Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Feast of the Holy Family: Protecting the Presence of the Lord in Our families.
I hope you all are having a wonderful celebration of Christmas. The Sunday after Christmas is usually the Feast of the Holy Family, the exception being when Christmas comes on a Sunday.
Let’s start today with a little story you might be familiar with. It is called the Luck of Roaring Camp, and was written in 1868 by Bret Harte. The story takes place in Roaring Camp, a camp of gruff, hard drinking, fierce, gold diggers. The men would kill someone sooner than they would ask a person his name. One day a pregnant and sick Indian lady stumbled into the camp. When she went into labor, two of the men were decent enough to try to help her. She died during the birth, but miraculously, the child, a boy, survived. Now, deaths were common in Roaring Camp, but a birth was something completely new. The men of the camp took responsibility for the baby. They began taking turns taking care of him. They decided to build him a clean cabin and even put in windows with lace curtains. He was their baby, and they were determined to give him a proper home. The men took turns taking care of the baby. To hold him and sing to him was considered a privilege. They demanded from each other previously unheard of things such as decent language, quiet, cleanliness and moral order. The men began to shed their roughness, their anger and their selfishness. The little child transformed this outpost of rough, crude miners into a community of generosity, tenderness and compassion. The baby called forth from these reckless characters and criminals a dignity, worth and sense of beauty, wonder and joy.
Children will do that to you and for you. Many young couples refine their lifestyles when a baby comes. They want the baby to be brought up with the best they have, by being the best people they can be. Many people who had been away from church return to Church on a regular basis. They want their baby to grow up with a real loving relationship to God and as a part of a worshiping community. Children can bring out the best in their parents.
And this is what God has done for us through the birth of His son. With Jesus' birth, our humanity is made sacred. He has called us from living self-centered lives to lives of compassion, peace and joy. Jesus Christ has transformed humanity, making humanity sacred, just as He is sacred.
Let’s look a little closer at the members of the Holy Family and their relationship as a family. We begin with Joseph. In the infancy narratives of the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph develops from someone who is inclined to prevent the family from forming to someone who does everything possible to keep the Holy Family together. He could have sent his pregnant betrothed away to have her baby out of the scrutiny of the neighbors at Nazareth. He probably would never see her again or ever meet the child, but he had the faith to trust God and form a family with Mary and the coming child. As an expectant father, he cared for Mary, and joined her in the joy of the birth of the child whom he promptly adopted by naming the baby, Jesus. When danger threatened the life of the child, he didn’t leave the family to protect himself, nor did he send Mary and the baby away to fend for themselves. He took them to Egypt, and then, keeping the family together, returned with them from Egypt to Nazareth. Even though many of the incidents of the infancy narrative in both Matthew and Luke are meant to show that Jesus is the prophet greater the Moses who will deliver God’s people from evil just as Moses delivered them from Egypt, the fact is that it is the family, not just the baby, that Joseph is presented as protecting.
During her pregnancy Mary was, like all women, a mother in waiting. After Jesus’ birth, though, she remained in many ways a mother-in-waiting. St. Luke says that Mary ponders in her heart the events that involve her child. She is present during the Lord’s ministry waiting and watching to see what would take place. She is present standing beneath the cross, not breaking down, but standing, as the Lord entrusts John, and all of us, to her.
Mary’s role in the Holy Family is, as all mothers, to nurture. Leonardo Da Vinci joined so many of the famous painters of the faith in presenting the nursing Madonna. That Jesus should be fed by his mother demonstrates both the humanity of the God Made Man and the dignity of the one who was chosen to be his mother. But Mary was not, as some would like to say, a single mother. She filled her place in the Holy Family depending on Joseph to protect and care for the family.
Jesus is the center of the Holy Family. All children have the right to be the center of their families. As an infant and a child he depended on his mother and father and is subject to them. He also knew that their every move will be for his care and concern. His is the Love that made the Holy Family holy even before his human nature was able to declare to them and the world that he is Love Incarnate.
So here we have the Holy Family as a model. The Father fights against anything in the world that would destroy his family. The mother creates the home and nurtures the family. The child is the love around which the family revolves.
Is it so unrealistic then, for the Church to offer the Holy Family as a model to all our families? Perhaps the roles of mother and father may merge, but the basic action of being a family of love revolving around the child or, in many of your cases, the children, is quite realistic. Like Joseph, our fathers, along with their wives, must protect their families from the forces of the world that would destroy the family. Herod might not be sending the troops to kill all the newborns, but the forces of evil have sent drugs, licentiousness, and materialism to kill the souls of our children. The father, along with the mother, has got to protect his child and his family.
Like Mary, our mothers, along with the husbands, must embrace their role as nurturing their children. This is not just with physical food, but with the care to help their children learn how to seek and find the presence of God in their lives. Our mothers, along with our fathers, must nurture their children with spiritual food. As the children witness their Moms demanding that they chose right over wrong, giving over selfishness, as they see their Moms, and Dads, reaching out to care for people who are hurting, the children will be fed the food that makes a Christian a following of Christ.
Our families should revolve around the love of the children. They are only yours for a brief time. They demand all your attention. Then they leave to form their own families, but because of them their Moms and Dads are better people, people who have sacrificed for them and who have thus made the love of God real for the world.
At Roaring Camp, the presence of the baby transformed the rough men from being self-centered to being self-less. In a sense, the baby called those men to holiness and formed them into a family. On the Feast of the Holy Family we pray that we all may hear the cries of the Infant Jesus, calling us to reverence His presence, calling all of us to the holiness that is the heart of the Catholic family.