addressed to all disciples, admonishes followers of Christ to love one another. More than a charming platitude, this advice asks the faithful to forgive one another and to be concerned about one another.
Then, Paul urges wives to obey their husbands, obviously a thought much influenced by the culture of the time. However, he also demands that husbands love their wives.
This advice may seem to be little better than a truism. At the time of Paul, they would have been powerful, even revolutionary, words. Then, spouses rarely wed for love. Parents offered their daughters to the most promising suitors. In a sense, it was almost as if the father of the bride sold his own daughter to the highest bidder.
Once married, wives often merely were toys or means to the end of parenthood or domestic tidiness for the husband.
By urging husbands to love their wives, Paul viewed female spouses with an entirely new perspective, to their benefit.
St. Matthew’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It is the familiar story of the flight into Egypt.
Shrines in modern Egypt declare themselves to be the sites of the Holy Family’s respite in Egypt. In fact, by using “Egypt,” this Gospel is not as geographically precise as some might prefer. Knowledge of foreign things and places was slight if at all for most people in the 1st century AD. In Palestine, “Egypt” meant distant, unknown and pagan territory to the west.
This is certain. Mary and Joseph took Jesus away from Palestine to escape Herod. They rescued Jesus, again being themselves the human instruments by which God’s plan of salvation was preserved.
Most especially this year, since the feast occurs on the day after Christmas, the warmth and happiness of Christmas still is bright and inviting. So are the images of Mary and Joseph, who so lovingly and deliberately cared for the infant Lord.
These readings have strong, practical lessons. Families must bond themselves in love. Parents must love children. Children must love parents. Spouses must love each other.
Most importantly, however, no family can survive simply by loving each other. Threats await all families, not only threats from evil rulers. Families need God’s protection.
Also clear in Matthew is that every Christian has a mission. The role of the family is to support each member’s mission, as Mary and Joseph supported the mission of Jesus.
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