Fr. Charles Irvin
Holy Family [A] 2013
Sirach 3, 2-6; 12-14; Colossians 3, 12-21; Matthew 2, 13-15. 19-23
In looking over all that has faced us during this past year the economic recession has dominated our attention as well as the introduction of Obamacare. Political fighting, the popularity polls of Congress and President Obama, and other issues have captured the attention our news media outlets. And, of course, there are the so-called “social issues.”
The phrase “social issues” is a media substitute for what in reality are moral issues, those issues that involve our moral values, our core values. They necessarily involve politics since they deal with how we treat each other and act toward each other. Consequently questions about the role of religion in our society inevitably surface. Public policies and legislation all deal with human behavior, how we act in our dealings with others. Perhaps we can distinguish between them but we cannot separate them. They all come into play with each other in the field of human activity. That, by the way, is why the so-called “separation of Church and State” is a myth, an artificial separation not grounded in reality. Abortion, euthanasia, contraception, pornography, promiscuity, rejection of the traditional family, all… all have one thing in common. They deal with human behavior, how we inter-relate with each other and how we disregard the value of our humanity.
In this context we turn our attention today to the Holy Family. Given the cultural elements that surround us it seems almost quaint to given serious attention to the Holy Family. No doubt many secularists are snickering at us for doing so, telling us that we’re “out of it” and out of touch with reality and that the traditional family is no longer to be regarded as normative.
Nevertheless the image of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph gathered together at a manger is iconic. That picture, that icon, is essential to Christmas. I would also claim it is an essential element in our understanding of what it means to be human, of what it means to be a happy, fully developed, and mature human being. Family is essential to our self-understanding.
Where do I learn that I am loved, that I am valued? In my family. Where do I learn to relate to others in wholesome ways? In my family. Where do I see myself as unique and special? In my family. Where do I learn about sharing and about overcoming my selfishness? In my family. Where do I learn about self-giving love? In my family.
Abortion, euthanasia, contraception, pornography, promiscuity, and the rejection of the traditional family, all have one thing in common — the refusal to love, the rejection of self-sacrificing love, a love that seeks the happiness of others, not one’s self. All of them are a form of war against what it means to be human. All are forms war against what we see in a child, forms of war against the beauty of God’s love for us, a love in which He comes to us as a child in self-giving vulnerability.
Religious art depicts the Holy Family in soft, pastel colors, in tones that seem hardly real. That is so because artists are giving us pictures of the ideal, pictures of what should be rather than what is. So-called “reality television” continually presents us with what id dysfunctional, with what is less than ideal. When we watch “reality television” we should view it for what it is and not confuse it with what should be the ideal. So-called “realism” presents us with fallen humanity, with our brokenness and we should see it as such. Having watched it we should consider the way things should be and not allow ourselves to believe that the way things actually are is normative.
All of this, I believe, points to one of the reasons why many misunderstand the Church and no longer regularly come to church. Many, I think, believe that the Church is out of touch with reality. I think they’re right. It should be. It should lead us into the realms of what can be, to what is idea, to goals that are beyond where we are now. Oh, to be sure, we need to pay realistic attention to the way things are now in our world but at the same time point to the way things should be. After all, God sent His only Son into our world not to condemn it, but to redeem us, to save us from our selfishness and mistreatment of others.
No doubt you have probably seen fans at sports event holding up placards with only the words “John:17” on them. The verse is from the Gospel of St. John and it reads, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The reality of this world should not blind us from seeing things in God’s light, from seeing and striving for what they can and should be.
So what is the picture, the icon, of the Holy Family all about? Why does our Church value it so much that it occupies the Sunday after we celebrate the birth of Christ? It does so in order to keep us focused on the reality God has in mind for us, not on the reality of the world as it is now. If we see only what is, on the world as it is now, we can be easily led into cynicism, to yield to aggressive power, manipulation, and control over others, and to seek immediate pleasure instead of a deeper and lasting happiness. We will be tempted to value what is glitzy and to neglect the treasures God offers us, particularly the treasure of what it means to live in wholesome and holistic families.
There is a great debate going on these days about what it means to be family. Many voices are calling us to redefine what it means to be family and how we should understand the meaning of family. We need to ask ourselves if we think the traditional family is outmoded or whether it is all the more vital for us in today’s world. I think it is because how we live with each other in our families shapes and forms how we treat others in our greater human family. All of us are “children of God.” That means we are all brothers and sisters with God as our Father. We need therefore to see that our family relationships shape us in learning patience, kindness, forbearance, and how to love, care for, and respect others. Those who treat each other well in their families are formed to treat others well.
Finally, let me say that family is the place where we find shelter and protection from the ways of the world that surrounds us. May we join with Pope Francis in making our Church a family in which we likewise find shelter and protection from a world that so often demeans us and brings us pain. That’s the vision of Pope Francis. May we make his vision come true right here in our own family of faith where Jesus is once again born in our hearts.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph… are they simply an ideal dream? Or is the Holy Family more realistic than other alternatives?